USDA’s Agricultural Research Service has developed the world's first true red spinach: USDA Red. Researchers believe the new variety might provide some excitement and expanded consumption for spinach and other “leafy green” enthusiasts.

Spinach consumption (and production) in the U.S. dropped from 2.3 pounds per person to 1.6 pounds in 2006 following an Escherichia coli outbreak in 2006, and it has never fully recovered, notes ARS.

"A true red spinach like USDA Red will bring excitement to the spinach market and could help attract people back to eating spinach. It can be used as baby or 'teen' leaf in salad bags, as bunched products, and in spring mixes for fresh-market consumption. The red color in spring mixes is currently provided by red lettuce, radicchio or chard. Red spinach will give processors another choice," said ARS research geneticist Beiquan Mou, who developed the new variety. Mou is with the Crop Improvement and Protection Research Unit in Salinas, Calif.

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ARS says there are currently some true ''red'' spinaches on the market, but the red color is limited to the veins of the leaves. The red color of USDA Red comes from the phytonutrient betacyanin rather than the more common anthocyanin. Betacyanin is a potent antioxidant that has been shown to significantly reduce oxidative stress in patients and may even help in preventing chronic pathologies, inflammation, and cancer, according to the scientific literature. The antioxidant capacity of USDA Red was 42-53% higher than other spinach cultivars in five tests conducted over three years.

“Betacyanin adds another benefit to a plant already loaded with phytonutrients, making spinach a true ''super food,"' Mou added. ARS has applied for a Plant Variety Protection certificate for USDA Red and is seeking a partner to license production of seeds for the market.

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