Man­age light for fla­vor, ten­der­ness

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - By Lee Re­ich

Some of my veg­eta­bles blanched at what I did to them. Not from em­bar­rass­ment, but from lack of light.

To make a veg­etable more ten­der and less bit­ter, con­sider blanch­ing it. Plants blanche when they lose chloro­phyll, which gives them their green color. Depriv­ing plants of light for some pe­riod re­duces their chloro­phyll.

Other things that make plants blanche: If leaves can’t get their fill of iron, they show it by turn­ing yel­low, at first only the youngest leaves and in the spa­ces be­tween the veins. Plants that are hun­gry for the es­sen­tial nu­tri­ent mag­ne­sium also blanche, but this de­fi­ciency shows up first on the old­est leaves. The air pol­lu­tant sul­fur diox­ide blanches leaves, as do cer­tain viruses. These types of blanch­ing, from lack of a nu­tri­ent, or from a pol­lu­tant or dis­ease, in­di­cate un­healthy plants.

(Blanch­ing by ex­clud­ing light is not to be con­fused with blanch­ing in cook­ing, which is the brief scald­ing of, say, a veg­etable in boil­ing water or steam be­fore freez­ing it.)

Many ways to blanche

A few meth­ods can be

used to keep light off all or part of a veg­etable to make it blanche. I blanched some leafy heads of en­dive by sim­ply in­vert­ing clay flower pots over them. I also planted some so close to­gether that their outer leaves were pushed up and over the in­ner ones, which then blanched.

I’ve blanched cel­ery and leek stalks by pil­ing soil against them, and cau­li­flower heads by ty­ing to­gether their outer leaves, or just snap­ping down one leaf to lie over the head. I’ve dug en­dive roots in fall and planted them in boxes brought down to my dark base­ment, where the roots pushed out pale, new sprouts. I’ve made card­board col­lars to wrap around and keep light from car­doon stalks.

Blanch­ing isn’t for all veg­eta­bles — only those whose stems or leaves we eat. Blanche a pep­per plant and you’ll end up with pale leaves and taste­less fruits.

And some leafy or stalky veg­eta­bles aren’t im­proved by blanch­ing. Blanche let­tuce and it will be taste­less. Blanche arugula and it will lack the zip for which we grow it.

Cau­li­flower and cel­ery are rarely blanched nowa­days be­cause self-blanch­ing va­ri­eties — Golden cel­ery and Snow­ball cau­li­flower — have been de­vel­oped. Even con­ven­tional cel­ery is rarely blanched any­more be­cause most of us pre­fer the more ro­bust fla­vor and tex­ture of un­blanched cel­ery. White as­para­gus is now rare for the same rea­son.

It’s all a mat­ter of taste (and tex­ture).


Even veg­eta­bles that are im­proved by blanch­ing can­not be blanched willynilly. That chloro­phyll is what har­vests sun­light, con­vert­ing it to en­ergy for plant growth. Young veg­eta­bles need to grow, so can’t af­ford to give up their sun­light.

Also, ten­der stems and leaves that re­sult from blanch­ing are more prone to rot and in­sect at­tack, whether the plant is young or old. And fully grown plants need some en­ergy just to stay alive.

All these caveats to blanch­ing make au­tumn a good time of year to con­sider it. Leafy and stalky veg­eta­bles should be fully grown by now, so more growth is not needed. Cold weather has slowed down life pro­cesses, so blanched veg­eta­bles can stay that way for weeks with­out ex­pir­ing. And this same cold weather slows down in­sects and dis­eases so that they pose lit­tle threat to suc­cu­lent, pale stems and leaves.

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An un­dated photo shows blanched en­dive in New Paltz.

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