From mainstream cartoons to famous recipes, spinach has successfully branded its self as a healthy food item that provides not only strength but loads of nutrients as well, impacting an individual’s overall health for the better. Spinach is an edible flowering plant that has been used as a major food ingredient since ancient times. It is a wild edible green that can grow up to 30 cm in height and its leaves can have a width of 15 cm to 30 cm. The seeds of spinach start to grow as tiny fruits, with just a 10 mm radius. Those fruits themselves are the product of small flowers, having the size of 5mm only.
The origin of spinach lies in an Asian country – ancient Persia which today is Iran as wel as several other bordering countries. It is believed that the edible greens may have originated from Spinacia Tetranda – a wild edible plant that is found in Anatolia today. From Persia, spinach was introduced in India and then in Ancient China around the year 647 where it got a new, alternative name “Persian vegetable”.
The first written reference of spinach was recorded in the Mediterranean region in the medical work of al-Razi or Rhazes, and written texts of Ibn Wahshiya and Qustus-al-Rumi in the 10th century. Ibn Hajjaj – a mathematician and translator – also wrote about spinach in the 11th century. The green vegetable when it made its way to the Arab Mediterranean became instantly popular and was considered an essential vegetable in the 12th century. So much so that the great Arab agronomist Ibn al-Awwam called it in his written texts “the chieftain of leafy greens” which means “the captain of leafy greens”.
By the 13th century, Germany found out about the prickly-seeded variant of spinach, and then variants of Spanish entered the major parts of England and France in the 14th century. In Spain, these leafy greens became a necessity during spring as no other vegetable grew at that time of the year.
Fun Trivia: Spinach gained a whole new level of popularity when Catherine de’ Medici rose to power in France in 1533. Born and brought up in the city of Florence, the queen loved this edible flowering plant to the extent that she preferred to have it in every meal. This is why most cuisines that have spinach as their main ingredient are known as “Florentine”.
During the reign of Catherine de’ Medici, spinach started to grow in a wide range of varieties all over the world, and today, those varieties are cultivated and happily consumed everywhere. What are the basic types of spinach, you may wonder? Continue reading to find that out.
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Varieties of Spinach
Spinach varieties can be found in three major types – savoy, semi-savoy, and flat-leafed. Each of these varieties is further categorized into many other types that grow best in varying temperature conditions and seasons.
To learn more about different varieties of spinach, have a look at the section below.
Also known as curly leaf spinach, savoy spinach is botanically classified as Spinacia oleracea. The wrinkly type of leaf boasts dark green curly leaves, having a slightly crunchy and crispy texture. As compared to standard spinach, savoy spinach has quite a distinctive flavor and texture.
Owing to its bitter flavor, people prefer to have it cooked rather than eating it raw. While it is easily available in fresh green bunches at any vegetable market, you can also find frozen or canned savoy spinach.
Each leaf of savory spinach is usually five to six inches in length which is why it is used for its unique appearance in salads. The nutritional profile of savoy spinach is excellent as it is a rich source of beta carotene, vitamin C, and folate. Research shows that two cups of raw, chopped savoy spinach contains 13 calories, ideal for those that are looking for a low-calorie diet.
This variety of spinach can be cooked for hours, without it losing its original shape or texture. Cooks often use savoy spinach in place of collards, chard, and kale as it equally offers tasty flavors. Most commonly, it is paired with food ingredients like garlic, dried fruits, onion, beef, and poultry. Using these food items, spinach-based cuisines are prepared all around the globe. To bring out more flavor of savoy spinach, it is best to cook it up with different kinds of cheeses, chilies, nuts, and eggs.
Please note that it belongs to a cool-season vegetable family – goosefoot family. So instead of harvesting it in warmer climatic areas, it is ideal to grow in cooler regions. Most typically, the vegetable is thrived and grown in the coastal areas of California.
Savoy Spinach is further divided into two primary types which are as follows:
This hybrid variety is known for its thick, broad leaves and is ideally cultivated during the spring and fall seasons. This type of spinach only takes 37 days to germinate and shows quick seedling performance, growing in a dark green arrow shape with loads of flavor. Due to its impactful flavor, this delicious type of savoy spinach can be cooked in whichever way you like.
