“I would like to know how ‘baby’ spinach is grown and whether it is nutritionally equivalent to “grown-up” spinach. It certainly does not have a real spinach taste.” says Enlightened Eater Facebook fan, Betty Fleet.
Betty, baby spinach is exactly that – spinach that is harvested at an early stage – anytime from 21 to 40 days after planting, depending on the growing conditions such as temperatures, soil and water. “Grown up” or mature spinach, as it’s known, can grow up to about 40 days before it’s harvested.
As far as baby spinach’s nutritional content, it appears that like its even younger siblings, microgreens (which are plants harvested in the seedling stage), baby spinach beats out its mature counterpart in some areas.
Danish scientists investigated the amounts of flavonoids in baby spinach harvested at three different stages of growth. Flavonoids belong to a family of compounds called polyphenols, many of which act as antioxidants. Apples, red wine, tea and chocolate owe much of their reputation as disease-fighters due to their flavonoid content. The researchers found that the younger the plants, the higher the flavonoid content.
But before you pitch your mature spinach, it may win out in other categories such as vitamin C. Some of the differences found between the two kinds of spinach may be due to growing conditions.
But one thing is for sure, baby or mature, spinach offers a cornucopia of nutrients and defenders against a host of ailments. It’s packed with folate, a B vitamin that protects against the development of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Folate is also a key player in healthy blood, offers anti-cancer action and has heart healthy advantages as well.
Its carotenoid (pigments) such as beta carotene and lutein (a vital nutrient in maintaining healthy vision as you age) is stellar as is its potassium content. Fibre wise, it’s a caloric bargain offering a gram of fibre for every 10 calories of spinach. The list of spinach’s nutritional perks is indeed quite long.
When you look at the differences between the two types of spinach, convenience and taste can also be a factor in which you choose. Mature spinach requires more care in preparation as anyone who has ever washed it can attest to. As it’s grown near the ground, it’s often full of soil and can take a number of washings to get rid of the grit. Baby spinach, on the other hand, comes pre-washed and can be used in a flash.
As for the flavour, baby spinach is much milder and can, in fact, be a stepping stone for those who aren’t spinach lovers. Over time, eaters of baby spinach, who had previously turned up their noses at mature spinach, may be much more accepting of the elder sibling.
Baby or mature spinach: what’s your favourite? Please share in the comment section below.