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What EXACTLY is Spinach?

Leafy Spinach

So what exactly is Spinach?

Let’s start with what spinach is NOT:

Spinach is a green leafy vegetable that is not native to Nigeria so it does not have a Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa Nigerian name. There may be native Nigerian vegetables that look like spinach but they are not the same as the spinach found in temperate regions.

Those who live outside Nigeria use spinach as alternative in recipes where we normally use Ugu or Green Amaranth because Spinach is the closest vegetable to these two.

Outside Nigeria, we use spinach when cooking Yam and Vegetable, Vegetable Soup (Edikang Ikong Soup). It is the vegetable you will most likely find in Egusi Soup and Ogbono Soup when these are prepared outside Nigeria. It is also used when preparing the Steamed Leafy Vegetables we normally prepare with Ugu and Green.

If you live in Nigeria and you see Spinach used in a recipe, simply use Ugu or Green depending on what you are cooking. For instance, if what the person cooked is Yam and Vegetable, you can use either Ugu or Green. If the person prepared a soup, stew or sauce, use Ugu because it is tougher and more suitable for soups and sauces than Green Amaranth.

If you really really want to use spinach maybe because you want to know what it tastes like, you want to taste this spinach that they are oppressing you with :D, just go to any foreign supermarket like Spar or Shoprite, they sell spinach. Make sure it is labelled spinach before you buy.

Taste

Please note that if you have undiluted Nigerian taste buds; you have been eating ugu and “green” all your life, chances are that you will not like spinach the first time you try it. When I first set foot outside Nigeria, it took me at least a year to dry my tears and face the fact that as long as I continue to live far away from all fresh Ugu, spinach it is!

Not sure how to explain it but Spinach has a bland and a strong taste at the same time. I guess it tasted bland to me because you know, it is not Ugu; my very traditional taste buds were probably expecting the Ugu taste and when that was missing, the taste was deemed bland.

I say it has a strong taste at the same time because I find that I need more seasoning when cooking with spinach than when cooking with Ugu. Spinach overpowers every other ingredient in the meal and makes the meal taste “spinachy” if not well seasoned.

Texture

Spinach is smooth to touch. It is slightly tougher than “green” but softer than Ugu. This means that if you cook green for say 2 minutes, you should cook spinach for 2.5 minutes and Ugu for 3 minutes. Yes, very slight difference in cooking times but it makes a difference.

Forms of Spinach

Spanish is sold either as fresh leafy vegetables, frozen or canned.

The frozen ones are my favourites to use because after defrosting, I can easily squeeze out the excess water. But with the leafy spinach, this is not possible. The water content of spinach is quite high and I find that with the leafy ones, I end up with more water than I intend to have in the meal that I am making. And the meal is mushy especially in recipes that need lots of vegetables.

I don’t recommend using leafy spinach when trying to replicate Edikang Ikong Soup because the soup will be watery and you will need packets and packets of leafy spinach to make a considerable quantity of soup.

Frozen Spinach

Nutrition

Spinach, like other green leafy vegetables is rich in iron, a great source of Vitamins A, C, K etc and dietary fibre.
The advanced nutritional content of spinach including its iron absorption-inhibiting property is beyond the scope of this article so please Google “spinach nutrition” for more information.

Hopefully with these, I have been able to answer your questions about this vegetable called spinach.

Your pally in the kitchen,

Flo

Comments

  1. Dear Flo thank you for this clear explaining about the different. I life in europe too but I am in the lucky situation that my people bring me always dry Ugu from they holiday in Nigeria. Because it need always a big quantity of leaves i do, par example the Vegetablesoup, with 2/3 spinach and 1/3 ugu ans a little bit of Kale. And you are right the spinach really need a lot more seasoned 🙂

    • Tonia I love the mathematics you are doing with those vegetables, well done! And you are lucky to receive dry Ugu from home.
      For vegetable soup, I use say 2 kilos of frozen spinach, 1 kilo of ground spinach (frozen as well) and 1 kilo of lambs lettuce. This combo makes a soup that tastes very close to Edikang Ikong. Some of my guests don’t even notice the difference.

    • Very informative. Thanks for clearing this up.

  2. I always thought spinach was Efo,{green} o. Hmm, are all the cooking leaves not green sef? ahaha. Thanks for educating me. I never knew the difference. 1 use kale leaves here to cook my egusi. Back home I put ugu in my ogbono, but here, I no try am sam! sam! It took me a while for my 9ja bud taste to change fa!

