Color / Fruits and Vegetables

Can Red Tint Rescue Spinach?

By Pan Demetrakakes,Senior Editor

Nov 11, 2019

A USDA researcher has developed a breed of spinach that adds red-purple tints to its green hue – possibly a way to help the vegetable recover from a slump caused by a contamination scare.

Beiquan Mou, a USDA research geneticist based in Salinas, Calif., has developed what the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service is billing as the world’s first true red spinach. Mou managed to breed, without bioengineering, spinach in which a phytonutrient called betacyanin is distributed into the leaves, giving them a distinct red-purple tint akin to cabbage. The plant is called USDA Red.

Other products have been marketed as “red spinach,” but they were either plants other than spinach, or spinach with red confined to the stems.

In addition to the novel color, the betacyanin in USDA Red adds to its antioxidant potential, already a significant nutritional aspect of spinach.

The USDA hopes its new spinach will re-energize sales. An E. coli outbreak traced to spinach in 2006, which sickened 102 people, caused consumption to drop 30% on a per-capita basis, to 1.6 pounds annually.