Reheating spinach and other greens – A discussion

What will you find in this post?

  1. What happens when we reheat dishes made with greens like spinach, kale, malangai leaves/murungai keerai?
  2. How you can store them in fridge and use it the following day?
  3. Recipe for a gluten free baby food (9 months old+) with spinach, flattened rice (poha/aval) and ghee

Spinach_Pesto_Sandwich_1

One of the member from a facebook mommy group posted the below statement:

“Hey guys I read somewhere that mushroom and spinach should never ever be reheated and eaten cus it’s toxic !! Plz eat it and finish as soon as u cook or on the same day ….”

I saw that statement and was curious to know more about spinach (any greens like kale, mustard greens etc) first. Regular readers of my blog know that I currently work in clinical operations and I love to understand the science behind food. With my previous experience to use pubmed during my master’s (Molecular Medicine) thesis, I decided to read couple of articles on reheating greens along with some google search. Gladly I have access to read full text for certain journals.

Today I want to share details about one topic which we discussed in a facebook group. I went to PubMed, (PubMed comprises more than 23 million citations for biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life science journals, and online books) and did some reading.

Source: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/177/4043/15.extract

In a nut shell, let me explain what actually happens. Spinach and other leafy vegetables contain high concentrations of nitrate.

Kale

Where does nitrate come from?

It comes from the soil where it was grown, weather condition based on the season of the year and water conditions (pH).

Nitrate itself is totally harmless. They are natural constituents of plants. They are present in large quantities in vegetables and in minor quantity in fruits.

The problem comes when Nitrate –> Nitrites —> Nitrosamines that is carcinogenic (cancer causing agent). Enzymes present in bacteria convert nitrate to nitrite.

If body lacks sufficient antioxidants, nitrites gets converted into nitrosamines. So this is where the discussion begins.  All of us eat cooked spinach or other greens in some way.  I eat spinach cooked in dahl, spinach-chicken , methi murgh (chicken cooked with fenugreek leaves) or quiche, if I don’t finish it the same meal I store it in fridge and use it the following day. If you forget to put it back in the fridge after the meal and the outside temperature is high, then please THROW IT AWAY. If it is not properly stored, the bacteria present in the food converts the nitrates to nitrites.

Why I prefer to store them in fridge and use it the following day?

My understanding from the above mentioned paper is that if you can’t finish your spinach and want to save it for the next day, be sure to cool it quickly and keep it below 5 degrees Celsius to prevent nitrite production and buy organic one as there will be less uptake of pesticides in it. One should also eat foods like berries, beans, artichoke which are rich in antioxidants. In a nutshell, it is always better to eat organic/ pesticide free food, local food and store them well to avoid contamination. I totally agree to what my mom, your mom and elders say about not reheating left over spinach but the point is here is that these things come out of a health scare. They should be taken seriously and I want to share the science behind it with all.

This article is applicable to young adults/grown ups who eat greens on a regular basis and not for kids less than 2 years old. Please prepare fresh greens for them.

Paneersandwich_1_1

Please note that I started to give spinach and other greens to my kids once they turned 9 months old. I make it fresh and never stored and reused it. I buy fresh organic spinach from farmer’s market or from Costco. Wash them thrice even if it says that it is pre-washed and ready to use.

My kids love this recipe as it has garlic and cumin seeds in it. I use white or red rice poha in it. Poha is made by hard pressing dehusked rice. They are flattened into light dry flakes. They are deprived of moisture to increase the shelf life. They swell and soften when soaked with water or milk. They are perfect travel food and I bought a packer during our trip to Israel. You can find a recipe for travel food (poha-homemade rasam readymix) recipe here.

I prefer to use this over Gerber rice cereal for the following reasons:

  1. No added preservative
  2. I have eaten poha since my baby years
  3. It is a known ingredients for me to work with
  4. They are less expensive than store bought rice cereal.

Baby Food Gluten Free Spinach

BABY FOOD WITH SPINACH AND FLATTENED RICE (POHA/AVAL)

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon homemade ghee (recipe here)
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • Pinch of asafeotida
  • Handful organic baby spinach
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup poha, rinsed and soaked in ½ cup water

Cooking Directions

  1. Heat ghee in a saucepan. Once hot add garlic and let it roast for a minute. Add cumin seeds and asafeotida followed by baby spinach. Saute for 30 seconds. Switch off the flame and let it wilt.
  2. Remove water from poha. Don’t discard. Mix the poha in spinach. Once cooled to room temperature, grind to a smooth puree with poha water. Feed the baby with spinach-poha puree that is at room temperature or little warm.

PS: Doctors, PhD/Post Docs, Food Expert – Please tell me your thoughts on reheating greens.

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2 Comments

  1. Peter 2 years ago

    Thanks for the information on nitrates. However, it is still not clear to me what happens when the greens are reheated? Did I miss reading anything?

    • Hi Peter,

      Point to note is reheating spinach doesn’t cause any trouble provided the spinach that was stored is not contaminated. Enjoy your spinach dish by properly storing it in fridge for later use.

      I have explained in this part of the post “Nitrate itself is totally harmless. They are natural constituents of plants. They are present in large quantities in vegetables and in minor quantity in fruits. The problem comes when Nitrate –> Nitrites —> Nitrosamines that is carcinogenic (cancer causing agent). Enzymes present in bacteria convert nitrate to nitrite. All of us eat cooked spinach or other greens in some way. I eat spinach cooked in dahl, spinach-chicken , methi murgh (chicken cooked with fenugreek leaves) or quiche, if I don’t finish it the same meal I store it in fridge and use it the following day. If you forget to put it back in the fridge after the meal and the outside temperature is high, then please THROW IT AWAY. If it is not properly stored, the bacteria present in the food converts the nitrates to nitrites.

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