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Spinach

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Although it will not produce the magical effects that Popeye enjoyed, spinach is most definitely good for you. It is exceptionally rich in carotenoids, including beta-carotene and lutein, and also contains quercetin, a phytochemical with antioxidant properties. Spinach is rich in vitamins and minerals, particularly folate (folic acid), vitamin K, magnesium, and manganese; it also contains more protein than most vegetables. (Although the protein is incomplete--spinach and other leafy green vegetables are low in the amino acid methionine--it is complemented by the protein in rice and other grains.)

Raw spinach is a healthy addition to salads, but to get the full benefit from this leafy green, eat it cooked at least some of the time. Cooking makes the antioxidant carotenoids responsible for much of spinach's nutritional potency easier for the body to absorb.

Varieties

There are three basic types of spinach:

Savoy:Savoy has crinkly, curly leaves with a dark green color; it is the type sold in fresh bunches at most markets. Springy and crisp, it's particularly good in salads.

Flat or smooth-leaf: Flat or smooth-leaf spinach has unwrinkled, spade-shaped leaves that are easier to clean than savoy; this is the type generally used for canned and frozen spinach as well as soups, baby foods, and other processed foods.

Semi-savoy: Increasingly popular are semi-savoy varieties, which have slightly crinkled leaves. These offer some of the texture of savoy, but are not as difficult to clean; they are cultivated for both the fresh market and for processing.

Availability

Fresh spinach is readily available all year. The major suppliers are California and Texas, where spinach grows best during the mild winter months.

Shopping

Fresh spinach is sold both loose and in bags, which usually hold about 10 ounces. Loose spinach is easier to evaluate for quality, since you can examine each leaf individually.

Select small spinach leaves with good green color and a crisp, springy texture; reject wilted, crushed, or bruised leaves as well as those with yellow spots or insect damage.

Fresh spinach should smell sweet, never sour or musty.

Look for stems that are fairly thin; coarse, thick ones indicate overgrown spinach, which may be leathery and bitter.

If only bagged spinach is available where you shop, check whether the contents seem resilient when you squeeze the bag.

Storage

Leave packaged spinach in its cellophane bag, or pack it loosely in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper. Fresh spinach will keep for three to four days.

Preparation

Your first priority is to get rid of the grit. Fresh spinach--especially the curly savoy type--often has sand trapped in the leaves and stems, and spinach always requires careful washing. (Don't, however, wash spinach before storing it for any length of time: After a day or so, it will begin to wilt and decay.) Trim off any roots, separate the leaves, and drop them into a large bowl of lukewarm water; agitate them gently with your hands. Lift out the leaves, letting the sand and grit settle, then empty and refill the bowl and repeat the process until the leaves are clean. And although bagged spinach is often labeled "pre-washed," it still must be carefully rinsed to clean away sand and grit. Loose spinach usually has more stem on it than bagged spinach, but both need to be stemmed if the stems are not very thin and tender. Pinch off the stems and also the midribs (the part of the stem that extends into the leaf), if they are thick and tough. You can easily stem spinach by folding each leaf in half, vein-side out, and pulling up on the stem as you hold the folded leaf closed. To crisp spinach for salad, wash the leaves, then dry in a salad spinner or shake dry in a colander. Wrap the spinach in paper towels, place in a plastic bag, and refrigerate for no longer than a few hours. Spinach that is to be cooked need not be dried; in fact, there is usually just enough water clinging to freshly washed leaves so that they can be steamed without additional cooking liquid.

Sauteing: Washed, with some water still clinging to it, spinach can saute quickly in a small amount of oil. If you use a nonstick pan, 1 teaspoon of oil should be sufficient for 3 cups of chopped spinach. In addition, spinach can be sauteed in stock, if you are careful to stir and toss the leaves constantly; be prepared to add more stock to the pan as it evaporates.

Steaming: Cook in a steamer over boiling water for five to 10 minutes.

Microwaving: This method is a good substitute for steaming. It's also one of the most healthful ways to cook spinach, because almost none of the nutrients are lost. Place 1/2 pound of spinach (washed but not dried) in a microwaveable dish; cover loosely and cook until tender, four to seven minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Spinach/2 cups raw chopped

13
Total fat (g)
0.2
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
1.6
2
Carbohydrate (g)
2
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
47
Beta-carotene (mg)
2.4
Vitamin C (mg)
17
Folate (mcg)
116
Manganese (mg)
0.5


Date Published: 04/21/2005
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