Baby spinach is regular spinach that has been harvested extra early and has smaller, more tender leaves. Even “spinach haters” end up loving these young leafy greens.
Baby spinach is a good source for many vitamins and minerals. The spinach is picked early and the leaves are still small and tender and the stems have just started to develop. When eaten raw, the delicate leaves taste sweet and slightly bitter. Baby spinach is a delicious type of greens, and there are countless ways to use it.
Children often refuse to eat leafy green vegetables because of the bitter substances they contain. They experience the bitter taste more intensely than adults. Bitterness is also a warning sign that a food is inedible or toxic. In the course of life, our taste receptors change, that is, they lose their sensitivity. We also learn through experience.
You can cut baby spinach into strips and then add it to pasta dishes or casseroles. Or you can use baby spinach to make a pesto that tastes great served alongside pasta or salads. If you blanch baby spinach first, the nitrate content is reduced because the water-soluble nitrate remains in the cooking water. The slightly astringent taste is then also reduced. Steamed or sautéed, baby spinach leaves can be used in soups, stews, and quiches.1
When you cook baby spinach, it significantly decreases in volume and some of the important nutrients are unfortunately lost. These young leafy greens should be gently prepared. Pick and wash the spinach and dry with a towel. Don’t crush or spin baby spinach.2
Smoothies made with baby spinach are delicious and low in calories, and they are ideal as a healthy snack between meals. Never add more than five ingredients; otherwise, your smoothie will be too heavy. Sipping your smoothie gives your digestive organs time to adjust and properly digest.
In the western regions of Europe, spinach is in season between February and May and is available in almost every supermarket. You can also buy spinach grown in regional greenhouses (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland) until the end of November.
If you buy spinach at a farmers market, you should make sure that there aren’t any brown or limp leaves. If possible, choose organic spinach that was grown outside in open fields. Outside of the season, you can fall back on frozen spinach, which doesn’t lose its nutrients and vitamins.
You can also find wild spinach in temperate and subtropical regions up to an altitude of 1550 meters as well as in Central Europe and the eastern part of North America. Good-King-Henry (also called poor-man’s asparagus or Lincolnshire spinach, (Blitum bonus-henricus, Syn.: Chenopodium bonus-henricus) can also be gathered in the wild. It is related to the spinach genus and can be cooked in the same manner as spinach.
Like garden spinach, Good-King-Henry is in the amaranth family. In the Balkans, the rhizomes of these plants are crushed to make a confectionery that tastes similar to peanut butter. The blossoms are steamed like broccoli.7
Spinach contains high levels of nitrates, which bacteria convert into harmful nitrites when spinach is cooked. These nitrites can severely inhibit the oxygen transport in our bodies. This is why you shouldn’t reheat spinach multiple times or keep it warm for too long of a time (e.g., on the stove or in the oven). In addition, if certain amino acids are present when nitrites are heated, these nitrites can be converted into nitrosamine, which is known to be cancer-promoting.3
Since fish products contain many of the amino acids needed for this reaction, it is best to refrain from eating spinach and fish at the same time.
Baby spinach keeps best when you store it in the refrigerator. As with all fresh foods, vitamins are quickly lost if the temperatures change quickly or there is too much exporsure to light. Baby spinach that is covered with a damp cloth will stay fresh longer.
If you blanch the spinach leaves briefly, rinse with cold water, and then freeze, the spinach can be stored for a longer period of time (for about 10 months).
In addition to iron, spinach contains lutein (carotenoid) and beta-carotene (precursor of vitamin A). Both are important for our eyes10 and immune system. Minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and the trace element selenium are also present. The vitamins protect the liver, prostate, and gastrointestinal mucosa and support our memory. Vitamin K1 is important for blood coagulation. Folic acid (folate) is involved in many metabolic processes in the body. Compared to other leafy vegetables, spinach is very rich in plant proteins. See also the information about fresh spinach.
The fairy tale of Popeye and spinach being a miraculous source of iron is not as such true.4 However, spinach is considered to be a healthy food (see the following two sections).
The oxalic acid contained in spinach binds iron and prevents the body from being able to absorb it well. But eaten together with potatoes or peppers (vitamin C), the body can absorb the plant iron better. The antioxidants contained in spinach are said to have cancer-preventing effects. Baby spinach leaves contain less oxalic acid than fresh mature spinach.