    • ND you never stay for Yankee for that long you don forget wetin “green” look like? Don’t worry, when you see green again, you will notice that it is sooo different from spinach. But who knows, living in the lone star state where everything is big, maybe the spinach leaves you have there are as big as green amaranth leaves. 🙂
      I’m yet to get on the kale band wagon, my Naija taste is too tight so for now, I’ll stick with what my taste buds have gotten used to.

      • Me too,the kale stuff is still so foreign to me,spinach does it for me.Thank you so much for
        differentiating.

        • Nina whenever I see kale, all I can think of is lettuce lol and the thought of adding “lettuce” to my Nigeria soup is not something that I’m in a hurry to try. But I keep receiving requests to “review” its taste in Nigerian meals, so one of these days, I will use it to prepare a small quantity of soup to see what it tastes like.

      • EHEN! Forget ke? Wetin go cause that kind ‘play’ huh? AHAHAHA. I call all greens and sho-kur {the other ‘spinach’ mixed with a little bit of purple colour} , efo, that was why I used it up there and put ‘green’ in bracket so that some readers will understand what I mean for those who don’t know what it is also called in Nigeria. You think say 38 years experience can be forgotten easily within 3 years, ehen Flo? #side-eyes to you# 😀

  3. Very informative. Thanks for clearing this up.

  4. I still haven't gotten over my craving for ugu here. I hope I will someday. The main reason I don't really like spinach is cause it gets soft as soon as it gets into the pot. I miss my fresh ugu so much

    • The leafy one sure gets mushy easily Dayo. Infact I have also tried adding it and turning off the heat yet the same thing. That is why I stick with frozen spinach. They are like washed bitterleaves so do not soften as quickly as the leafy ones.

  5. Flo,
    Thank you for this piece. I just want to add that spinach grows in Nigeria and we have it. In Yorubaland, where I came from, we call it “Amunu tutu” in Oyo while Ijeshas call it “Alaali”. It grows on local baths and crawls/mounts on the wall. As I grow and know more about smoothies, I planted it in my estate as against regular flower. I use in my daily smoothies recipes and we all use in cooking.

    • Starwumi thanks for your comment. If possible could you please send me a photo of this Amunu tutu because it has come up several times. Is it the one that has coloured stalks? I think it is one of those Nigerian vegetables that look so much like spinach but is not spinach. Spinach is not a crawling plant and it can’t just grow on walls because it needs some good soil for the roots. Visit this link for what spinach looks like when it is in the garden. 🙂

      • Fisayomi says:

        Amunu Tutu is in fact, Indian Spinach or Vine Spinach. It has two variants, one is green, and the other is a mixture of dark red and green.

  6. All Nigerian Recipes & Food
    I have posted some requested spinach in the garden pictures on your facebook wall page. Thanks.

    • Taofeek thanks so much for the photos. You are doing a great job having your own garden. 🙂 I see that Amunu tutu crawls like Ugu so it can’t be spinach. Spinach grows like lettuce as you can see in those photos I posted. And the leaves are not the same, Amunu tutu is pointy like uziza leaves. Please can I use your photos to make another post about this?

      • Amunututu is NOT pointy like uziza leaves. Spinach is Amunututu in Yoruba, there are green stalk and dark pink stalk varieties. My mom used to have the two varieties in her garden. The picture you got may be Worowo (a Yoruba vegetable with pointy leaves), the taste is close to spinach’s thus the misconception.

  7. All Nigerian Recipes & Food
    I planted Spinach and Ugwu together instead of regular all flower other estate residents do. My friend has grocery store and does supply big supermarkets in Lagos. I planted sterms from his supplies. The same way mine grows is the same those I once saw in Malaysian garden in 2013 grew – adult. The picture in the link you earlier sent is exactly how baby spinach looks like. The spinach pictures I sent are over 6 months. Adult spinach is what I sent. I plan to plant another batch next month. By God's grace I shall send you pictures of baby spinach then. Vegetarians/Agriculturists in this forum can throw more light on this. Flo, I use more fruits and vegies to teach /achieve healthy life and reverse ailments. Thanks

  8. My first time outside Nigeria was soo funny,my husband and l stayed with his sister and knowing how l much l love veggie,she makes spinach every day for me and l bought two cartoon home. Lol. It’s soo different and delicious.

