Spinach seems to be one of those vegetables people either love or they hate. If you’re one of the latter, we strongly encourage you to give it another try—spinach has a lot going for it, and it can do a lot for you. Spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables out there, with only 23 calories in a 100-gram serving, while providing lots of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as manganese, folate, and magnesium.
Spinach originated in ancient Persia, spreading from there to China and the Mediterranean. It arrived in England in the 14th century and quickly became popular due to its early-spring appearance, before many other vegetables were even sown.
There are three basic types of spinach, with the older types having narrower leaves, a stronger taste and more propensity to bolt (produce flowers/seeds instead of leaves). Newer varieties are slower to bolt and have rounder leaves. The “Savoy” type of spinach is generally sold fresh in grocery stores; its leaves are dark green and somewhat crinkly. A common Savoy variety is Bloomsdale, which performs well in many gardens.
When picking fresh spinach at the store, definitely stick with organic if you can get it, as spinach tends to have high pesticide residue levels. Choose leaves that are firm, dark green, and crisp; this indicates freshness. Wilted, bruised, or slimy leaves are indicative of age and decay. Spinach can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for three to five days, though don’t wash it until you’re ready to eat it, as excess moisture can cause it to spoil faster.
Common methods of preparation for spinach include fresh (young leaves in salad), frozen, steamed, sauteed, and even canned. More mature leaves are better for cooked dishes, as they can be a bit tough to eat raw in a salad. Sage and thyme are good compliments to the nutty, somewhat buttery flavor of spinach.
Spinach grows best in cool temperatures with well-drained soil. In milder climates, it can be grown throughout the winter, though in most areas, it is best to plant it six to eight weeks before the last frost. It can also be easily grown as part of a fall garden, along with other greens. You will need to thin seedlings so their leaves don’t overlap. Longer, warmer spring days can cause spinach to bolt; if you’re going to save seeds, let the plants stand until they start to dry before harvesting seeds for next season.