Once illegal to sell in Georgia, the prohibition on water spinach, aka rau muống, has been lifted.
Water spinach, a non-native species commonly found in Asian cuisines, had been illegal since the 1970s due to the plant’s invasive nature, Atlanta magazine reports. Requiring moist soil to grow, water spinach can grow like a weed, potentially consuming nearby waterways and harming native plants.
A common staple in numerous popular Asian dishes, such as sambal kangkung, sinigang na baboy and stir fry, the ban failed to prevent Georgia locals from purchasing the ingredient across state boundaries. While not directly sold in stores, locals would sell the plant out of their cars, nail salons, churches and parking lots.
“If you think about it, if Southerners weren’t allowed to drink sweet tea or our Hispanic community was not allowed to purchase tortillas — in the Vietnamese community, in the Southeast Asian community water spinach is a very, very important component to their diet,” Kathy Kuzava, president of the Georgia Food Industry Association, told NPR
The movement began over a decade ago, when Hong Kong Supermarket began collecting signatures to petition for a lifting of the import and sales ban in the state and since which the Georgia’s Asian population has grown 52%.
The petition, led by owner Ben Vo, argued that proper regulations would allow water spinach to be a low-risk plant.
A 2016 bill introduced by state Rep. Pedro Marin with the support of community members would have exempted water spinach from the state’s “plant pest” category but was rejected.
In 2022, agricultural commissioner Gary Black was successful in a legislative bypass allowing restaurants to officially offer water spinach dishes.
The success was a result of both Marin’s investigation into the cultivation of water spinach and the local community’s efforts in collecting over 100,000 signatures for the 2016 legislation.
Despite this, officials are still considering the cultivation of water spinach within the state. If permitted, Georgia would become the fifth U.S. state to allow the growth of the plant within the state.