ID'ing Spinach vs Chard
Is it possible to visually tell the difference between Swiss Chard and spinach? They are often given as interchangeable terms but I know they are actually two different plants. Couldn't find anything online, so suggestions here would be welcome. Thanks.
if you do a google search for swiss chard, and then for spinach you will get results with photos. they are very different looking - swiss chard has a bigger stalk,concave like celery and about the same width as celery, whereas spinach has a smooth stalk, much shorter and usually about the diameter of a pencil or less. I've not heard that chard and spinach are interchangeable terms, they taste very different and have different cooking times.
Swiss chard is quite different visually to spinach (at least they mean different things in Australia) although yes they can be used interchangeably (personally I have a preference for chard when it is called for as spinach I find can have an unpleasant mouth feel occasionally due to its tannins.
Swiss chard/Silverbeet grows to around 0.4 - 0.6m high with relatively thick ribbed stems which can be white, pink or yellow/orange (sometimes called rainbow chard). It has deep green wrinkly shiny leaves that make rubbery sounds when chopped in bunches. the leaves can grow to approx 0.3m in addition to the stem. It also grows as a discrete plant with all stems growing from one root base.
Spinach by contrast is a lighter green much smaller plant with only a few narrow stems growing per root base and in some ways looks more like a weedy ground cover. The leaves of the adult spinach plant are significantly smaller than chard without chard's shine or wrinkles, and in some ways resemble a stemmed bulky/broad milk thistle leaf.
I think the confusion lies in the fact that restaurants will often use baby swiss chard which with its red/pink stem and smooth leaf looks much like spinach and describe it simply as swiss chard.
"The leaves of the adult spinach plant are significantly smaller than chard without chard's shine or wrinkles"
Well, spinach leaves are less shiny, but the savoy types like 'Bloomsdale' have wrinkled or curly leaves. Plain types like 'Space' have flat leaves, and semi-savoy types like 'Tyee' are a bit wrinkled. If you let chard grow, it can produce quite large leaves, but I prefer to harvest it when the leaves are young.
It's an interesting question, since in the US, the two names aren't used interchangeably either in markets or in recipes. It's easier to show the difference visually than try to explain it in words. I find the difference in taste, at least between the adult leaves of the two plants, very noticeable. Myself, I much prefer spinach, finding chard much blander, dare I say a almost insipid? But unlike thicker, tougher greens, it's easy to substitute chard for spinach if you prefer it, or if it's easier to find.
Aside from the difference in stem/rib size others have mentioned, chard also displays a more noticeable difference between the stem color and leaf color. Chard has very light, white or noticeably colored stems and green leaves with much lighter/white/colored veins. (www.google.com/search?q=chard&lr=...)
As well as being thinner, spinach stems are always green, though somwhat lighter green than the leaves, the veins aren't much lighter than the overall leaf color. (www.google.com/search?q=spinach&l...)
I'm not terribly familiar with baby chard, but while leaf size and shape is more easily confused with baby spinach than the mature leaves of the two plants, these photos suggest that baby chard shares the starker difference between stem/leaf vein color with its mature counterparts. (www.google.com/search?q=baby+chard&am...)