Dietribes: Spinach

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• Spinach is far fancier than you might imagine upon first glance: in some cultures, greens like spinach and kale symbolize money. Beyond that, the “Florentine” moniker given to some French dishes is in honor of Catherine de’Medici, who is said to have eaten spinach at every meal.

• Sometimes spinach is just cheap and easy though, which is why researchers at MIT chose it to use in an experiment to convert the power of photosynthesis into charging up cell phones and laptops.

• What causes “furry teeth” from eating spinach? The food’s sandy beginnings could be partially to blame, but more likely it’s because it contains high levels of oxalic acid crystals, which coat teeth and leave a chalky feeling. I’m just happy to know I’m not crazy after having experienced this for years not knowing it was a common thing!

• If you’re on the fence about winter as a season, consider that many vegetables taste better when harvested in the winter. Why? In the cold some plants, such as spinach, break down their energy stores into “free” sugars, such as glucose and fructose, which keep the plant from freezing and make it even tastier once it hits your plate.

• No article on spinach is complete without mention of its greatest champion – Popeye! Popeye’s spinach cravings began in the Thimble Theater cartoon strip, and went on to become an indispensable plot device. Popeye was the first cartoon character erected into a statue – an honor bestowed upon him by spinach growers who credit Popeye with a 33% increase in U.S. consumption, saving the industry in the 1930s.

• Though a stray decimal point may have lead Popeye to believe he was getting more iron than he actually was (though can you imagine if he had feasted on eggs, pork or brown sugar instead?), spinach may help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.

• Spinach did bring strength to Birdseye foods - it was one of the first frozen vegetable to be sold, after which Clarence Birdseye was able to pioneer the future of frozen food industry.

• Spinach can be a nuisance, at least to dishwasher makers – it's used as one of the test food residues in standardised tests for dishwasher performance. Residue (from cooked or tinned spinach) and its tiny green flecks are impossible to miss on a bright white plate, and also notoriously hard to get off.

• Still not enough spinach? Then take time to visit the Crystal City Spinach Festival, home of the self-proclaimed Spinach Capitol of the World!

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‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.

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July 13, 2011 - 7:44am
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