Spinach originated in Persia (now Iran) where it was known as aspanakh. It made its way to China in the 7th century when the king of Nepal sent it as a gift. Spinach arrived in Europe in the 11th century when it was brought to Spain by the Moors (Muslims). In fact, spinach was known as “the Spanish vegetable” in England.
In the 16th century, spinach became the favorite vegetable of Catherine de Medici of the famous Medici family of the Italian Renaissance. When she left her home in Florence, to marry King Henry II of France, she brought along her own cooks to prepare spinach in the many different ways she liked. Since then, dishes prepared on a bed of spinach are referred to as à la Florentine.
North Americans began growing spinach in the early 19th century. In the 20th century, spinach was popularized by the cartoon character, Popeye, who gained amazing strength whenever he ate a can of spinach.
Bright and bold-looking spinach leaves are related to a group of plants called goosefoots because of the shape of their leaves. Popeye thought he got his strength from spinach because spinach has a high level of iron, which is needed to take the oxygen to muscles so they can power us up.
But, Popeye obviously didn’t realise that most of the iron in spinach is actually bound up with oxalic acid and so it can’t be used by the body. Oxalic acid interferes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium and some other foods consumed at the same time as the spinach, too. Raw spinach in particular has a greatly reduced nutritional value, but even cooked spinach still contains some oxalic acid, which makes it difficult to benefit from the nutritional content of this vegetable.
Spinach does have some good features. It’s high in fiber… the stuff that keeps things moving through you digestive system. Spinach also contains a phytochemical belonging to the carotenoid family, called zeaxanthin. Zeaxanthin appears to be valuable for keeping eyes healthy, especially in older people.
One cup of fresh spinach is about two cupped handfuls. When cooked, this makes about 1/4 cup of cooked spinach. The amount of fruits and vegetables you need depends on your age, gender, and physical activity level. Spinach is available fresh, frozen, and canned – and all forms count toward your daily amount.