Asian vegetables enjoy continued popularity in the United States. Many Asian vegetables, including Chinese cabbage, daikon, eggplant, pak choy and snow peas appear regularly in American supermarkets. Others, such as baby corn, edamame and edible gourds turn up more frequently at farmers’ markets and specialty markets.
The healthful attributes of Asian vegetables contribute to their enhanced sales. Particularly low in calories, many contain high amounts of nutrients.
As interest in ethnic foods grows, more consumers, enticed with different cuisines, experiment with fusion cuisine and find new uses for unfamiliar vegetables. Specialty produce wholesalers, such as Frieda’s investment in educating the public on preparation and recipes, have stimulated sales. Still, university researchers caution growers to determine whether a market exists before committing resources to unusual varieties.
Asian vegetables as a group adapt well in most U.S. growing regions. Chuck Mothersbaugh has grown Asian vegetables for 15 years on his farm near State College, PA He says, “Most Asian vegetables can be grown in the mid-Atlantic without too much trouble. The ones that are tropically oriented, I grow in high tunnels.” In addition, many of these vegetables mature relatively quickly, especially in warm regions.
Vegetable breeders in Asia have improved traditional varieties. Disease resistance in particular has been imparted with newer cultivars. As more hybrids are substituted for open pollinated varieties, greater production and uniformity, as well as other advantages, make trying these vegetables more appealing than ever. There is a plethora of names for a number of Asian vegetables. The name usually depends on the region in Asia in which the vegetable is grown or had originated. The following new or nearly new cultivars were available to us by press time.
Yard-long beans are also known as asparagus beans and long beans. Dark green Ching-Long has strong disease resistance. Produced in Japan, its distributor, Tainong Seeds, rates it popular with growers in the hot, dry areas in Mexico and also in Fresno, Calif.
Known-You Seeds has bred two early varieties that set pods under long-day conditions. Farmers 101 tolerates heat and humidity. Light green, purple-tipped Farmers 131 has thick flesh, which retains tenderness. Both mature in about 50 to 55 days.
Sakata’s China Star (SCC 1215) offers good uniformity. Large-headed with dark green external color and dark yellow interior plus slow bolting, it received excellent trial results in California and Arizona. It tolerates tipburn and black speck. Another new Sakata variety, China Gold (SCC 4216), with a compact frame and good weight, is slow-bolting and tolerant to tipburn and some club root races.
Mild, sweet Bilko has large, full-sized, dark green heads slow to bolt. Widely adapted, Johnny’s Selected Seeds notes this Napa type’s resistance to club root, Fusarium yellows and black spot.
Tainong Seeds introduced semi-flat/flat Taiwan cabbages into the Asian market 15 years ago. Their new F1 hybrids, bred by Japanese producers, include Li-San, Shoshuderi, Summer Ball and Top Performer. Compared to Western round cabbages, Tainong reports these grow faster, heavier and sweeter.
Hobbit, a new mini Michihili-type bred by Takii, has high resistance to downy mildew. Suitable for dense planting, it matures in about 55 days. Its bright green color, cylindrical shape and crisp leaves make it attractive in fall to early winter harvests. It weighs about 1.5 kilograms. A new mini Napa-type with good uniformity and head formation under warmer temperatures, Soloist, also developed by Takii, has resistance also to downy mildew. It matures in about 50 days and weighs between 600 and 1,000 grams. It has a bright yellow internal color and can be planted densely.
Tenderheart, an early-maturing, baby or miniature Napa type tolerates downy mildew and tobacco mosaic virus. Stokes Seeds reports that it bolts slowly.
Tainong Seeds notes that Japanese cucumbers are longer and thinner than western varieties. Hybrid Summer Top by Takii resists both downy and powdery mildew, anthracnose and cucumber mosaic virus and produces quality fruit. Glossy, deep green, heat-tolerant and disease-resistant, TR-7, also distributed by Tainong Seeds, produces abundant female flowers. Its fruit measure 21 to 22 centimeters long and 2.5 to 3 centimeters in diameter.
