Spinach is an annual potherb from Persia grown for its leafy green leaves. Spinach can be used raw, or cooked by boiling or sautéing. Its leaves contains small amounts of oxalic acid which gives spinach a slightly bitter flavor.
Spinach is a rich source of vitamin A, C and iron. Depending on the variety the leaves can be flat or curly (called savoy).
Spinach is thought to have originated in ancient Persia (modern day Iran). Spinach made its way to China in the 7th century when the king of Nepal sent it as a gift to this country. Spinach has a much more recent history in Europe than many other vegetables. It was only brought to that continent in the 11th century, when the Moors introduced it into Spain. In fact, for a while, spinach was known as “the Spanish vegetable” in England.
Spinach was the favorite vegetable of Catherine de Medici, a historical figure in the 16th century. When she left her home of Florence, Italy, to marry the king of France, she brought along her own cooks, who could prepare spinach the ways that she especially liked. Since this time, dishes prepared on a bed of spinach are referred to as “a la Florentine.” Her influence has made spinach a commonly used vegetable in Italian cuisine.
Spinach grows well in temperate climates. Today, the United States and the Netherlands are among the largest commercial producers of spinach.
Spinach should be washed very well since the leaves and stems tend to collect 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 the 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). Do not leave spinach soaking in the water as water-soluble nutrients will leach into the water.
Spinach sold in bags has been pre-washed and only needs to be rinsed. If you are going to use it in a salad, dry it using a salad spinner or by shaking it in a colander.
Spinach contain naturally occurring substances called purines. Purines are commonly found in plants, animals, and humans. In some individuals who are susceptible to purine-related problems, excessive intake of these substances can cause health problems. Since purines can be broken down to form uric acid, excess accumulation of purines in the body can lead to excess accumulation of uric acid. The health condition called “gout” and the formation of kidney stones from uric acid are two examples of uric acid-related problems that can be related to excessive intake of purine-containing foods. For this reason, individuals with kidney problems or gout may want to limit or avoid intake of purine-containing foods such as spinach.
Spinach is among a small number of foods that contain measurable amounts of oxalates, naturally occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating spinach. Although early studies on spinach suggested possible interference of oxalates with iron absorption, more recent studies suggest that absorption of non-heme iron (iron from plants) is not significantly impacted by the oxalates contained in spinach. Laboratory studies have shown, however, that oxalates may interfere with absorption of calcium from the body. Exactly how much interference takes place in the case of spinach and calcium absorption is not clear, but at a minimum, you should expect to absorb a minimum of about 10% of the calcium from the spinach that you eat. For example, in one cup of boiled spinach containing about 285 milligrams, you can expect to absorb about 25-30 milligrams. For adults, the Adequate Intake (AI) level for calcium falls between 1,000 and 1,200 milligrams. This recommended amount assumes an absorption rate of about 30%. In other words, about 300-360 milligrams of absorbable calcium are expected each day. While 25-30 milligrams is not an overwhelming amount of calcium from a serving of food, a cup of spinach is extremely low-calorie and can provide you with about 10% of the recommended calcium intake for very few (about 40) calories. Those circumstances make spinach a worthwhile addition to your diet with respect to calcium, even though spinach is not an outstanding source of this nutrient and should not be counted on to boost your calcium intake by large amounts.
Season: available year-round
How to select: Available year round, but peak local season is May to August. Select bunches with crisp, dark leaves. Avoid limp bunches and yellowing leaves. Thin stems are also preferable over thick stems which indicates the spinach has been overgrown. Spinach may also be purchased canned or frozen.
How to store: In a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 3 days.
How to prepare: Often gritty, spinach must be thoroughly rinsed, but only do so right before cooking. boil, puree, saute
Matches well with: anchovies, bacon, butter, cardamoom, carrots, cheese, chiles, chives, cream, cumin, curry, eggs, fish, garlic, ginger, ham, hollandaise sauce, horseradish, leeks, lemon, lemongrass, mint, mushrooms, mustard, nutmeg, nuts, olive oil, olives, onions, oranges, pepper, raisins, sour cream, soy, sugar, tarragon, tomatoes, vinegar, yogurt