Fresh spinach juice is extremely effective against anemia and is highly recommended for all athletes and adolescents who are still growing. Half a glass per day ensures an optimal effect.9
When combined with oxalic acid, some minerals such as calcium form large complexes that are not readily soluble, and this makes it difficult for them to be absorbed into the bloodstream via the intestine. In addition, oxalic acid damages tooth enamel and in larger quantities can also be one cause of kidney stones.
As long as you eat spinach in moderation, the benefits clearly outweigh the disadvantages. The lethal dose of oxalate consumed orally is 600 mg per kg of body weight, which is equal to about 4.5 kg of raw spinach for someone who weighs 60 kg (132 lbs). The disadvantages would at some point take the upper hand, but only if you would eat 1 kilogram or more of spinach and that’s something we just wouldn’t do.
Nitrogen fertilizers are often applied to plants grown in greenhouses, which is one reason why nitrates are concentrated in spinach. These are converted into nitrites, substances that can inhibit the oxygen transport in our bodies. This is particularly dangerous in the case of children. If you warm up spinach that has already been cooked or keep spinach over heat for too long, the nitrites present form nitrosamine, which are known to be carcinogenic.
Vegetarian dog food can pose a danger for certain dogs. Puppies and dogs with kidney problems shouldn’t be given any dog food with spinach as an ingredient because of the oxalic acid it contains.
Spinach is regarded as a remedy for bloating and gas (carminative), and the seeds act as a laxative. It has also been shown that spinach can help lower blood sugar (hypoglycemic properties). Spinach leaves can reduce fever (antipyretic) and have an anti-inflammatory effect on inflammations of the lungs and intestines. The seeds have been used as a remedy for respiratory problems as well as inflammation of the liver and jaundice.5 Spinach is also said to help against fatigue and loss of appetite.
The origin of spinach is not entirely clear. But it is believed that it originated in Southwest Asia from the wild spinach species Spinacia tetrandra Stefen ex M.Bieb. and Spinacia turkestanica. A forerunner of the spinach we know today was cultivated in Persia as ispanāğ. The Arabs brought it to Spain as isbanāh, where it was first mentioned as espinaca in the ninth century.
However, it was not until the thirteenth century that spinach reached Central Europe. Today, spinach is cultivated in temperate zones worldwide — in Europe primarily in Italy, France, and Germany.
Baby spinach can be planted as late as September, but it has to be protected from frost. Baby spinach grown in greenhouses is ready to harvest at the beginning of spring. Spinach tastes best picked before it is too mature. When the flowers and seeds of the plant form, the leaves are no longer so tender.
Caterpillars, lice, bugs, and leaf-miner flies also like spinach. Mildew and mold such as Cladosporium attack the plant. When planting spinach, make sure to put enough space between the plants and check regularly for pests.
For botanical information about spinach, please see the entry Fresh spinach.
According to Wikipedia, the chlorophyll from the spinach leaves is added as green food coloring to mouthwash and odor-control products. The green color is also used as a natural food coloring in pasta and other foods.7
The incorrect information that spinach contains too much iron can be traced back to two different assumptions. In 1890, the Swiss scientist Gustav von Bunge correctly quantified 100 g dried spinach as containing 35 mg iron. However, these figures were incorrectly applied to fresh spinach, which contains only about one tenth of this amount.4 The second assumption is based on an accidentally incorrectly placed comma, but this could never be proven.6
Spinach stains are particularly persistent. Ideally, they should be dealt with immediately, and in this case soapy water is usually sufficient. If this is not possible, try the following:
Raw potatoes, buttermilk, and bile soap can be used as household remedies to remove green spinach stains from carpets and clothing (e.g., pants, jeans, pullovers, and shirts). Procedure: rub the stain with a slice of raw potato and then rinse off with warm soapy water.
Stains that are a combination of spinach and cream or fat can be pretreated with a little mild detergent and then washed or directly removed. To do this, moisten the stain with water, apply the detergent directly to the stain, and allow it to stand for a while. Then remove the spinach stain with a damp cloth.
Buttermilk is also known for its ability to remove such green stains. To do this, soak the garment with the spinach stain overnight in buttermilk. The next morning you can wash the garment as usual. Bile soap can also be used to remove spinach stains. Soak for about 15 minutes and then wash as usual.8