Poona Kheera, from India and distributed by Seeds of India, has light green fruit that turns brown, and its mild, crisp flesh is never bitter. This delicate cucumber produces high yields early on strong vines.
Indam 302 matures in about 55 days. Highly tolerant to mildews and leaf spots, this Indo-American Hybrid Seeds (India) Variety has medium-long, light green fruit. Their Snow White cucumber features high yields of 5 by 17 centimeters, which weigh about 250 grams. The uniform, cylindrical, white fruit matures 35 days after sowing.
AgroHaitai’s new hybrid purple-red Farmers Long, from Taiwan, produces higher yields than similar Pingtung Long.
Indo-American’s BW-l and BW-2 tolerate bacterial wilt. Both have dark purple, oval fruit borne on medium-tall, sparsely spined, spreading plants. BW-2 fruits are more round. Indam 504 also tolerates bacterial wilt. Its dark purple fruits, in clusters, weigh 55 to 60 grams. Indam 540 bears smaller, oval fruit in clusters also, and spineless Indam 509’s oval fruit has showy purple and white stripes.
Known-You Seed’s new Energy Green, a 4-by-43-centimeter variety, weighs about 260 grams 80 days from sowing. The bright green, smooth fruits with green calyx are borne on tall, wide plants that resist bacterial wilt. Pure White has a green calyx, and weighs about 130 grams in 75 days. The prolific medium-tall plants produce 3-by-20-centimeter, tender fruit. Known-You’s Starlight’s oblong, smooth, firm fruit ships and stores well. With a blackish-green calyx, the 10-by-12-centimeter fruit weighs about 350 grams in 80 days.
Tainong Purple Shine, a long Chinese variety, has a purple calyx. An F1 hybrid, it features productivity and tender flesh.
This group of vegetables is called many things: edible gourd, balsam pear, bitter gourd, bitter melon, calabash, Chinese okra, foo gwa, luffa, sponge gourd, wax gourd, winter melon and more; spellings vary, as well.
Canton Green, a new hybrid bitter gourd from AgroHaitai, matures early. Its productive, green fruits set on lateral vines. It reaches 7 to 8 centimeters in diameter and 30 to 35 centimeters in length. Black Giant, another AgroHaitai hybrid, features vigorous, dark green, oblong-shaped winter melon fruits.
Known-You Seeds’ wax gourd, Bounty, has short, oblong, fine-textured fruits with a green, waxy rind. Day-length-insensitive, it weighs about 2.3 kilograms 60 days after sowing.
Farmers 132, a gourd termed sponge dishcloth by Known-You, retains its color after cooking. Also not day-length-sensitive, this hybrid produces cylindrical, straight fruit with light green skin, about 7 by 23 centimeters and 800 grams in weight.
Jadeite, a balsam pear or bitter melon of Known-You, features bright green curd-type skin. Early and vigorous, it weighs 600 to 700 grams, measures 6.5 by 30 centimeters, and can be cooked or used in salads. Known-You Green, another Taiwan balsam pear, sports ribbed stripes on shiny green skin. With mildly bitter flesh, it weighs 400 to 700 grams. Known-You reports that its Moonlight rarely cracks. Weighing up to 650 grams, this balsam pear features high-quality, light green flesh. Bright white Showy, a Known-You balsam pear, measures 9 by 25 centimeters and weighs 600 grams.
Indo-American’s high-yielding, bitter gourd, Kohinoor, matures 50 to 55 days after sowing. Its 4.3-by-17-centimeter, dark green fruits weigh 90 to 100 grams.
East-West Seeds’ smooth Patola, hybrid Mutya from the Philippines, produces fine-quality, cylindrical-shaped fruits on strong, vigorous plants. The fruit averages 28 centimeters long and has a long shelf life.
