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What Causes Swiss Chard to Taste Bitter (And How to Fix It)

what causes swiss chard to taste bitter

If Swiss chard isn’t part of your garden already, consider planting it immediately! Swiss chard is one of the most delicious (and nutritious) leafy vegetables available; even though some worry about bitterness it usually remains quite palatable; even if it seems bitter there are ways you can alter its flavor either in the garden or kitchen to correct for off-tastes.

What causes swiss chard to taste bitter? Swiss chard can become bitter in hot, dry conditions. Chard belongs to the same family as beets and spinach and prefers cool weather; subpar growing conditions could lead to Swiss chard bolting (flowering). Bolting marks the end of chard’s lifespan and renders it inedible.

If your Swiss chard tastes bitter, don’t fret: There are various cooking techniques you can employ to disguise its taste. Continue reading to gain more information on how you can keep stressing Swiss chard in the garden and enhance its flavor in your dishes at table.

Swiss Chard May Taste Bitter

As part of the Goosefoot plant family, Swiss chard contains geosmin, which gives it its characteristic bitter taste. Many chefs and foodies favor Swiss chard for this naturally-occurring bitterness which pairs perfectly with various dishes. What causes swiss chard to taste bitter? Here I provide complete guide.

1. Transplant Shock

If your Swiss chard seedlings were transplanted too early and exposed to frost, their mature plants may bolt more readily than ones transplanted at an appropriate time. In such an instance, hardening off should be used to gradually expose young plants to outside temperatures, lighting conditions, and weather conditions in regular intervals until hardening off has taken full effect – for more details regarding hardening off check out my article here on transplant shock.

2. Soil Issues

Quality soil is crucial to growing delicious produce. Lack of nutrients in the soil leads to plants with puny growth that wilt easily; for optimal Swiss chard plants, place them in soil rich with compost and organic matter while adding organic fertilizer regularly with care not getting on its leaves – these are what people eat after all!

Swiss chard thrives best in slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 to 6.8. To test and adjust, perform a pH test on your garden soil before adding sulfur, compost or pine needles as necessary to acidify it further. Chard also appreciates an initial feeding with organic fertilizer at planting time – for optimal plants with flavorful leaves try selecting one containing 10% nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (typically 10-10-10 fertilizer).

3. Heatwaves and Drought

Swiss chard is an annual plant that requires regular watering throughout its growth season. Hot temperatures or dry spells may stress out its plants, so keep an eye on forecasts to protect the chard in case of heatwaves with shade cloth cover or move container gardens to shadier spots to protect from afternoon sun if applicable.

To increase sunlight deflection and retain soil moisture in raised beds or rows of crops, mulch the base of each plant with aged wood chips or cardboard to deflect direct sunlight and ensure adequate root watering. Be certain that mulched chard is still getting enough nourishment through its roots!

Swiss chard needs at least an inch of water each week; use a rain gauge to monitor its hydration needs. Take care not to overwater Swiss chard, and ensure its soil has adequate drainage; root rot is always present and root-rot resistant varieties need constant moisture in their surroundings for healthy roots. Compost, mulch, or sand may help improve drainage in low spots of your garden.

4. Bolting

Although Swiss chard is less likely to bolt in summer than spinach, hot, long summer days will trigger the plant to flower and set seed. Some varieties of Swiss chard are more inclined to bolt than others. Red-stemmed cultivars like Rhubarb and Ruby Red – while striking in the garden alongside other vegetables – may need to be harvested earlier than other varieties. This is no problem – baby chard leaves are fantastic in salads, stir-fries, or really in any recipe that calls for larger leaves. 

If your chard has sent up a single, central stalk and produced something resembling a flower bud, it has bolted. If you catch a bolting plant early enough, you can pinch off the flower and still use the younger leaves.

bolting

4 ways to cook the bitterness out of Swiss chard

Well, now that you’ve read this article you’ll be sure to make some adjustments with your next planting of Swiss chard. But what about this season’s harvest? Even if your chard got somewhat stressed and produced bitter leaves, there are some cooking hacks to mask the flavor of that pesky geosmin. 

1. Separate leaves from the midrib

Swiss chard stems tend to have more bitterness than the leaves. Cut chard leaves away from the stalks and use the leaves for salads, or saute like spinach. Chard midribs may be eaten raw like celery or cooked. 

2. Blanching, parboiling, or braising

Blanching is a cooking technique that involves quickly dunking food in boiling water, and then immersing it in ice-cold water immediately afterward. Parboiling is very similar, as it involves the quick dip in cold water, but without the ice bath, allowing the food to continue to cook. 

Braising is a culinary technique where food is pan-seared first and then finished by stewing in liquid. All three of these cooking methods cook the bitterness out of Swiss chard while leaving its prized flavor. 

3. Pickling

Blanch chard first, and then put in a jar with a pickling solution. Use 1 part vinegar (rice vinegar, white wine, apple cider vinegar, or white vinegar all work well) and 1 part water to make a basic brine for refrigerator pickles. Experiment with different ground spices or fresh herbs and write down your favorite recipe! Quick pickles will be ready to eat after about two days. 

4. Add salt, fat, or acid

Salt has always been used as a preservative, but salt is an inexpensive way to introduce contrast to a dish–enhancing flavor in the process. Fats like oil or butter are another well-known method for toning down sharp flavors–collards and turnip greens are often cooked with fat and a little bit of lemon juice to mask the bitterness of these leafy greens. 

Delicious Swiss Chard Recipes in 2024

If you want to make delicious Swiss Chard then you need to follow the diligent swiss Chard Recipe.

Step 1:

Stack chard leaves (you may create multiple piles) and slice them into 1/4-inch strips.

Step 2:

Heat oil in a very large skillet (or soup pot). Stir in garlic and red pepper flakes until fragrant; add the chard leaves, coating them in oil; cover pan for two minutes and let cook, until chard has softened before uncovering and cooking for two more. Season to taste with additional salt as needed.

Conclusion

What causes swiss chard to taste bitter? Swiss chard is a vegetable in the same family as beets and spinach and has a naturally occurring, slightly bitter compound called geosmin. However, some outside stressors may cause an increase in chard’s bitter taste. Certain culinary techniques like blanching, braising, and pickling may help to mask these bitter flavors. Either way, gardening is an experiment and cooking even more so! Don’t let concerns about bitterness put you off from growing beautiful, flavorful Swiss chard. 

Ciara Konhaus

I’m Ciara and I’m a gardener and agricultural educator in zone 6b. I’ve farmed and gardened all over the Appalachian mountains and love to empower people with the tools they need to start their own gardens.

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