The boom in Asian vegetables

Pak Choi, Chinese cabbage, edamame beans or okra are some of the oriental vegetables that are finding places in the European and Spanish distribution sector

These vegetables are still mainly unknown by western people because their great consumers historically have been the oriental population living in Europe. However, every day these ‘ethnic’ vegetables are becoming more present on the supermarket shelves.

Although they are products that are common in supermarkets of countries such as England, where the convergence of different cultures is a social reality, in Spain it has only been feasible to sell then in small retailers owned by immigrants. However, today the large supermarkets are beginning to stock a small amount of these vegetables.

The growing of these vegetable varieties (pak choi, Chinese cabbage, chives, edamame beans, okra…) has become relevant, from autumn to spring in the Mediterranean area and along the Andalusian coast. From this point onwards, the crops extend through the inland areas of mainland Spain (southern Madrid, Granada…).

An increase in the demand, but without any reliable statistics

The sector is experiencing an upward trend and marketing companies that are specialised in other vegetables have opened up lines for these vegetables due to a constant, rising demand.

However, it is difficult to find reliable statistics for these crops, since in the official statistics (MAPAMA), oriental crops are included under the heading “Other Vegetables”, in spite of the fact that their cultivation and consumption has been spreading all over Europe since the mid-1970s.

Juan Andrés Calero, Manager for these crops at Sakata, affirms that “this recent interest in ethnic vegetables is due to two important reasons: their healthy perception, which benefits from the communication work by chefs and influencers and a growing interest by farmers to diversify their vegetable productions with materials that are not difficult to grow.”

Accordingly, Sakata Seed Ibérica has always been committed to a healthy diet and it was one of the pioneer companies introducing oriental crops into Spain, amongst which the following stand out:

  • Pak choi. Brassica rapa spchinensis L, also known as Bok Choy, of Asian origin, but grown on different continents. It is a cabbage, but as with the others belonging to the Chinensis group, it does not form a head, rather its green leaves are shaped more like Swiss chard. With a high nutritional content and excellent flavour, it is being incorporated to European cooking and in Spain it is becoming increasingly easy to find and cook. Varieties:
    • Yang Qing choi. With a green stalk, its resistance to bolting, vigorous stature and shiny dark green leaves makes it stand out.
    • Joi Choi. With a white stalk, and shiny, dark leaves.
  • Spring onion. The Allium fistulosum spring onion never forms a true bulb, like that of its closest relation, the onion, rather it becomes thicker where the leaves join together at the base. Its characteristic shape is elongated and not very thick. It is sweeter, with a more delicate flavour than the onion. Once cleaned and washed, only the white part and three or four centimetres of its green part should be eaten:
    • A reference variety on the market; it stands out due to its dark colour and adaptation to different growing conditions.
    • With bright green leaves, its important vigour and yield stand out.
  • Chinese cabbage. It belongs to the cruciferous family. It has been grown in China for many years, arriving there from Japan at the end of the 19th century and today its cultivation is very widespread. It is eaten fresh and in salads, as well as in stews, sauces, boiled, etc. In some countries in the Far East it is the vegetable that contributes the largest amount of vitamins to the diet. Varieties:
    • One kg. Adapted to warm conditions, it is characterised by its resistance to dehydration.
    • A new variety that stands out due to its resistance to bolting and to disease.
  •  A variety of soya, which is traditionally eaten in Japan as pods, harvested before becoming ripe, as an aperitif. It has an important nutritional intake, rich in vegetable proteins, micronutrients such as calcium, iron, phosphorous… and vitamins C and K. Variety:
    • Dame Hanae. Significant adaptation capacity to different cultivation areas, it stands out for its strength and productivity.
  •  It belongs to the malvaceae family, originally from Africa, although it is very common in Asia and the Middle East. Its fruit, which is slightly similar to a green pepper, is highly appreciated due to its nutritional value. It is rich in antioxidants, potassium, vitamin B, vitamin C and calcium and for being an ideal thickener for sauces and stews, with very little calorie intake. Varieties:
    • Vigorous, large-sized, with an important yield.
    • Earlier, with great vigour and yield.


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