“I’m strong to the finish ‘cuz I eats my spinach. I’m Popeye the Sailor Man! Toot toot!”
Most of us in the US are familiar with Popeye the Sailor Man; the cartoon character who eats his spinach straight from the can, and instantly grows powerful arm muscles so that he can fight his dastardly foe!
Popeye’s instant transformation was based on a research mistake about the amount of iron in spinach (3.5 milligrams, not 35). This mistake (and unintended marketing bonanza for canned spinach) reportedly increased American consumption of spinach by 30 percent in the first half of the 20th century.
Mistakes aside, however, spinach is rich in iron and other nutrients. In addition to a low calorie and carbohydrate count (7 per cup and 1.1 grams), this leafy green veggie has more than half the adult daily requirement of Vitamin A, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA. Spinach also has almost 1000 percent of the required amount of Vitamin K, the bone-health vitamin!
Some other fun facts about spinach include:
- Spinach originally came from Persia – an area now called Iran. It was originally considered a weed. Some people even insisted it was poisonous. It reached Europe in the 1400s as a (cultivated) leafy vegetable. From there, it traveled to the East Coast of the United States with settlers.
- Spinach comes in two shapes, smooth or curly. A newer hybrid, semi-Savoy, combines smooth leaves with ruffled to make an easier-to-wash leaf.
- USDA statistics show that Arizona produces 12 percent of the nation’s spinach, which is second highest production after California (73%).
- Spinach has an energy rating! Slightly less than half a cup delivers 23 kilocalories (kcal). Most adult males burn 2000 kcals per day.
- Spinach, unlike most leafy green vegetables, delivers more nutrition cooked than raw. That means you can eat it Popeye-style, but it tastes even better heated, and best of all when purchased fresh and then cooked.
- Spinach consumption per person in the U. S. has fluctuated over the past 40 years, with fresh spinach ranging from 0.3 lbs in 1970 to 1.9 lbs in 2011. And even though fresh spinach is harvested year-round, many people are still eating frozen spinach (at a rate of 1.1 lbs per person).
- Spinach production is highest in China, at 15.35 billion lbs. Chinese consumption, though, is lower than in the U.S. Figures for 2012 show per capita consumption at 0.396 lbs (China) versus 0.4 in the U.S.
- Spinach recipes in the 19th century (1800-1899) called for boiling the leaves for 25 minutes! Apparently, some cookbook authors still thought it was toxic.
- Spinach was the first frozen vegetable to be sold commercially. Thanks to the flash-freezing process, it was introduced by Clarence Birdseye in 1930 in Springfield, Massachusetts under the name Birds Eye Frosted Foods.
The next time you sit down to a plate of spinach salad or a colorful, healthful platter of spinach stir-fry, rest assured that spinach’s hero, Popeye, is not forgotten. From his first appearance in 1929 (in the comic strip Thimble Theatre, by Elzie Segar), to his emergence as an Internet icon, Popeye remains alive and well, and so does the popularity of spinach!