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Health Benefits of Callaloo

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 26, 2020

A beloved Caribbean dish, callaloo is a hearty, healthy, and versatile meal that can vary considerably from one region to the next. It is a culinary mainstay for many island nations, and is the national dish in both the Commonwealth of Dominica and Trinidad & Tobago.

Most varieties of callaloo feature the leaves of plants in the amaranth family. In fact, it’s such a common ingredient, this plant is often referred to as “callaloo” in many regions. In some places outside of the Caribbean, water spinach may be used as the dominant vegetable in callaloo. Many versions of callaloo also include taro, which is called “callaloo bush” in some areas.

While nearly every take on callaloo features some type of leafy green vegetable, the other ingredients used depend on location and availability. In Trinidad & Tobago, most callaloo recipes call for okra. In other places, ingredients can include crab, conch, lobster, pumpkin, chili pepper, or scotch bonnet pepper.

Health Benefits

Callaloo recipes may vary, but all include some form of leafy green vegetable. This provides the majority of the dish's nutritional benefits.

Digestive Health

Vegetables such as amaranth and taro are high in dietary fiber. Increasing your fiber intake helps increase the bulk of your stools to aid in digestion and prevent constipation. Healthy fiber intake also reduces your likelihood of developing hemorrhoids and other common digestive complaints.

Cancer Prevention

The amaranth leaves found in many versions of callaloo contain significant levels of flavonoids, which may limit the impact of free radicals and cancer-causing compounds. People who regularly consume the flavonoids found in amaranth and other leafy green vegetables may have a lower risk of developing several types of cancer.

Prevent Cognitive Problems

Amaranth leaves contain the compound tocotrienol. Research links higher levels of tocotrienol with lower rates of cognitive disease, including Alzheimer's disease. High tocotrienol intake could also reduce your likelihood of developing Parkinson's disease.

Heart Disease Prevention

The tocotrienols found in amaranth leaves may also help lessen cardiac changes associated with aging. In particular, tocotrienols limit the impact of some risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol.

Nutrition

Callaloo can contain many different types of ingredients depending on the region where it is being served. However, many versions often feature cooked amaranth leaves.

Amaranth callaloo is a good source of:

Nutrients per Serving

The nutrients in callaloo depend on which vegetables and other ingredients are used. For example, one cup of amaranth leaves (the most popularly used callaloo ingredient) includes:

Things to Watch Out For

While the base ingredients for callaloo are primarily leafy green vegetables, other ingredients used to prepare callaloo can include fats, such as bacon, that should be consumed in moderation. If you’re concerned with reducing your fat intake, look for vegan or low-fat callaloo recipes that use broths and spices to add flavor.

How to Prepare Callaloo

Since callaloo can contain different ingredients, the best way to prepare the dish depends on which ingredients you want to use. A wide variety of vegetables and seafood can be featured in this dish. You can use what you have on hand and incorporate vegetables and ingredients available in different regions or in different seasons.

In general, you can simmer your selected ingredients until they achieve a stew-like quality. The finished product typically has a deep green color.

Callaloo's various ingredients can be found in grocery stores, farmer's markets, and specialty food shops. While amaranth and taro are not always readily available depending on where you live, okra is widely available in many regions.

Feel free to experiment with various ingredients and recipes to find a version of callaloo that you enjoy.

Here are some ways to prepare and enjoy callaloo that you can try:

  • Use amaranth leaves, okra stalks, onions, and crab to create a seafood-oriented take on the Jamaican classic.
  • Create a unique curry with callaloo, pumpkin, and sweet potato.
  • Stuff bell peppers with your favorite version of callaloo.
  • Mix callaloo into pasta to create a heartier meal.
  • Use a mix of callaloo, plantains, and goat cheese as a pot pie filling.
  • Toss leftovers from a simple callaloo recipe into a smoothie with banana, pear, and lemon.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Callaloo: "Jamaican Versions of Callaloo."

Egyptian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences: “Rediscovering the Therapeutic Potential of Amaranthus Species—A Review."

New York Times: "Trinidad's Native Soup."

Nutrients: "A Review on the Relationship between Tocotrienol and Alzheimer Disease.”

Nutrition & Metabolism: "Tocotrienol Is a Cardioprotective Agent Against Ageing-Associated Cardiovascular Disease and Its Associated Morbidities."

U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: "Amaranth Leaves, Cooked, Boiled, Drained, With Salt."

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