31 Days of Vegetables

Spinach: The Best Ways to Pick It, Cook It, and Eat It

updated Jul 28, 2020
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Spinach’s reputation has had a lot of ups and downs over the years. In the 1930s it was the canned source of Popeye’s might, and the subject of a popular song. Later pop culture began hating on spinach, turning dislike of it into a punchline. Then in the latter half of the 20th century we rediscovered fresh spinach (along with fresh vegetables in general), and it became a beloved salad staple. But whatever you think about spinach, one thing is certain: There are plenty of ways to eat it that are incredibly tasty! Here’s all you need to know about spinach, including how to cook with it, and our favorite recipes.

Is Spinach a Vegetable?

Definitely! Spinach is the ultimate vegetable in many people’s minds, especially among leafy greens. Botanically, spinach is the leaves and stems of a plant, so also a vegetable.

The Spinach Top 5

Five links that’ll have you falling in love with spinach.

  1. How do you tell someone they have spinach in their teeth? Here are six suggestions.
  2. We compared spinach’s nutrition to bacon. The results may surprise you.
  3. Spinach is often on the “dirty dozen” list. We don’t think that should scare you.
  4. Frozen spinach? It’s actually great! Here are some smart ways to use it.
  5. How long does it take to cook fresh spinach? Faster than you might think.

How to Choose the Best Spinach

When buying fresh spinach you have two main options: the plastic clamshells of leaves, or the fresh bunches. Either way, according to Vegetable Butcher Cara Mangini, you want to look for deep green leaves that are crisp and dry — water will start to deteriorate the leaves, and so they should only be washed right before using. As with many leafy greens, the fresher the better. And of course avoid anything wilted, slimy, or yellow.

If you’re buying frozen spinach, we recommend the bags over the boxes. Why? The bags are more versatile — and you don’t need to use the whole thing at once, the way you do with a box.

How Nutritious is Spinach?

Spinach is incredibly nutritious. A standard 3.5-ounce serving of raw spinach has 23 calories, 2.9 grams of protein, and 20% or more of your dv for vitamin A, folate, vitamin K, iron, magnesium, and more. It’s also high in calcium, B6, and potassium. One caveat: Spinach also contains oxalic acid, a chemical that binds with calcium and iron, making them hard to absorb.

There has also been a study that found a chemical called ecdysterone, which is found in spinach, can help athletes build muscle mass the same way steroids do — the caveat being that you’d have to eat nearly nine pounds of spinach a day to get the benefits.

Why Does Spinach Leave a Weird Film on Your Teeth?

Curiously, the same thing that takes away some of spinach’s calcium and iron — oxalic acid — is also the thing that gives you that chalky, gritty feeling on your teeth after eating it. The coating is actually from the calcium in the spinach binding to the oxalic acid as you chew, and turning into little crystals, which then (apparently) cling to your teeth.

Can Dogs Eat Spinach?

Whether or not a dog can eat spinach, according to the American Kennel Club, is actually pretty controversial. While spinach has plenty of nutrients (see above) that can be great for a dog, that oxalic acid (also see above) has some pet owners concerned that eating too much could lead to metabolic imbalance or even kidney damage. So for this vegetable especially, it’s very important that you talk to your family veterinarian before introducing the food to your dog’s diet.

Kale vs. Spinach

In the perennial battle between spinach and kale, there are no losers, only winners. Both taste great creamed and in salads, smoothies, and a variety of other dishes. Both are highly nutritious, and both have a bevy of celebrity endorsements.

As for which is healthier, it’s like arguing whether enough rest or exercise is better for you: Life is best with both, and significantly worse if you have to pick just one!

How Much Fiber Is in Spinach?

A 3.5-ounce serving of spinach has 2.2 grams of fiber. As the recommended daily intake is 25 grams, that’s nearly 10% in one serving of one ingredient, which is very decent.

Can You Freeze Spinach?

Spinach is definitely freezable and is, of course, something you can buy already frozen. As with other vegetables, we recommend blanching it before freezing. This stops the enzymes that break down raw foods, and will help it keep its color. Frozen spinach won’t return to its fresh state, so you won’t be able to use it as a base for fresh salad, but it’s perfect for dips, stir-fries, soups, or anywhere else you’d cook with it.

The Best Ways to Cook Spinach

Ready to get cooking? You can do the following:

No Fresh Spinach? What to Substitute.

Although spinach is pretty easy to come by, there are a multitude of edible greens that are roughly the same texture, and that can be swapped in for most any dish. The tops of many root vegetables, including beet greens, sweet potato greens, turnip greens, and radish greens, will all work fine, although they’ll bring varying levels of bitterness to a dish (which can be something to appreciate). Collards and even chard will also likely work well.

For fresh salads, standards like kale, mixed greens, or arugula will also often achieve the same effect, although the greens and arugula are more delicate and will wilt much faster when cooked.

The Best Ways to Use Up Leftover Spinach

Made too much spinach last night and now you don’t know what to do? Toss it into the blender and make a smoothie, or whip up some eggs and make a quick breakfast frittata!

Our Top 20 Spinach Recipes

What’s your favorite recipe or use for spinach? Any favorite way to cook it?

31 Days of Vegetables: How to fall in love with vegetables in 31 days. How many of these splendid veg have you eaten this month? Take a look at the whole list and take our July challenge to eat every single one!