Spinach and friends (like people, some are fake!)Theresa lot to like about spinach. An annual plant native to central and south-western Asia, its a nutritional powerhouse, like many other leafy greens. Its leaves are very tender when cooked and crunchy-fresh when used raw, with a hint of cleansing astringent bitterness. Its believed to have originated from ancient Persia (Iran today), and found itself entering China by way of Nepal. Even today, China is the largest grower of spinach in the world, accounting for over 90% of the worlds spinach haul. The United States is the worlds second-largest spinach producer, which may explain why the country celebrates National Spinach Day on March 26. By the 12th century, spinach had gotten pretty popular in Europe, gaining a reputation as a healthy vegetable. In the 16th century, Florence-born Catherine de Medici the Queen of France from 1547 to 1559 and the wife of King Henry II was said to be very fond of the vegetable, even introducing it to her court. Its an unverified legend, but its said thats why dishes called Florentine are always served on a bed of spinach (along with a creamy sauce). Spinachs scientific name is Spinacia oleracea, and it belongs to the Amaranthaceae family. There are three types: savoy, which is a dark green with curly leaves, usually sold fresh; flat leaf, which has broad, smooth leaves and which is usually the kind youll find processed; semi-savoy, is a hybrid, which you can get both fresh and processed. Spinach is a good source of non-heme iron (the kind you get from vegetables), but you need to cook it to break down the oxalates that will inhibit your body from absorbing it (more on oxalates later).
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