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New Red Spinach Hopes To Shake Up Salad Bowls Everywhere

Beiquan Mou
The USDA's Agricultural Research Service has developed a new variety of spinach. It's the world's first true red spinach.

New Year, new spinach on the horizon. The world’s first true red spinach has been developed in Salinas. The creator hopes this colorful and healthy superfood will get people excited about the leafy green.

It will likely be a few years before red spinach starts showing up in supermarkets. The seeds need to be mass-produced first, so there’s enough for growers. 

Beiquan Mou developed the new variety. He’s a research geneticist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s research agency, the Agricultural Research Service. The agency focuses on finding solutions to agricultural problems.

Credit Erika Mahoney
Beiquan Mou, research geneticist for the USDA, stands in front of the Agricultural Research Station in Salinas. He created the new red spinach variety.

Following an E. coli outbreak in spinach in 2006, consumption of the leafy green fell. According to the Agricultural Research Service, consumption went from 2.3 pounds per person each year to 1.6 pounds in 2006. 

“Even today, the spinach consumption in the U.S. hasn't fully recovered yet,” Mou said. 

Over the last decade, the value of Monterey County’s spinach crop grew about 9 percent, whereas leaf lettuce grew about 12 percent, according to the latest county crop report.

Mou says it took ten years to develop the new red spinach. Called USDA RED, it was developed in greenhouses and test plots at USDA’s Agricultural Research Station in Salinas.  It’s a result of traditional breeding, derived from a red-veined spinach plant. The red color is on the surface of the leaf.

“It looks good and also tastes good. It tastes a little bit sweet. The regular spinach kind of has a little bit of a bitter and harsh taste,” said Mou. 

The red color comes from a potent antioxidant known as phytonutrient betacyanin. Mou says that combined with the vegetable’s vitamins and minerals make it a healthy superfood. 

“So that's why we hope that this new red spinach can help people eat more spinach. Hopefully the red spinach can bring some excitement to the market,” Mou said. 

The red color comes from a potent antioxidant. That combined with the vegetable’s vitamins and minerals make it a healthy superfood.
Credit Beiquan Mou

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USDA RED is the world’s first true red spinach. Although there are some leafy greens on the market called red spinach, those aren’t technically spinach.  

Mou says there’s international interest in the new product, with seed requests coming in from across the U.S., Canada, Europe, India and beyond.