  9. my dear. kudos for helping out when I need it. please what exactly is basil leaves in Nigeria? thanks

    • Eziibekee you are welcome! 🙂

      Basil is not traditionally grown in Nigeria. You may find it in big supermarkets like Shoprite and Spar. A great alternative to basil leaves is our curry leaves. Basil leaves are bigger and broader than curry leaves but they smell and taste exactly the same.

  10. Sorry to shock you,spinach is native green of Nigeria. It is called AMUNU TUTU in yoruba.most Nigeria do not know this green because most of us has lost touch with what we have by stretching our neck to look at other countries green pasture particularly the yorubas. There are many more vegetables like ISAPA which Hausa’s dried part of its leaves to make ZOBO, Efo WOROWO etc. So many pple do not know they many vegetables.

  11. Ajiboro b grace says:

    Has anyone ever consider d green called egbo in Yoruba land to be spinach

  12. I have known spinach since i was a kid. We had it in our garden while in lagos, and even now its in my garden here in the north where i reside presently. Its a nigerian veg too. Yorubas call it Amunu tutu due to its crisp greeny leaf.

  13. Thank you so much for this clarification , it was quite educative. I was actually arguing with someone that green and spinach are the same thing , the Oyibo spinach simply being a different species. The green is what is also called alefo going by the pictures.

  14. From the pictures spinach looks like ‘ilaari or amunututu’ as we call it in Akure, Ondo state

  15. The only difference is observed was the mode of cultivation. We allow ours to grow taller and add stakes while theirs, the seedlings were transplant which made them short

  16. Sameerah! says:

    Ohh flo! thanks for clarifying that spinach i knw in naija has a different name,i always wonder why they look so different.I’m a spinach(also greens) die hard fan thou.

  17. Oh my Gadddd! You were so right. Spinach tastes wacky the first time. I made a mistake buying it as pumpkin leaves. Though I had an inkling it wasn’t it. Right after I Googled it, up came your page. I realised I had mistaken it, couldn’t turn back, after paying for it.

    I however used it like that, to make Un ripe plantain porridge, it wasnt bad at all. As my dad ‘literally’ scrapped his plate. However, I felt a little nauseated when I was done eating. I even tried as much as possible to pick them out while I was eating. Whilst eating only the dry fish, plantain chunks and thickening.

    Oh well, I guess it’s cause it was my first time!

    • Lol @ wacky taste. It also felt slimy to me the first time I tried it. You’ll get used to it Avril if you keep using it.

  18. Olive Amarachi says:

    hi m olive n i’d luv to kno if I can replace spinach with ogu or bitterleaf in a burn fat recipe I wan to make

  19. To avoid too much water in my soup while using spinach , the first thing I do is to roast it, just pour in your pot cover it and forget it there but not for too long. leave it to get dried and then pour into ur fried melon if u want to use melon with it or into ur fried pepper for efo riro, u’ll really like it instead of making ur soap very watery by putting the spinach straight into the soup.

    • Thank you, great suggestion! In the summer I can get green amaranth at Chinese groceries here (Seattle), and occasionally pumpkin or gourd leaves (but not ugu/fluted pumpkin itself), but the rest of the year maybe I can get chard (which does pretty well, especially in egusi soup), or it’s soggy-melting spinach. I’ll try roasting it.

  20. When I was residing in the UK during my Masters degree study, I cooked a lot. Mostly fried rice, jellof rice, rice and stew etc. However I also made soups like okra soup, egusi soup and other home dishes like asaro. For these I used fresh spinach. I have no complaints whatsoever. For that period in my life, spinach served me well. I am now back home and when I do cook, I use the usual home based ingredients.

  21. Please how do i locate(where to buy) and differentiate an ARUGULA and ICEBERG Lettuce from the different veggies in the market?

  22. I shall be having some raw today. Cheers for the info !

  23. Well guys google ‘Malabar Spinach’. It’s a species of spinach found in Nigeria. They are climbers with berries. My mom grows Malabar spinach in our garden in Benin City, they are much more succulent than American spinach.

  24. Angel Matthew says:

    Thank you for educating me, because i did not even known about this spinach self, i knew it when i was browsing on net once like that, i found so many things this spinach good for and Almond, so now, i can improve my cooking.

  25. thank you for the knowledge,what about amunututu?

    • You are welcome Osaro. I got info from a reliable source that Amanututu is not Spinach. You may use it as alternative but they are not the same.

      • Nigerians will never accept that all those leafs in Yoruba land are not the original Spinach leaf, i am Yoruba man, and i resident here in india for almost 5 years, all those leave in Yoruba land are not Spinach. Madam, you dont need to talk much, because they will never accept, Until they see for the real Spinach, i am even planing to get the Spinach seed and plant in my farm land when i return back this year.

