the food files spinach

The Food Files – Spinach

The Food Files are back, and today we put a spotlight on spinach!

As always, you can count on historical insights, traditional dishes from different cultures, nutritional information and, of course, a few meat-free recipe suggestions!


Spinach (spinacia oleracea) made a long journey before becoming a worldwide staple. The plant reportedly originated in Ancient Persia – we know this through the earliest written records of its existence, dating from 647 AD in China, where it was called “Persian vegetable”.

By the 10th century it had been brought to Mediterranean Europe by the Moors, who named it “king of leafy greens”, and reached England a few centuries later, where it figured in the country’s first written cookbook, The Forme of Cury (1390).

Catherine de Medici, an Italian noblewoman who was Queen of France in the 16th century, loved spinach so much that she ate them on a daily basis.

The nutritional qualities of this vegetable were well-known. For example, during World War I, French injured soldiers drank wine with spinach juice, for its coagulant properties.

Nowadays, as with many other food items, China leads the production of spinach, with 92% of the world’s yield.

Spinach nutrition

Like many other leafy vegetables, spinach is mostly made of water – as such, its carbohydrate, protein and fat content is low and nutritionally irrelevant.

However, it’s the amount and variety of vitamins and minerals – what we call “micronutrients” – that turns spinach into a healthy staple. It contains significant amounts of 7 key vitamins and 5 minerals.

spinach nutrition

However, scientists have determined that the iron and calcium in spinach are not “bioavailable”, that is, usable by our body, due to high levels of oxalate, a know natural absorption-inhibitor.

Spinach throughout the world

Now, let’s have a look at some traditional dishes from all around the world that feature spinach. Our selection is meat-free.

Spanakopita (Greece)

A pie with layers of filo pastry (greeks call it phyllo), stuffed with feta cheese, spinach, eggs and onions. There’s also a vegan version for consumption during periods of religious fasting, with an extra amount of greens.

Adobong Kangkong (Philippines)

Lightly-braised spinach with garlic and traditional adobo sauce, a sweet-and-sour dressing made with soy sauce, vinegar, coconut milk and oil. Some versions include tofu for a more complete meal.

Strangolapreti alla Trentina (Italy)

spinach strangolapreti

These ominously-named dumplings (“strangolapreti” means priest-strangler) are made with spinach, breadcrumbs, egg, cheese and olive oil. They follow a cooking process very similar to potato gnocchi.

Esparregado (Portugal)


A spinach purée with an addition of flour and milk for extra smoothness. It is generally served alongside meat or fish, but its versatility means it can also go along with your vegetarian dishes!

Recipe Suggestions

There are gorgeous vegan and vegetarian spinach recipes all over the Internet. Here are a few ideas:

Spinach Burgers