Two bottle gourds of Known-You have pear-shaped, smooth, green fruit and resist zucchini mosaic virus. The sweet, tender calabash Permaroma can be harvested in 50 to 60 days, weighing 650 to 800 grams. Pretty Lover, at 50 days, weighs 670 to 1,000 grams and resists cucumber mosaic virus.
Seeds of India’s Tinta gourd features a high amount of vitamin A. Light green, it resembles an apple and has a tender texture and a nutty flavor.
Asian greens typically produce all season and add variety to salad mixes, whether in the baby stage or full size. Red Beauty, a leafy, edible amaranth can brighten salad mixes or stir-fries. Developed by AgroHaitai, it yields well and has tender, oval leaves in colors like purple, red and green.
Johnny’s Selected Seeds added three new greens this season. Longevity, a late-bolting hybrid, forms dark green, tight rosettes. Purple Mizuna’s sharply serrated leaves harvested at the 21-day baby stage flash purple margins; a purple tinge all over marks the mature plants at 40 to 45 days. Vigorous, high-yielding Waido sports dark green leaves, less broad and serrated than Kyona Mizuna, but with more flavor.
Early-maturing, high-yielding, Takii’s hybrid mustard spinach Summer Fest especially suits summer harvests. It has smooth, bright green, rounded leaves on stems with mild, sweet flavor.
Tainong Seeds reports that, in general, customers prefer dark green, round leaves and medium-thick stalks in Chinese kale or gailan. The hybrid varieties they distribute have higher rates of germination, purity, uniformity and somewhat better mildew tolerance. In Southeast Asia, different regions grow gailan specific to their region. Big Stem, Emerald Green and Green Jade, all F1 hybrids, boost performance.
Known by many names with many spellings, including pak choi, bok choi and ching chang, these Asian, leafy vegetables can be widely grown. Cut in about 30 days and marketed as baby bok choi, dark, shiny leaves appear to be preferable.
Affection, developed by Known-You Seeds, has dark green curled leaves that do not change color after stir-frying. Their variety, All-In, has dark green petioles, and it ships and stores well. Greenish has a semierect habit and is slow to bolt.
Bonsai, marketed by Stokes, has moderate tolerance to bolting and performs well in dense plantings. Toy, a tiny 12.5-centimeter plant with petioles and dark green, tender leaves, also grows well densely and in hot weather.
Green Fortune, bred by Takii, has high heat tolerance. An early, compact variety, it also displays smooth, upright leaves with green petioles. This uniform, productive pak choy appeals to specialty Asian markets.
Da Cheong Chae, marketed by Johnny’s Selected Seeds, combines pak choy and tatsoi qualities. It has dark green leaves with light green stems. Their hybrid Win-Win Choi, with white stems, is bulky and uniform with a vase shape.
Vigorous hybrid San Fan distributed by Tainong Seeds features dark green leaves and a medium green color and hourglass shape. Uniform and high-yielding, it can be cut when 3 to 4 inches tall.
Asian radishes, or daikon, usually feature totally white roots. Purple-red-skinned Mary-2 has white flesh. Harvested in 50 to 60 days, it measures 8 by 18 centimeters. This Known-You variety grows well in 18 to 30-degree Celsius temperatures.
Early and bolt-tolerant, Johnny’s Selected Seeds says Snowy tastes mild with a little bit of a late bite. It can be planted in spring for summer harvest, and summer for fall harvesting.
AgroHaitai’s Korean hybrid, White Spring, features vigorous, uniform growth. Slow to bolt, it can be grown spring or fall.
Note: Seeds from breeders including East-West Seed Group, Indo-American Hybrid Seeds (India) Pvt. Ltd., Sakata and Takii are available from dealers. Known-You Seed Co. and AgroHaitai seeds can be ordered directly. Distributors, including Evergreen Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Kitazawa Seed Co., Seeds of India, Stokes Seeds, Tainong Seeds, Inc. and others market Asian vegetable seeds.
The author is a writer-researcher specializing in agriculture. She currently resides in central Pennsylvania.