Smooth, bright, tender leaves that can be steamed lightly or even eaten raw. Young stems are tender enough to steam, and mature stems have a light, fluffy pith that tastes and feels similar to summer squash. Callaloo, the dish, originates in West Africa. The plant, a type of amaranth grown for its greens, was domesticated in Africa and the Americas, and it is cherished in many parts of the Caribbean. Not only is it rich in flavor and nutrition, it is an extremely resilient, self-sufficient, and prolific crop, making it an ideal superfood.
There are a number of different variations of callaloo: there are "wild" type low growing ones with dark green, hairy leaves, there are plants with flushes of pink in the leaves, and there are upright, smooth, bright plants, which are what we offer here. Some people use other plants for this dish, such as taro leaves or water spinach. Many people season the leaves with onion, garlic, and hot pepper and serve it with saltfish, breadfruit, or boiled green plantain. It is extremely popular in our largely Caribbean neighborhood of East New York.
Days to Maturity: 30
Seeds per pack: 100
Seeds per bulk packet: approx. 1,000
Germination rate: 73% on 03/31/2023
Planting / harvesting notes
Callaloo is an extremely self-sufficient crop. Expect germination between 10-20 days, and fast growth after that. To get a head start on the season, sow seeds 2-4 weeks before the last frost lightly covered in pots or trays in a greenhouse or sunny window. Transplant 1-2' apart into the garden a couple weeks after the last frost, when the soil has warmed a bit. At this point on our farm, callaloo has seeded itself enough that we harvest many young, tender plants whole at 12" as a way of thinning, but the plants we allow to mature are given about 2' space in each direction. Mature plants have deep pink taproots that allow them to go long periods of time without watering, and shoot up thick, bushy branches.
Seed keeping notes
Callaloo is wind pollinated and can cross pollinate with many varieties of Amaranth. Isolate by a minimum of 500 feet or cover the flowers with corn tassel bags to prevent unwanted cross pollination. Seeds are ready when they start dropping from the seed head, which matures after the flower dies back. You can cut the whole seed head and hang it to dry and mature further in a dry, ventilated place, or you can shake it while still on the plant every day or two, as the seeds ripen at different times starting from the bottom to the tip. Either way, shake the plant in a bucket to release the seeds. Use a strainer to sift out the larger chaff. Use your breath, wind, or fans to winnow off lighter weight chaff.