Spinach 101: Powerhouse of nutrition with ancient roots

Spinach, a super food
Spinach, a super food

Nutrition: Spinach is a “super food,” packed with nutrition but ultra low in calories. One cup of fresh leaves contains only 7 calories, but 181 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K and 56 percent of recommended dietary allowance for vitamin A. Spinach also is a good source for dietary fiber, vitamins C, E and B6, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper and manganese.

One cup of cooked spinach contains 41 calories with most of those calories coming from its high protein content.

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Selection: Spinach is usually sold in bunches or bags of prewashed leaves. Choose bunches with crisp, fresh-looking green leaves with no signs of insect damage. Leaves should appear vibrant and tender, not dull or bruised. Avoid bunches that look yellowed (including stems), limp or slimy – all signs of age and decay. If buying bagged spinach, avoid yellowed leaves or bags with accumulated moisture.

Storage: Do not wash spinach before storage; exposure to water can speed decay. Loosely wrap bunches in paper towels, then place inside a plastic bag. Wrap the bag around the bunches, squeezing out as much air as possible. Then, store in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer. Spinach will retain its freshness for three to five days.

Preparation: Wash leaves just before using or cooking. (That includes prewashed bagged spinach.) Crinkly varieties such as savoy spinach tend to collect dirt; use a bowl of water to submerge the leaves and remove that grit between the wrinkles.

Spinach cooks very quickly. It needs only 1 to 2 minutes to stir fry, steam or sauté. Spinach shrinks considerably, too; 1 pound fresh spinach yields only 1 cup cooked.

Freeze for later: To keep its bright green color, spinach should be blanched before freezing. Plunge washed leaves into boiling water for 1 minute, then drain. Plunge leaves again into cold water to stop the cooking process, drain and transfer to freezer bags or containers. Freeze and use within six months. Frozen spinach retains its high nutritional content.

Florentine footnote: Although native to Asia Minor, spinach is closely associated with Italy. Catherine de Medici, the Italian-born wife of France’s King Henry II, gets credit for popularizing spinach dishes as “Florentine.” According to food lore, the queen brought chefs from her native Florence to France in the 1500s to cook spinach the way she liked it.

Debbie Arrington