Water spinach, botanically classified as Ipomoea aquatica, is a semi-aquatic pantropical herbaceous vine grown for its leaves, which are harvested both young and mature. The most widespread name used is kangkong, which refers to the wandering nature of the plant and its ability to grow vigorously and take over vast expanses of water. Its young shoots and leaves are preferred to mature leaves as they are texturally more tender and sweeter in taste. Not only are the leaves tasty, but the stems are even better, possessing a unique, somewhat salty taste that's absolutely delicious. The stems are hollow, fiberous, and easy to chew and digest raw. Water spinach grows best in water or very damp soil, and when farmed it's often grown in rice-patty-like conditions. Some say that Kang Kong can act as a mild laxative due to it's high fiber content. We never had that issue and we eat a lot, but you never know. Forewarned is forearmed.
Water spinach is utilized in many standard Asian cooking methods, particularly stir fry with garlic and chilies, steamed to accompany soup, even tempura battered and fried. The hollow stems can also be cooked on their own as a crunchy side dish.
Water spinach is a member of the morning glory family and shares the same genus as the sweet potato. It is found throughout the tropical and subtropical regions of the world, although it is not known where it originated. Does not ship to Florida, California and Hawaii as it invades wetlands.
Other Names: River spinach, asian water spinach, swamp cabbage, Chinese spinach, asagaona, phak bung and ensai, rau muống, water morning glory, eng chai, kangkung.