This article was originally published in The MuscleTalker March 2011 edition
Spinacia Oleracea or Spinach is an edible plant from the Amaranthaceae family. Spinach is one of the more popular of the green leafy vegetables and used in many cuisines worldwide. This delicate green leaf is related to other popular foods like chard, quinoa and beet. Spinach is usually found in dishes that include 'Florentine' in the title. The term apparently came from Catherine de' Medici (born in Florence) and her love of the food after she had become Queen of France.
Spinach can vary in texture from flat-leafed to a more springy ruffled leaf and vary from a light bright green to a deep dark one. It can be prepared in a variety of ways and also be eaten raw when it's young and tender. Baby spinach is often added raw in salads and readily found in most food shops, often bagged and already washed, though it is a good idea to still give it a quick rinse before consuming. Don't wash spinach before refrigerating as it will go soggy. Leaving it to soak might also leach the water-soluble nutrients into the water and out of the leaf. With the slightly older and tougher spinach leaf, its taste will be bitterer and stems will be tougher. The stems can be trimmed before or after rinsing and the cooking will make it more palatable. Especially with the more ruffled leaves, be sure to repeat the rinse until the water in the bowl is clear as the leaves can be very dirty!
Spinach doesn't need much time to cook; feel free to steam, boil, sauté or chop up and add to soup or sauce. As spinach cooks it vastly reduces in volume due to the high water content, so you can really pack a punch with a relatively small portion of the cooked leaf! A touch of soya sauce and garlic can help taste-wise if you're not as keen with the natural bittersweet (and slightly metallic) flavour. Avoid over-cooking as it turns to mush and not as pleasant to eat, unless you prefer it that way of course...
When choosing spinach try to avoid any that is dull in colour, yellowing, wilting or looks wet (has slimy texture), it is also worth smelling as it should be nice and fresh-scented. Spinach is available throughout the year but it's in season throughout the spring months.
Spinach is nutrient-dense, rich in antioxidants and packed with fibre. The cartoon figure, Popeye, was given immense strength after eating spinach from a tin, possibly based on the belief that spinach had a relatively high iron content. Which it does, along with calcium; however, a lot of it is poorly absorbed by the body. Regarding iron and to quote the article here
'There are two types of iron in the diet: haem and non haem, each with a different mode of absorption from the intestine. Haem iron is present in meat and meat products, non-haem iron is found in plant based products such as dark green vegetables, dried fruit, etc. Haem iron is more easily absorbed whereas the amount of non-haem iron absorbed is more influenced by the iron status of the individual.'
But there's no need to stop eating tasty spinach as it is still an easy way to pack in those nutrients and fibre! It's particularly rich in Vitamins A, C and folic acid. What you can do if concerned with the above is eat it alongside foods that enhance iron absorption.Leave a comment