When served raw and fresh, it has a delicate and crispy flavor and texture. You can also serve it sautéed or braised in creamy sauces, pasta, and soups.
Bloomsdale is one of the oldest varieties of spinach with long, curly dark-green leaves. Preferably, sow in spring in a sunny location and water it during dry spells to promote steady growth.
During the growing season, it may need 1-1/2 inches of water per week. Always use a rain gauge to estimate the quantity of water. When leaves are three inches long, harvest them and snip baby leaves when they reach up to 2 inches in length.
Fun fact: It was none other than Bloomsdale spinach that Popeye was hooked on!
Like savoy spinach, semi-savoy spinach has the same crisp texture and flavor. However, it is less crinkly than savoy spinach and hence easier to clean.
When growing at home, this is the best choice as it tends to have anti-disease properties. In other words, this type of spinach is super nutritious as it is chock-full of lutein, beta-carotene, glutathione, omega-3 fatty acids, iron, calcium, vitamin A, C, and E.
This utterly crispy spinach comes in four basic types that are discussed in detail below:
Tyee spinach has thick, dark green leaves that are less crumbly than savoy spinach. Being a member of semi-savoy spinach, Tyee spinach has quite a scrumptious flavor in both raw and cooked forms.
Ideally, it is best to grow Tyee in the fall season and harvest it in early spring, especially during the day when the temperature reaches 40 degrees. If for some reason, you are unable to plant Tyee during the colder months, you must know that its seeds can easily be planted in warmer months of late spring as well.
Also called baby leaf spinach, Catalina is a lovely green vegetable that boasts a nice oval shape and crunchy flavors. The heat-resistant vegetable is a fast-growing plant that takes 40 days maximum to grow. There is no need to wait until the dog days of summer to begin planting. Experts suggest that the ideal growing condition of Catalina is the cooler months of spring or fall, with the growing temperature between 45 degrees Fahrenheit to 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
The bright green leaves of Catalina are sustainable to light frost and summer shade. This small-leaved spinach tastes delicious in salads, and due to their smooth leaves, they are considered superior to other types of semi-savoy spinach.
An immensely healthy hybrid plant, Teton yields dark green, tender leaves that have upright and quick growth.
Teton also happens to lack bolting which is a plant survival mechanism needed to sustain hot summer months. Therefore, it is ideal to plant Teton seeds during cooler months. Otherwise, they may not survive and produce Teton spinach.
Fully grown and harvested Teton spinach is usually 6 inches long and is packed with vitamin A, C, and the B-complex vitamins. For continuous and rapid growth, the seeds of Teton must be sowed every 2 inches and must be fully covered with soil.
Like all other types of semi-soy spinach, Indian summer is an easy-to-grow vegetable, yielding dark green and crisp leaves of about 10 to 12 inches long.
The ideal time period to grow Indian summer is again the cooler seasons of fall and spring. Within 35 to 40 days, the easy-to-grow spinach reaches maturity and can be harvested.
While growing Indian summer, you will need to perform a considerable amount of maintenance, so previous planting experience can come in handy when sowing and growing this plant. Make sure that you keep an eye on the amount of soil, pH level, sun, and pests.
What makes this type of spinach stand apart from the other kinds is its broad and flat-shaped green leaves that are easier to clean than savoy or semi-savoy types. Owing to these qualities, flat-leaf spinach is the number one choice of most gardeners and consumers.
Since it takes less time to grow and can be stored for a longer time, it is typically sold in a can or frozen in stores. Most commonly, it is sold loose and is tender and sweet in flavor. In addition to being flavorsome, flat-leaf spinach promises to offer a wide range of health benefits such as promoting weight loss, eye health, maintaining healthy bones, lowering hypertension, relaxing body muscles, preventing heart diseases, boosting the immune system and lots more.
