Spinach provides a variety of health benefits — even if you’re not Popeye. March 26 is National Spinach Day. / Courtesy UF/IFAS

Popeye the Sailor Man would enjoy Monday, March 26 — National Spinach Day. He also would appreciate — we at Florida Food & Farm like to think — the following “five fun facts” about his favorite meal.

In the long-running (and long-gone) Popeye cartoon series, the star of the show frequently sang, “I’m strong to the finish/’cause I eats me spinach…” His grammar was woefully incorrect.


But once he wolfed down a full can of this member of the Amaranthaceae family, he immediately gained bulging biceps and super strength. In one episode, Popeye picks up a huge earth-mover; uses it to scoop up a running-away-in-panic Bluto, his rival for Olive Oyl’s affections; and throws him into a garbage truck.

Spinach, Tomato and Smoked Gouda Frittata _ brunch recipes

A Spinach, Tomato and Smoked-Gouda Frittata. / Florida Food & Farm file photo

Obviously, spinach won’t affect too many people this way. Nor can many of us squeeze open an aluminum can full of it with one hand and swallow it in one gulp. Nevertheless, spinach does produce a variety of benefits — for everyone.

Here are five fun facts about this very healthful vegetable.

Five fun facts about spinach

1) Published in 1370, The Forme of Cury, the first known English cookbook, has a recipe for fried spinach (called spynoch fryed). The directions includes “frye he i oile clene” — which translates from the Middle English into “fry it in clean oil”).

2) According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans, per capita, consume nearly 2½ pounds of spinach per year. This is four times the amount eaten four decades ago. The USDA says the increase “in spinach demand could reflect public awareness of the health impact of including nutritionally superior produce in the diet.”

3) According to Josh Axe, a doctor of chiropractic, “The phytonutrients found in spinach can help to detoxify the body and support liver function by preventing bacterial overgrowth from occurring in the gut microflora. … Lower levels of inflammation protect the vulnerable lining of the digestive tract and stomach … Spinach is also a good source of dietary fiber. … (which) helps carry waste and toxins out of the body” (draxe.com).

4) Ironically, the world-record holder for largest biceps, Moustafa Ismail, an Egyptian in his 20s, says he is allergic to spinach. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2302025/The-real-life-Popeye-worlds-biggest-biceps–allergic-spinach.html). He won the Guinness World Record in 2013, when he was 24, for his 31-inch biceps.

5) Whether raw or cooked, spinach has dietary benefits — but for different reasons. According to vegetariantimes.com, “There is no need to shun raw spinach simply because it contains oxalic acid. It is also rich in many essential nutrients, some of which are more available to our bodies when we consume them raw. These nutrients include folate, vitamin C, niacin, riboflavin, and potassium. … When you eat spinach that has been heated, you will absorb higher levels of vitamins A and E, protein, fiber, zinc, thiamin, calcium, and iron. Important carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, also become more absorbable.

RECIPE FOR CREAMED SPINACH

(Courtesy foodfacts.mercola.com)

Ingredients
¾ cup raw whole milk
¼ cup water
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1½ tablespoons arrowroot
2 pounds spinach, steamed
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions
In a medium saucepan, combine milk, water and garlic. Heat slowly until very hot and steamy. Let stand, covered, for five to 10 minutes to allow garlic to soften.
Melt butter in another medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Whisk in arrowroot, then add hot-milk mixture, whisking until smooth.
Stir in spinach, and cook until sauce is thick and bubbly and spinach is tender but still green; about six minutes.
Stir in cheese, then season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Serve immediately.
Makes four servings.

NUTRITION INFORMATION
Serving size: 1 cup (30 grams), raw
(Source: snaped.fns.usda.gov)
Calories: 7
Calories from fat: 0
Total fat: 0 grams
Saturated fat: 0 g
Cholesterol: 0 g
Calcium: 30 milligrams
Sodium: 24 mg
Potassium: 137 mg
Total carbohydrates: 1 g
Dietary fiber: 2 g
Sugar: 0 g
Protein: 1 g

* For a complete breakdown, visit Food-A-Pedia

GARDENER’S TIPS

Spinach is a quick-maturing, cool-season vegetable. Planting times differ, depending on where you reside. North and Central Florida residents can plant spinach September through March. South Florida residents can plant October through February. Spinach will be ready for harvest 45 to 60 days after seed-planting.

Recommended varieties include Melody 3, Bloomsdale Longstanding, Tyee and Space. Other varieties might produce well also; suggestions are based on availability, performance and pest-resistance. If you desire to have summer greens in your garden, New Zealand spinach and Malabar spinach, although not true spinach, grow well during warm months in Florida.

When planting, allow 2 to 6 inches of space for growth, and 1/2-inch seed depth. Spinach develops a deep tap root; therefore, loosen the soil a foot deep, prior to planting, for best growing. Be sure to select a site with full sun to light shade and well-drained soil.

To have a successful garden, remember to rotate plant families. Avoid successively planting vegetables from the same family in the same area of the garden. Spinach is in the Chenopodiaceae (beet) family; other family members include beets and Swiss chard.

Harvesting Tips

Harvest when leaves become the desired size. When harvesting, use clean gardening scissors to cut the desired leaves directly from the stem; start from the outer leaves and gradually work your way to the center.

You can also cut the plant off at the base, within 2 inches from the ground. If you choose this harvesting method, make sure you do not cut into the growing point. The grow-back should occur within four weeks for an additional harvest.

Not ready to grow your own? Spinach can typically be found in your local farmers markets from November through April.

BUYING & STORAGE TIPS

Choose fresh, crisp dark-green-looking leaves while avoiding those with brown, wilted or yellow leaves. Avoid bags or containers showing signs of excessive moisture. Moisture promotes faster deterioration of most fruits and vegetables. Other tips: Younger leaves (thin and flexible stems) are best used for raw eating (salads etc.), while older leaves (thick, fibrous stems) are best used for cooking.

It is not necessary to wash prior to storage; not washing will help your spinach last longer. Spinach stored in the refrigerator crisper should keep for five days to a week. There are several recommendations on how to keep spinach, such as placing the leaves and a paper towel in an airtight plastic storage bag, or storing leaves with a paper towel in a hard plastic- (or glass-) lidded storage container.

While both methods will help to preserve freshness and reduce excess moisture, using a lidded container also prevents the leaves from getting crushed, thereby delaying the wilt and deterioration process.

(To prevent unnecessary food waste, please note that storage times are suggestions that are based on freshness, not on expiration.)