Water Spinach

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

water spinach Ipomoea aquatica, also known as swamp cabbage and kang kong, a plant which grows in water and is a common vegetable in Asia. It enjoys especial popularity in the south of China and SE Asia.

Despite its English names, this vegetable, which belongs to the family Convolvulaceae, is related neither to spinach nor to cabbage, although it can be used like the former for some purposes. When cooked, it offers an agreeable contrast: crisp stems and limp leaves. In Cantonese cuisine it is always stir fried, with garlic and fermented bean curd or shrimp sauce. Elsewhere, for example in the Philippines, it is prepared in a greater variety of ways. There is a Filipino saying: ‘Walang talong? mahal ang gabi? kangkong na lang!’ (No eggplants available? Taro too expensive? Let’s use swamp cabbage!). Sri Owen (1986a), who recommends serving it with a spicy sauce, remarks that in Indonesia it has been regarded as a lowly vegetable, unsuitable for pretentious purposes and very cheap, although its flavour and nutritional qualities are excellent. It provides a generous measure of protein and, because it grows in water, has a relatively high content of minerals such as iron.