Spinach in a market
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea, Amaranthaceae) is a leaf vegetable. It is most productive in cool seasons and climates, since heat will cause the spinach to go to seed too early. When cooked its volume is decreased by three fourths.
Spinach was first cultivated in central Asia, perhaps in Persia, and the word itself derives from Persian, Esfenaj. It was introduced to Europe by the Arabs in the late Middle Ages, and it soon surpassed all other leafy greens in popularity.
In popular folklore, spinach is supposed to be rich in iron; in reality it has about the same iron content as any other green vegetable. However, spinach is a rich source of Vitamin A, Vitamin E and several vital antioxidants. On the negative side, spinach is also high in oxalates, which can contribute to gout.
Spinach's iron content had been determined in 1870 by Dr. E. von Wolf but a misplaced decimal point in his publication led to a figure ten times too high. In 1937, German chemists reinvestigated this "miracle vegetable" and corrected the mistake. It was described by T.J. Hamblin in British Medical Journal, December 1981.
Spinach is the richest natural source of folic acid, and this vitamin was first purified from spinach.
Other species called spinach
The name spinach has been applied to a number of leaf vegetables unrelated or only distantly related to spinach:
- New Zealand spinach (Aizoaceae)
- Water spinach (Convolvulaceae)
- Malabar spinach (Basellaceae)
- Orach (Chenopodiaceae), also called "mountain spinach" or "French spinach"
- The greens of various nightshade, legume and cucurbit species are also known as spinach, wild spinach, African spinach or morogo (in Southern Africa).