Spinach is believed to be of Persian origin. By the 12th century, it spread across Europe and became a desirable leafy green known for good health; a reputation that stands firm to this day. The name Florentine is often used to describe dishes containing spinach (and a creamy sauce). It is thought that this name dates back to the 16th century and the Italian wife of France’s Henry II; Catherine de Medici. The unverified tale states that Catherine introduced spinach to the Court of France and to honour her Italian heritage, she then decided to call any dish containing spinach Florentine.
Spinach belongs to the chenopodiaceae family (also known as goosefoot), a family of nutritional powerhouses including beets, chard and quinoa. It shares a similar taste profile with these two other vegetables; the bitterness of beet greens and the slightly salty flavour of chard. There are three different types of spinach generally available: savoy, semi-savoy and smooth leaf.
…The popeye effect
There is much lore regarding spinach, most famously as the source of Popeye’s strength. When faced with the sight of trouble, pipe-smoking sailor-man Popeye would burst open a tin of spinach. Once consumed, his biceps would bulge and his new found strength would see him overcome his enemies. Although there is definitely lots of goodness in those leaves, the legendary status Popeye bestowed on it is slightly inflated.
A 100g serving (raw) provides:
…Don’t be shy with your portions when cooking spinach. Its high water content means it reduces in size by about a quarter when cooked.
Spinach has good levels of iron, but not quite as much as originally believed as rumour has it researchers placed the decimal point in the wrong place! It is important to note that there are two forms of dietary iron: ‘haem’ iron and ‘non haem’ iron. Haem iron is found in animal products and is the most efficiently absorbed form of iron. Non haem iron is found in plant foods (such as spinach) and is a little harder for the body to absorb in comparison. However vegetarians, those who experience iron-deficiency anaemia and those who are pregnant are encouraged to include green leafy vegetables such as spinach as part of a balanced diet.
How to select and store
Frozen baby leaf spinach can be bought and stored. It comes in individual blocks, a handy and tasty alternative to frozen peas.
Spinach contains a high amount of oxalate. Individuals with a history of oxalate containing kidney stones should avoid over consumption. A low oxalate diet is usually defined as containing less than 50 milligrams of oxalate per day. A 100g serving of spinach has more than this and so is best avoided.
The high levels of oxalic acid in spinach has long been thought to inhibit the absorption of important nutrients such as iron and calcium, although some studies suggest that the effects of oxalic acid are minimal. Lightly cooking or wilting spinach is thought to reduce the oxalic acid content.
Want more? Take inspiration from our latest spinach recipes
This article was updated on 24th September 2018 by Kerry Torrens.
Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.
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