        • Ayo you saw that thing? 😀 The way we hold on to such things and other cooking myths, eh?
          Thank you for coming to my rescue because o di egwu really.
          I plan to take mint leaves seeds with me next time I travel home.
          Good luck with your spinach garden. 🙂

  26. Sekinat Mobolaji Saaka says:

    I disagree with information given about Spinach. We have Spinach in Yoruba Land. We called it Amunu Tutu. Or Munutoro it grow easily in wet soil.

  27. Sekinat Mobolaji Saaka says:

    In Abeokuta we love cooking Water leave, But in dry season, when the leaves is dry and tiny, We used Spinach – Munutoro leave very nice and medicinal because It’s helped to empty your bowels – you have easy passage when you toilet.

  28. Thanks so much for d clarity BT with d picture if I’m nt mistaken with d picture spinach in Yoruba is called popo or amunututu

  29. Yes,there is a Nigerian brand of spinach. It is a climber and has berries. In my area of I gboland, we grow it mainly around the homestead and put up stakes for it. It usually serves as an alternative to water leaf especially during the dry season because it is resilient to dry weather. We call it ewa oyibo.

  30. Thanks for the information. Twas very helpful.

  31. Pls what is kale called in yoruba

  32. Spinach is actually called Efo tete in Yoruba.

  33. In the US you can often find fresh green amaranth, and occasionally pumpkin or gourd leaves, cowpea leaves, sweet potato leaves, and rarely horseradish tree leaves (Hausa zogale, sold as “malunggay” (Philippines name)) in large Chinese/Asian grocery stores, at least in the summer. I’ve come across the Nigerian spinach/amunu tutu (sold as “Malabar spinach”, “basella”, or “poi saag”) fresh or frozen in well-stocked Indian grocery stores, too.

  34. Tnx 2 all of U 4 all d info. They’re quite enlightening! M/while, I believe dat our broad leafed creeping water- leaf known by d Ibo as “mgbolodi oyibo” with purple berries is our own species of spinnach. B/c of its turgidity, and to reduce d water, I usually wash, shred and then squeeze, just d same way water leaf is washed but D’s time taking a shorter time. this will make for a better texture Dan d slimy one u get wen cooked otherwise. I think roasting may make loose some of d nutrients. I , s/times, drink d water squeezed out or still use it as stock for d same soup. Try this and share with us how it went. Good luck!

  35. this is mgbolodi leave usually found in east but not enough in quantity you can research for it

  36. Hi Flo, I live in the US. Can I get frozen ground spinach from the stores here?

    • Stella I’m not sure because I have not looked for it during my stays in the USA.
      If you get to a store like Walmart, look for it in the frozen section of the supermarket and it will be labelled as such. You can also ask a store assistant for help. Show them this video of the frozen ground spinach so they know exactly what you are looking for: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaGkrK8QBz0

  37. Thank you Flo, I appreciate your response. I will do as you advised ASAP.
    Chukwu Rosie gi.

  38. Thanks so much for this! Shoprite was out of Ugwu or Shoko this morning. I saw a lone pack containing something that looked like Green. It was labelled spinach. I assumed it was Green and bought it. I’m making soup right now and it occurred to me to Google spinach. Saw your “Not sure how to explain it but Spinach has a bland and a strong taste at the same time.” Saw a comment about roasting it first to achieve a good taste. All that chemistry! No spinach for me abeg! Before I go and spoil the soup with chemistry practical:)

    • lol @ all that chemistry! On top cooking with spinach. 😀 Toyin don’t kill me with laughter o. You did not get the memo that cooking is science? lol For real, if I am in Nigeria, I would not touch spinach at all.
      It took me a long time to get used to the taste of spinach as I said in my ingredients alternatives video: https://youtu.be/A91kG0Etkfw still, I will only touch it in the absence of ugu.

      It’s good in some veggie garnish like this one: https://youtu.be/kOrnyLrsztA but definitely not the best for Nigerian soups.

  39. Okechukwu Dickson says:

    Thanks for your your info, my question is what are the medicinal aspect of this spinach leaves and how are they used?

    • Spinach is not a special vegetable. It is just like our “green” used for cooking. It’s known to contain lots of vitamins. It’s neither a herb not a leaf that has medicinal properties. This post was made because some people wanted to know about the leaf they hear mentioned often by those who live outside Nigeria.

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