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Basella alba is an edible perennial vine in the family Basellaceae. It is found in tropical Asia and Africa where it is widely used as a leaf vegetable. It is native to the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and New Guinea. It is naturalized in China, tropical Africa, Brazil, Belize, Colombia, the West Indies, Fiji and French Polynesia.
Basella alba is known under various common names, including Malabar spinach, vine spinach, and Ceylon spinach.
Basella alba is a fast-growing, soft-stemmed vine, reaching 10 metres (33 ft) in length. Its thick, semi-succulent, heart-shaped leaves have a mild flavour and mucilaginous texture. There are two varieties - green and red. The stem of the Basella alba is green with green leaves and the stem of the cultivar Basella alba 'Rubra' is reddish-purple; the leaves form green and as the plant reaches maturity, older leaves will develop a purple pigment starting at the base of the leaf and work towards the end. The stem when crushed usually emits a strong scent. Malabar spinach can be found at many Asian supermarkets, as well as farmers' markets.
Soil and climate requirements
Basella alba grows well under full sunlight in hot, humid climates and in areas lower than 500 metres (1,600 ft) above sea level. The plant is native to tropical Asia. Growth is slow in low temperatures resulting in low yields. Flowering is induced during the short-day months of the year. It grows best in sandy loam soils rich in organic matter with pH ranging from 5.5 to 8.0.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||79 kJ (19 kcal)|
|Vitamin A equiv.|
|†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA FoodData Central
The edible leaves are 93% water, 3% carbohydrates, 2% protein, and contain negligible fat (table). In a 100 gram reference amount, the leaves supply 19 calories of food energy, and are a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value) of vitamins A and C, folate, and manganese, with moderate levels of B vitamins and several dietary minerals (table).
In Sri Lanka, it is used to make different kinds of curries specially with dal. In the Philippines, the leaves of this vegetable are one of the main ingredients in an all vegetable dish called utan served over rice. It is usually cooked with sardines, onions, garlic, and parsley. In Mangalorean Tuluva cuisine, a coconut based gravy called gassi is paired with the Basella plant, making a delicacy called Basale gassi to be eaten with rice dumplings called pundi soaked overnight in the gravy, or with red rice. Some variations have tiny prawns, clams, horsegram or dried fish in the gravy.
In Bengali cuisine, it is widely used both in a vegetable dish, cooked with red pumpkin, and in non-vegetarian dishes, cooked with the bones of the Ilish fish and may also be cooked with shrimp. In Andhra Pradesh, a southern state in India, a curry of Basella and yam is made. In Gujarat, fresh big and tender leaves are washed, dipped in besan mix and deep-fried to make crispy pakodas called "poi na bhajia".
The vegetable is used in Chinese cuisine. It has many names including flowing water vegetable. It is often used in stir-frys and soups. In Vietnam, where it is called mồng tơi, it is cooked with shrimp, crab meat, luffa and jute to make soup. In Africa, the mucilaginous cooked shoots are most commonly used.
A sapling of Basella alba. The cotyledons are visible
A variety of Basella alba with deep red and purple stems in the Philippines
- Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, Basella alba
- "WorldCrops Malabar Spinach". Retrieved August 31, 2012.
- Grubben, G.J.H. & Denton, O.A. (2004) Plant Resources of Tropical Africa 2. Vegetables. PROTA Foundation, Wageningen; Backhuys, Leiden; CTA, Wageningen.
- Sanderson, Helen; Renfrew, Jane M. (2005). Prance, Ghillean; Nesbitt, Mark (eds.). The Cultural History of Plants. Routledge. p. 114. ISBN 0415927463.
- " Multilingual taxonomic information". University of Melbourne.
- Dressler, S.; Schmidt, M. & Zizka, G. (2014). "Basella alba". African plants – a Photo Guide. Frankfurt/Main: Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg.
- Media related to Basella alba at Wikimedia Commons
- PROTAbase on Basella alba
- Photo and multilingual synonyms
- University of Florida Agricultural Extension
- Evaluation of tropical leaf vegetables in the Virgin Islands