Spinach History

Spinach is believed to be of Persian origin and introduced into Europe in the 15th century (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia). Since the early 19th century, spinach has been a versatile and commonly used vegetable in the United States.

Popeye’s addiction to this “power-packed” vegetable comes from the fact that it’s a rich source of iron as well as of vitamins A and C.

But because spinach contains oxalic acid — which inhibits the body’s absorption of calcium and iron — the truth is that its nutritional value is somewhat diminished.

To retain the nutrient level in spinach, boil it in as little water as possible and for the shortest time. Boiling it in one cup of water instead of two will help the spinach retain almost 50 percent of its nutrients.

Spinach, which is usually very gritty, must be thoroughly rinsed.

Frozen and canned spinach is also available. Spinach may be used raw in salads, or cooked (usually by boiling or sauteing) and used as a vegetable or as part of a dish. Many dishes that use spinach as an integral ingredient are appended with the phrase a la florentine.

Spinach Sustenance

Spinach is believed to be of Persian origin and introduced into Europe in the 15th century (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia). Since the early 19th century, spinach has been a versatile and commonly used vegetable in the United States.

Spinach Nutrition

Carotenoids and the antioxidant vitamins C and E in spinach are also believed to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and cataracts. And the healthy dose of potassium and calcium found in spinach can help regulate your blood pressure.

Filled with Flavonoids

Researchers have also identified at least 13 different flavonoid compounds in spinach that function as antioxidants and as anti-cancer agents.

Raw spinach has a mild, slightly sweet taste that can be refreshing in salads, while its flavor becomes more acidic and robust when it is cooked. Calorie for calorie, leafy green vegetables like spinach provide more nutrients than any other food. Enjoy it steamed or stir-fried, or make a fresh, crunchy spinach salad.

Eat more of this super green to help reduce your risk of age-related macular degeneration, cancer, heart disease and neural tube defects.

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in people 65 years and older. Lutein and zeaxantin are two carotenoids supplied by spinach that may reduce the risk of this type of macular degeneration and help keep your eyes healthy.

Other sources of lutein and zeaxantin are collards, mustard greens, red chili peppers and sweet red bell peppers.

Carotenoids and the antioxidant vitamins C and E in spinach are also believed to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke and cataracts. And the healthy dose of potassium and calcium found in spinach can help regulate your blood pressure. For atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease, few foods compare to spinach in their number of health-helpful nutrients.

The benefits of spinach don’t stop there! Spinach and other leafy greens also provide folic acid, which is known to reduce the risk of neural tube defect and heart disease. Some studies have shown that the compounds in spinach may even improve your memory!

Selecting Spinach

Choose spinach that has vibrant deep green leaves no signs of yellowing in the stems. The leaves should look (and be) fresh and tender, not wilted or bruised. Avoid any that have a slimy coating as this is an indication of decay. Avoid leaves that are limp, damaged, or spotted. For the best quality, select leaves that are green and crisp, with a nice fresh fragrance.

At the supermarket, you can find spinach packaged fresh, canned, or frozen. Fresh spinach is usually found loose or bagged. If you are in a rush, grab a bag of fresh, pre-washed spinach. The ready to eat packaging makes it easy to be on the go and still stay healthy.

Washing Spinach

Spinach, bunched or prepackaged, needs to be washed very well before eating. The leaves and stems collect a lot of sand and soil. Before washing, trim off the roots and separate the leaves. Place the spinach in a large bowl of tepid water and swish the leaves around with your hands as this will allow any dirt to become dislodged. Remove the leaves from the water, empty your bowl, refill with clean water and repeat this process until no dirt remains in the water (usually two to three times will do the trick). If you’re going to use it in a salad or want its “crunch” on a sandwich, use a salad spinner to dry the spinach. If you’re going to be cooking it, you needn’t dry it.

Preparing Spinach

Eating and preparing spinach is simple and easy, since it tastes good raw or cooked. Spinach can be found fresh, frozen, or canned; it can be easily incorporated into many dishes. Its versatility makes it easy to serve raw in salads or sandwiches or as a complement to soups, meat, fish, or other vegetable dishes.

Blanching: Drop leaves into a large pot of boiling water. Once the leaves slightly wilt, drain and squeeze out excess moisture. This method is used to quick-cook spinach or to prepare it for sauteing, braising, or stuffing, and usually takes 2 to 5 minutes.

Microwaving: This method can be used instead of blanching. Place washed, slightly wet spinach in a microwavable dish, loosely cover, and cook until tender (4 to 7 minutes for one-half pound of spinach).

