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Popeye's Secret Weapon

 

Spinach may have provided Popeye with superhuman strength, but its real life potential is far less lofty. In fact, its nutritional reputation is somewhat inflated. Spinach contains oxalic acid which

 

Spinach may have provided Popeye with superhuman strength, but its real life potential is far less lofty. In fact, its nutritional reputation is somewhat inflated.

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Spinach contains oxalic acid which inhibits the absorption of its calcium and iron. Moreover, it contains other nutrients that are not fully absorbed when it is consumed raw.

This is not to say that spinach is not good for you. But, like many health and nutritional claims, the surface hype usually obscures the underlying scientific reality.

Spinach originated in Persia, (modern day Iran). The earliest records of its cultivation go back 2,000 years. It was introduced to China in the 600's and to Spain around 1100.

By the 16th century it was well established in Europe. The Spaniards brought it to America. Spinach was the first vegetable frozen and sold commercially.

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That honor goes to Clarence Birdseye in Springfield Massachusetts in 1930. Fresh spinach is available year round. California and Texas are the major growers.

There are four main types of spinach. Savoy sports crinkled, dark green leaves, Flat or Smooth-Leaf is self-descriptive, Semi-Savoy's leaves are in-between Savoy and Flat, and Baby spinach is a smaller Flat-Leaf variety.

The latter are very tender and desirable for salads. Choose spinach with crisp and vibrantly green leaves. Avoid specimens that are limp or discolored.

Store it in the fridge in a bag for up to three days. Spinach can be very gritty and must be rinsed thoroughly, even the so-called "pre-washed" type sold in packages.

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Despite the aforementioned encumbrance to utilizing its calcium and iron, spinach has other nutritional benefits. It contains vitamins A, C, folic acid, magnesium and potassium.

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Spinach is high in carotenoids, a group of substances espoused to fight cancer and perform other miracles. However, like carrots, the spinach must be cooked to optimize the absorption of the carotenoids.

My favorite way of enjoying spinach is simply to sauté it with garlic and olive oil. It's great for salads, soups, pasta sauces, dips, or flavoring a risotto.

For the latter, blanch the spinach in boiling water, wiz it in the blender and stir it into your risotto at or near the end of cooking.

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Spinach is very high in water. One pound of spinach will reduce to one cup cooked.

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