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 statue Popeye bestowed on it is slightly inflated.
Spinach is available all year round but is in season during the spring (March - June). It is well known for its nutritional qualities and has always been regarded as a plant with remarkable abilities to restore energy, increase vitality and improve the quality of the blood. There are sound reasons why spinach would produce such results, primarily the fact that it is rich in iron. Iron plays a central role in the function of red blood cells which help in transporting oxygen around the body, in energy production and DNA synthesis. Spinach is also an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C and folic acid as well as being a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron and vitamin B2. Vitamin K is important for maintaining bone health and it is difficult to find vegetables richer in vitamin K than spinach. Others include kale, broccoli and green cabbage.
The dark green colour of spinach leaves indicates they contain high levels of chlorophyll and health promoting carotenoids (beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin). These phyto chemicals have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous properties and are especially important for healthy eye-sight, helping to prevent macular degeneration and cataracts.
How to select and store:
Fresh spinach should be medium to dark green, fresh-looking and free from evidence of decay. It should be stored loosely packed in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge where it will keep for about four days. Do not wash spinach before storing, as the moisture will cause it to spoil, although do ensure it is washed properly before consumption as the leaves and stems may collect soil and chemicals. Raw spinach has a milder taste that some describe as metallic once cooked. If cooking, opt for steaming, sautéeing or microwaving spinach rather than boiling to preserve the nutrients.
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. Spinach has more than 50 milligrams so is best avoided.
Spinach also contains high levels of oxalic acid, which in excess can inhibit the absorption of other important nutrients such as calcium. Lightly cooking spinach is thought to reduce the oxalic acid content.