Do you know what family is spinach in, or do you know it as an annual plant cultivated as a leaf vegetable and loved by many home cooks?
Spinacia oleracea – the spinach botanical name or spinach Latin name is a much loved dark leafy vegetable. It has been grown for a long time due to its valued nutritional benefits that include vitamins A, C, E, and K and fibre, folate, magnesium, and other vital anti-oxidants.
Other species of plants commonly called spinach in different parts of the country include New Zealand spinach, the Tetrogonia expansa in the Aizoaceae family, mountain spinach Atriplex Hortense in the Amaranthaceae family.
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What Family Is Spinach In?
Spinach belongs to the amaranth family – the Amaranthaceae, a flowering plant family that contains about 160 genera and 2400 species.
The spinach plant family have dark green leaves that are opposite simple or alternate with margins that are coarsely toothed without stipules. The flowers r aggregated or solitary in cymes, panicles, or spikes and are typically perfect.
The flowers are regular with 4 to 5 petals and are often joined together. They have about 1 to 5 stamens, and their hypogynous ovaries have 3 to 5 joined sepals.
Spinach is an annual plant that grows up to a height of 30 cm. Its leaves are simple alternate and ovate to triangular and either curled or flat. The leaves are variable in size, from about 2 to 30 cm long and 1 to 15 cm wide. They have larger leaves at the base of the plant and smaller leaves higher on the flowering stem. The stems are yellow-green, measuring at least 3 to 4 mm in diameter and maturing into a hard, dry, lumpy fruit class stuff about 5 to 10 mm and can contain several seeds.
Spinach requires cool weather for maximum growth and may survive mild winter in temperate regions. Spinach is native to southwestern and central Asia; it was cultivated in Spain in the 8th century, and the Spaniards brought it into the United States.
Production Marketing And Storage Of The Spinach Family
Spinach is sold as loose bunches, packed in bags, frozen or canned. Fresh spinach loses most of its nutritional value when stored longer than a few days.
Refrigeration may slow this effect to about 8 days; however, such will lose most of its folate and carotenoid content. If you want to store it longer, freeze or can it to preserve it. Keeping it in the freezer can last up to 8 months.
Types Of Spinach Family
There’s a clear distinction between the older varieties of spinach and the more modern varieties currently grown. All the black keys tend to bolt too early in warm conditions while the newer varieties grow more rapidly with less inclination to seed.
The older varieties have narrower leaves and tend to have a stronger and more bitter taste than the new types with broader leaves and round seeds.
There Are Three Basic Types Of Spinach
- Flat or Smooth Leaf Spinach. This variety has broad, smooth leaves that are easier to clean than the savoy variety. This type is best for canning, frozen spinach, baby foods, soups, and processed foods.
- Savoy. This variety has dark green, curly, and crinkly leaves. This is the type of spinach sold in fresh bunches in most supermarkets. Due to its curly and crinkly leaves, it is hard to clean all the soil out and requires special care when cleaning. Bloomsdale one of the varieties of Savoy withstands bolting.
- Semi-savoy. This hybrid variety has slightly crinkled leaves and has the same texture as Savoy. This variety cleans easily and grows for both fresh market and processing. One of its variety ‘five-stars’, is widely grown because it has good resistance to seeding.
Other Species Called Spinach
The name spinach applies to a good number of leafy vegetables, both related and unrelated to the original spinach.
- Chard – Beta Vulgaris, Amaranthaceae, is also known as spinach beet or perpetual spinach.
- Good King Henry – chenopodium bonus-Henricus, Amaranthaceae and other chenopodium species also called Lincolnshire spinach.
- Orache – Atriplex species Amaranthaceae also called French or mountain spinach.
- Bayam – In Indonesia, the word bayam applies both to a particular species of amaranth commonly eaten as leafy vegetables and two spinach available except in certain supermarkets.
- Sissoo Spinach, also known as Brazilian spinach – alternanthera sissoo. This is in the same family as true spinach and cooked the same way.
- Mountain Spinach – Atriplex Hortensis is similar to lambs quarters and cultivated is a port hub for its young leaves.
Unrelated Species With Similar Use
Many other species are unrelated to true spinach but similar in flavour and use.
- Longevity Spinach is a vining plant native to the parts of Africa and Asia
- Okinawan Spinach is a large shrub native to East Asia and is a member of the Asteraceae.
- Malabar or Indian Spinach is a vining plant that can be eaten raw or cooked.
- New Zealand Spinach is a member of the family Aizoaceae. You will need to blanch them before eating. They grow as ornamental plants in most gardens.
- Water Spinach is a member of the Convolvulaceae family grown for its tender shoots. It is an invasive species in some wet areas outside its native region.
- Komatsuna, also known as Japanese mustard spinach, is a hardy leaf vegetable of the Brassicaceae family.
- Chaya also the tree spinach is native to Central American in the family of Euphorbiaceae. Its leaves contain dangerous cardiac glycosides that you must cook for at least 15 minutes for them to be safe to eat.
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Nutritional Information Of Spinach
Spinach has a significant nutritional value, especially when freshly picked from the garden, steamed or quickly boiled.
Spinach is a rich source of vitamin A, C, E, K, folate, fibre magnesium and other vital anti-oxidants. Recent studies have also shown that spinach contains opioid peptides known as rubiscolins.
To benefit from the folate in spinach, it is best to steam them instead of boiling them. Boiling spinach for 4 minutes can decrease the level of folate by half.
With an understanding of what family is spinach in and the nutrients, it carries along, you can confidently continue drawing whatever variety of spinach you love to provide you with all the above nutrients.
As you have learnt above, the best time to consume your spinach is fresh from the garden. That’s why we encourage gardeners every day to keep growing their fresh produce for better nutrition.