Huauzontle is an annually grown vegetable herb native to Mexico. It is closely related to plants like goosefoot and lambsquarters having similar growth patterns and look. The seed heads of this plant are used in many traditional recipes. It is also known as the Aztec Red Spinach.
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Scientific Name for Huauzontle
The scientific name for this plant is “Chenopodium nuttalliae”.
Below is a brief description of the Huauzontle plant:
- Height: It grows up to a height of 2 to 4 feet.
- Flowers: The flowers are arranged in clusters having both the male and female parts. They are green in color.
- Leaves: The green leaves come out of the main stem and are oval in shape.
- Stems: They have a thick main stem which holds the flowers and thinner stems. The thinner stems hold the edible green flowers.
- Seeds: The seeds are small and have a mild flavor.
- Roots: The roots are fibrous in nature.
- Smell: The plant has a strong, clean and astringent smell.
Huauzontle Range and Distribution
The plant is mostly grown in Mexico as well as in the Northeastern parts of United States.
Picture 1 – Huauzontle
Source – worldcrops.org
Cultivation of Huauzontle
Huauzontle is an annual plant. It requires moist soil to grow and can grow well in sandy, loamy and clay soils. The soil may be acidic, alkaline or neutral. The seeds germinate very quickly. They need proper sunlight as they are unable to grow well in shady conditions. The plant flowers from July to October. The ripening of the seeds starts from August and continues till October. The flowers are pollinated by wind.
The seeds are small in size and it is relatively easy to harvest them. The plants can be harvested within 7 to 8 weeks.
When growing them in temperate zones, they should be sown after the frost. In subtropical regions, they can be grown all round the year.
The various uses of this plant are discussed below:
The leaves, flowers and seeds of this plant are edible and highly nutritious. The leaves and seeds have mild flavors. They are a good substitute for spinach. Although many individuals eat the raw leaves, it is better to cook them before consumption as they contain toxic substances called saponins. The flower clusters and seeds are eaten after they are cooked. The flowers are prepared like broccoli. These preparations are considered to be gourmet food. Like rice, the seeds are eaten as staple food. The seeds can also be grinded and used as flour or mixed with flour for preparing bread and gruel.
The plant is also used to produce gold and green colored dyes.
How to Cook Huauzontle
Huauzontle is grown especially for its seeds heads. The seed heads are often fried after they are dipped in batter. The leaves and flowers of the plant are also edible. The plant should be cooked well before consumption as it minimizes the impact of the toxic saponins.
Before the seeds are consumed, they should be water-soaked overnight and rinsed thoroughly to get rid of the bitter tasting saponins.
While cleaning and preparing the plant for cooking, the yellow buds should be removed to avoid the bitter flavor. The soft flowery portions of the plant are good for edible consumption. The buds should be well cleaned to get rid of any dirt and grit. The flower buds should then be boiled for around 10 minutes until they reach a tender yet bright shade of green. The flower buds can then be refrigerated to be cooked later.
These plants are available in many international and Latino stores. The seeds can be bought from heritage seed suppliers.
The most well known recipe of Huauzontle is the Tortas de Huauzontle. In this preparation, the plant is boiled and drained in hot water. It is then bathed in different kinds of sauces. Alternatively, they can also be encased in egg batter and then deeply fried with Mexican cheese.
Other popular recipes of this plant include Huauzontles in Chile Pasilla, Huauzontles capeados and Huauzontle con Cebollas y Comino. The Huauzontles in Chile Pasilla and Huauzontles capeados are pancake-like preparations. In Huauzontle con Cebollas y Comino, the Huauzontle flowers are sautéed with garlic, cumin, onion and vinegar.
Huauzontle Side Effects
Huauzontle is considered to be a nutritious plant. However, it has got small amounts of toxic substances called saponins and some oxalic acids. It is thus important to consume these plants in moderate quantities. Consumption of this plant can aggravate health problems like arthritis, rheumatism, hyperacidity, gout and kidney stones. So patients affected by such problems should be more careful while including this plant in their regular diet.
Here are some images showing the Huauzontle plant.
Huauzontle is a good substitute of spinach and broccoli with strong nutritional value. When consumed in reasonable quantities, they are a valuable asset to one’s diet.
- by Prasenjit Banerjee
- October 12th 2011