Savoy Spinach Leaves [Spinacia oleracea of subfamily Chenopodioideae]

A native of Southwest Asia, spinach is delightful, if properly handled and cooked, but is easily abused. Many people know it only as a stringy lump of overcooked mush. Cultivars are Savoy, the most common fresh spinach, Smooth Leaf, used for frozen and processed spinach (easier to wash) and Semi-savoy, a sort of all-purpose spinach.

Baby Spinach is sold in plastic bags and boxes for the Yuppie salad trade (Yuppies will buy anything labeled "baby"). Just about all the leaves are the flavorless oval form.

Taiwan Spinach
Taiwan Spinach Leaves [presumably Spinacia oleracea]

This spinach is very much like our regular spinach, but a lot larger and considerably milder. The photo specimens were 22 inches long, but a few leaves were more than 24 inches. Taiwan spinach is stemmy - but the stems are very tender and most flavorful part. They should always be included in the recipe. It is a very fine vegetable for use in stir fries and soups, and can be used in place of regular spinach.

Taiwan spinach is now grown in California and often available in Asian markets here in Los Angeles. The photo specimens were from 168 Market on Valley Blvd. in Alhambra. Do not confuse this spinach with Water Spinach (Swamp Cabbage) often called "Chinese Spinach" by recipe writers. That is a very different plant, in the morning glory family.

More on Amaranths.

Über-expert Julie Sahni says to use Chard (Swiss chard) rather than spinach in any Indian recipe calling for "spinach", because Indian spinach (Palak) is closely related to chard and quite different from our spinach. She says if you have to use regular spinach, chop in one small green bell pepper per pound of spinach to improve the flavor.

Spinach is often badly abused both in handling and in cooking. It is very tender so it breaks up easily and becomes mush if overcooked. Some people don't use fresh spinach because they can't get all the sand out. The instructions below should solve that problem.

Canned spinach is an abomination. Frozen spinach is better but still not competitive to fresh. Frozen spinach is blanched in the freezing process so should be cooked the absolute minimum time needed to bring it to temperature.

Buying Spinach

  • It's better not to shop for spinach, but to grab it when you see good bunches for sale at a fair price. Much of the time the price is high and the bunches are small, mangled and picked before maturity. Just keep recipes in mind for when it's good.
  • Spinach bunches should be large and most of the leaves should be arrow shaped and crisp. The first leaves the plant puts out are flavorless and oval. The next batch are thick, leathery, flavorless, break up easily and spoil quickly. These are also oval. What you want is bunches of mature leaves which are thin and always distinctly arrow shaped.


  • A pound of really good spinach will yield 3/4 pound of raw leaves (75%) leaves, after stems and sub-optimal leaves are removed. Average bunches will yield less.
  • A pound of leaves, carefully prepared and cooked as described below, with excess water squeezed out and coarsely chopped, will yield 11 ounces (70%), or 1-1/2 cups.
  • In other words, to end up with 1 cup of cooked spinach leaves, you need to start with a 1 pound bunch of excellent spinach. If the bunches aren't that good, you will need more. 1 cup is roughly equivalent to a 10 oz package of frozen spinach.

Washing and Storing Spinach

  1. As soon as you can, fill a sink with cold water, nice and deep. While it's filling, cut off the root ends of the bundles as close to the root as will separate all the leaves (real close).
  2. Untie the bundles and float the leaves in the sink full of water. slosh them around real good to wash off the mud and sand (which will sink to the bottom). This is the only way to get all the sand out, rinsing under running water won't do it.
  3. Take the leaves out of the water a few at a time and break off the stems. Carefully select out yellow, mangled or leathery leaves and discard them. Toss the good leaves directly into your salad spinner and set the stems aside separately. Don't discard the stems, they're the sweetest part of the spinach. You want to keep them separate though, so you can start them cooking ahead of the leaves so they're done before the leaves are overcooked.
  4. Spin the leaves in the salad spinner and immediately bag loosely in (preferably clear) plastic. The spinner leaves just the right amount of water on the leaves to keep them fresh.
  5. Spin the stems and package them separately
  6. Store in the refrigerator. Prepared this way good bunches will be usable for a week, but try to use them sooner as they steadily lose flavor.

Cooking Spinach

The key to good spinach is to cook it the very minimum that'll do the job. The moment its all wilted and the raw color is gone it's done.

If you have prepared the spinach as described above, the amount of water left on the leaves by the salad spinner should be sufficient for cooking the spinach. Use a very little oil to keep the leaves from sticking to the pan.

The ideal pan for cooking spinach is a wok. The large diameter of a 13 inch wok can accommodate 1 pound of raw leaves, it's very easy to keep tossing the leaves for even cooking. Only a tiny amount of oil is needed, and as the spinach wilts down it gathers in the bottom.

Health & Nutrition

Spinach's reputation for very high iron content was due to an analyst slipping a decimal point in 1870, not corrected until 1937, and by then Popeye was a fixture. It still has a higher iron content than most vegetables but not by so spectacular a measure. Spinach is also high in calcium but a high oxalate content inhibits absorption of both calcium and iron into the body. On the other hand it is high in Vitamins A, C and E, folic acid and antioxidants. Due to the Oxalic Acid it is recommended that people suffering from kidney problems, gout and rheumatoid arthritis avoid this green

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