Sauteing: Blanched spinach can be sauteed quickly with a quick spray of oil. If cooked in a non stick pan, only a spray is needed for several cups of chopped spinach. Try adding some garlic for flavor.

Steaming: If you plan to steam the spinach, do not dry leaves after washing. Steamed spinach makes a great side dish and usually takes only 5 to 10 minutes.

Varieties of Spinach

Flat or Smooth Leaf
Flat or smooth leaf spinach has unwrinkled, spade-shaped leaves that have a milder taste than the savoy. This variety is commonly used for canned and frozen spinach as well as for soups, baby foods, and other processed foods.

flat-leaf-spinach

Savoy
Savoy has crinkly, dark green curly leaves. The texture is different from the flat leaf but tastes equally as good. Look for fresh bunches of savoy at your local market.

spinach-savoy

Semi-Savoy
Increasing in popularity is the semi-savoy variety, which has slightly curly leaves. The slightly curly leaves have a similar texture to the savoy leaves but are easier to clean. This variety is usually sold fresh. It is also found in processed foods.

spinach-semi-savoy

Fresh spinach is available all year. Major supplies come from Texas and California where it grows as a cool winter crop.

Enjoying Spinach:

  • Toss spinach, romaine lettuce and red peppers into your next salad for a nutritional boost.
  • Enjoy spinach steamed or stir-fried, or make a fresh, crunchy spinach salad.
  • Pine nuts are a great addition to cooked spinach.
  • Toss steamed spinach with pressed garlic, fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Sprinkle with a little Parmesan cheese.
  • Add layers of steamed spinach to your next lasagna recipe.

Storing Spinach

Fresh spinach should be dried and packed loosely in a cellophane or plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator crisper. If stored properly, it should last 3 or 4 days.

Blanching Spinach

Drop leaves into a large pot of boiling water. Once the leaves slightly wilt, drain and squeeze out excess moisture. This method is used to quick-cook spinach or to prepare it for sauteing, braising, or stuffing, and usually takes 2 to 5 minutes.

Steaming Spinach

If you plan to steam the spinach, do not dry leaves after washing. Steamed spinach makes a great side dish and usually takes only 5 to 10 minutes.

Spinach Facts

Eaten regularly, spinach can be great for your beauty regime, as its vitamins and minerals relieve dry and itchy skin, and contribute to a radiant complexion.

Some spinach dishes are named “Florentine” because Florence was the haome town of Ctherine de Medici, a spinach lover who married the King of France in 1533.

Spinach alkalizes the body to balance an acidic diet that can contribute to obesity and the risk of cancer.

Just 1/2-cup of raw spinach counts as one of the five servings of fruits and vegetables you should eat daily.

Cooked spinach will provide you with three times as many nutrients than eating it raw because, uncooked, the body cannot completely break it down.

Cold Fighting Curry Green Leaf Soup

Add 1/2 cup finely shredded spinach, 1 tablespoon finely diced red onion, 2 teaspoons curry powder and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne to soup bowl. Cover with 1-1/2 cup hot vegetable broth.

Notable Nutrients in 1/2-cup boiled spinach

  • Calories: 21
  • Vitamin A: 89,433 IU (189 percent DV)
  • Folate: 132 micrograms (33 percent DV)*
  • Vitamin C: 9 milligrams (15 percent DV)
  • Vitamin K: 444 micrograms (555 percent DV)
  • Copper: 0.31 milligrams (16 percent DV)*
  • Iron: 3.2 milligrams (18% DV)*
  • Magnesium: 79 milligrams (20 percent DV)*
  • Potassium: 429 milligrams (12 percent DV)
  • Fiber: 4.3 grams (17 percent DV)
  • Beta Carotene: 5,659 micrograms

This leafy green vegetable is packed full of nutrients. It’s such a versatile food that it could make a different appearance on your table every day for a week, in salads, as a steamed veggie, in main dishes, even dessert!

A Smarter Brain with Spinach

In animal studies, researchers have found that spinach may help protect the brain from oxidative stress and may reduce the effects of age-related related declines in brain function. Researchers found that feeding aging laboratory animals spinach-rich diets significantly improved both their learning capacity and motor skills.

October is Spinach Lover’s Month and Spinach Day is March 26th.

Spinach Salad Recipe

  • 1 small package baby spinach leaves
  • 1/4 cup raw, unsalted walnut pieces
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and chopped
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and sliced (optional)

Dressing:
1/4 cup cold-pressed walnut oil
1/8 cup organic balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon pure maple syrup

Mix all the dressing ingredients together. Toss over spinach leaves. Place the dressed greens in serving bowls. Top with walnuts, avocado, and hard boiled eggs (if using). Serve.

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