Flat-leaf spinach comes in two major types as follows:
Having the scientific name “Spinacia oleracea”, space spinach typically grows in a wide range of moist and fertile soil. However, it is sensitive to acidity so its pH level must be around 6.5 to 7.5. Like other kinds of spinach, space spinach germinates best in cooler weather conditions, and that’s why it is best to sow its seeds in early spring.
If the sowing is done in the summer season, then this may result in irregular germination. To ensure steady and smooth plant growth during the warmer season, irrigation can help improve germination and cool the soil. For a fall harvest, spinach should be sowed in the late months of summer season.
Essential Tip: provide nitrogen and consistent water to the growing plants to ensure their optimum growth. For baby greens, sow rows of seeds every 10 to 14 days.
Red Cardinal Spinach
As the name implies, red cardinal spinach has a red hue in it with red veins in its leaves and red stems like beet leaves.
Red cardinal spinach makes for a lovely addition to salads, but unfortunately, it bolts quicker than any other spinach, so it is best to harvest it young. Red cardinals mature quicker than any other form of spinach, within 21 to 32 days in spring/summer and 25 to 35 days in fall/winter. The ideal temperature to grow red cardinal is 45 degrees to 75 degrees while ensuring that it gets a minimum of 6 hours of daily sunlight and a moderate level of water.
If you are interested in growing your own red cardinal and have a small garden, go ahead and begin sowing its seeds. For the ideal growth of red cardinal, you don’t need a big garden as it can easily grow in a small garden.
Alternative Spinach Varieties
Also known as Tetragonia expansa, New Zealand spinach is an ideal summer growing vegetable that loves warmth and yields best in containers. Unlike other types of spinach, New Zealand spinach grows well in the early summer months.
This type of spinach belongs to a flowering plant in the fig-marigold family (Aizoaceae). Native to eastern Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, this leafy vegetable naturally grows in sandy shorelines. This plant is trail-like, which means that it first spreads as a thick carpet above the ground and then as it grows, it climbs through other vegetations and hangs in a downward position.
When young, it has an erect, vertical growth and must be harvested when it reaches 3 inches to 15 cm in length. When it is about time to harvest New Zealand spinach, you will find it in a thick green triangular shape, covered with tiny water drops. Typically, the flowers it yields are yellow in hue and fruits are capsule-like filled with tiny horns.
When it comes to its flavor, New Zealand Spinach has a flavor and texture similar to other types of spinach and is cooked like any other spinach. Like spinach, it is loaded with oxalates that need to be eliminated with the help of irrigation.
This heirloom vegetable is known by many names, depending on its location. For instance, it is also known as Botany Bay spinach, sea spinach, Cook’s cabbage, and kokihi.
While Malabar spinach tastes similar to spinach, it doesn’t belong to the spinach family. In fact, Malabar spinach is a member of the Basellaceae family typically grown in the Northeastern U.S.
History tells us that this crop originally belongs to tropical Asia, either from India or Indonesia. Ideally, it is cultivated in extreme warmer seasons due to its heat-resistant ability and comes in two main species – Basella Alba – thick, green-stemmed leaves and Basella ruba which consists of red stems.
Like other popular types of spinach, Malabar spinach is a fast-growing vegetable that is tolerant of extreme rainfall. When planting the seeds of Malabar spinach, sow them 1 inch deep into the soil and 1 inch apart in rows.
Malabar spinach doesn’t take long to mature as it becomes ready-to harvest in just 55 to 70 days after the initial seeding. By that time its stem length reaches 6 to 8 inches. Similar to New Zealand spinach, Malabar spinach has several names depending on the geographical locations it is harvested from. For example, the English name of Malabar spinach is Vietnamese spinach. In China, it goes by five different names – Saan Choy, Shan Tsoi, Shy Chieh, Lo Kwai, and Luo Kai. In Japan, it is called Tsuru Murasa Kai; in Indonesia, Gendola, Jingga, and Genjerot; in Thailand, it is known as Paag-Prung; and in Vietnam, Mong Toi.
So, which one of these have you not tried yet? Go hurry up and buy them today and make a meal or two out of ‘em!