We tend to glorify “freshness” when it comes to food. It has been beaten into our collective consciousness that fresh foods are better for us than their pre-cooked or frozen equivalents. But in actuality, when it comes to fruit and vegetables, research says the nutritional difference is negligible. Case-in-point: spinach.
Spinach is well-known for being loaded with nutrients and antioxidants. It’s an excellent source of vitamin A, C, and iron, and experts believe it may help prevent cancer and reduce blood pressure levels. But what about frozen spinach? Despite what you may think, it has been proven again and again that cooking or freezing spinach results in no loss of nutrients. This begs the question: why aren’t we always buying the stuff frozen? Isn’t it more convenient and cheap than the leafy, expirable, cook-twelve-pounds-to-end-up-with-two-tablespoons bundles of fresh spinach?
Let’s get into it.
Frozen spinach is mechanically chopped, boiled or blanched, and then flash frozen. A single ten ounce package of frozen spinach usually equals one cup of greens once it’s thawed and drained. To get that same cup with fresh spinach, you’d have to cook down about a full pound. Why go through this grueling process when you could just let the machines do it? Frozen spinach is a huge timesaver and a wiser financial decision. You can cheaply buy a few boxes of frozen spinach (which run about a dollar a piece) vs. paying twice as much for a few bunches of the fresh stuff in the produce section. Unless you’re making a salad or prefer a softly wilted spinach, there are limited reasons to buy fresh.
I have embraced frozen spinach for many reasons. Mainly, I love making steakhouse-style creamed spinach. It’s a knockout side dish, and one I regularly make for friends and family when we have dinner. Creamed spinach is utter decadence: a fat-filled side dish that isn’t shy about taking vegetables and perversing it into something drastically unhealthy. Here at Sporked, we don’t really delve into the world of home cooking too much, but just FYI, you can easily whip up a good creamed spinach with two store-bought ingredients: canned alfredo sauce and frozen spinach. Simply thaw the spinach, squeeze out the excess water, and heat it up with the alfredo. Sprinkle in some of your favorite meltable cheese, and go to town. Nothing fancy, as Alison Roman would say.
I have found that very few creamed spinach recipes online call for fresh greens. Why is that? I have a feeling it’s because cooks and writers know that frozen spinach is a practical powerhouse. Food should be accessible, especially when you’re asking people to take the time to cook, and most people keep frozen spinach on hand. It excels at versatility. There’s not a stew or soup that couldn’t benefit from a little frozen spinach. Put it in smoothies, add it to stir fry, toss it with pasta. Keep your freezer stocked with this powerful vegetable artillery, and deploy it when necessary. I have peas, carrots, mango, pineapple, and blueberries hanging out in my freezer at all times. And frozen spinach is just another easy way to sprinkle some good decisions into my diet whenever I see fit.
So what exactly is the downside?
Well, frozen spinach comes absolutely packed with water. A lot of water. You have to squeeze it out. So much so that it’s an arduous, painstaking task that feels like punishment for kids in the 18th century. “Nathaniel! Go squeeze the spinach right this instant,” I imagine early settlers who somehow had refrigeration systems saying to their disobedient children. I know what you’re thinking: Do I actually have to squeeze and drain frozen spinach? Yes, dude. If you want to do it right (I believe in doing it right), it must be squeezed. Frozen spinach must be drained or else you’re just eating a mouthful of water. Sure, it might take almost a half roll of paper towel to get rid of that moisture. But if you can handle all this extra work, trust me, frozen spinach is worth it.
Moreover (if you haven’t guessed yet, I’m team frozen), fresh spinach is a pain in its own right because it goes bad quickly. And every day it sits uncooked, it loses nutrients. Frozen spinach is cooked and frozen at its peak, keeping its nourishment intact. I would argue that this makes frozen spinach the consistently healthier option, unless of course, you grow your own or shop at a farmer’s market regularly.
In addition to its finicky shelf life, fresh spinach has limited uses. If I’m making a salad, I typically go for crunchier greens like iceberg, rainbow chard, kale, watercress, or romaine. Spinach is too light and leafy for most salads, in my opinion (although I do like my mom’s spinach salad that she makes for every holiday). The sweet spot with spinach is when it’s already cooked, and like french fries, there’s a machine for that.
The convenience and practicality of frozen spinach make it too hard to pass up, which is why I reach for it more often than fresh spinach. These rock hard bricks of condensed leafy greens have been staples in my family home growing up, as they may have been in yours. They’re a symbol of usefulness and practicality, and they offer allthe convenience of spinach without any significant loss of nutrients. That’s marvelous when you think about it. When ingredients remain healthy and convenient, packaged food ends up being spectacularly beneficial and life-enhancing rather than poisonous and detrimental to our well-being. It’s time to flip the script when it comes to frozen vs. fresh vegetables, and we can start with spinach.
Frozen Vs. Fresh Spinach: Frozen Wins