The Q&A Archives: Malibar Spinach/pepper?

Question: Is there any relation at all between Malibar Spinach and Malibar Peppercorns, or does the similarity begin and end with the appearance of the seed/peppercorn? Just curious. I have about a zillion seeds and hate throwing them in the compost if they are useful elsewhere...

Thanks for your help.
Barbara Raley

Answer: Spinacia oleracea is the standard garden variety spinach but Malabar spinach is in a different family altogether. The genus is Basella, and three species are common: B. rubra, B. alba, and B. cordifolia, red stem, green stem, and heart-shaped leaf forms, respectively. This is a warm-season crop which produces aggressive vines that may reach 10-15 feet in length. The succulent leaves and tender shoots are marketed at specialty markets and are used the same as spinach.

Peppercorns are the seed berries of the Piper nigrum (piper being Latin for plant, and nigrum meaning black) vine originating on the Malabar coast of India. Peppercorns are not only the oldest used spice, but also the most widely-used.

So while the plants carry a similar name, the seed pods on your spinach will only produce new spinach plants. They should not be useds as a substitute for peppercorns.

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