What is Chipilin?

In Guatemala, you hear the word “chipilin” thrown around in foodie conversations. Arriving to Guatemala as a newcomer, I was baffled - Is this a type of food, fruit, vegetable, a rare seed? I quickly got to work in sorting out this conundrum. I started by indulging in a tamale de chipilin, which I immensely enjoyed, and then I dug further to figure out why this little leaf is such a staple here.

Chipilin is a leafy green that is used as an essential vegetable in Central America, Guatemala and regions of Southern Mexico. This odd cousin of spinach has been a popular food item in Mesoamerican societies. It is commonly used in soups or mixed into the corn masa of tamales. It occasionally shows up in pupusas (stuffed tortillas) and omelets. It has a distinct earthy, sour flavor that explains why it is never eaten raw. When cooked, flavors are improved and become milder. It is a great source of vitamin C, iron and fiber.

Wondering why foreigners have never heard of this vitamin packed wonder leaf? It could be that places like the United States consider it a noxious weed, and other places like Australia have banned it completely, claiming that it is an invasive plant. Chipilin received its bad reputation due to the fact that most animals will not eat it. But don’t let that turn you away. If you are lucky enough to find this noteworthy leaf in your local grocery store, grab a bag and add it to a vegetable soup or your morning omelet!