By Chuck Woodbury
Popeye is still helping sell spinach. I found this bag in a supermarket in Sacramento. It’s called Popeye Superfood Spinach.
I wonder how many people younger than 50 even remember Popeye.
Popeye cartoons made spinach popular. In the popular series, when Popeye got into trouble, which usually involved saving his sweetheart Olive Oil from the villain Bluto, he would eat a can of spinach. Instantly, he was “Superman.”
The reality was, spinach wasn’t as much a super food as most people thought. Popeye, alas, was promoting a myth.
In 1870 a German chemist named Erich von Wolf correctly determined the amount of iron in spinach, but while transcribing his notes he misplaced a decimal point: Instead of recording that spinach had 3.5 milligrams of iron per 100-gram serving, he wrote that it had 35 milligrams. Big difference!
For 70 years, until 1937, spinach was considered a wonder food, packed with iron. After Popeye came along, consumption of the vegetable in America is said to have increased by a third.
And, in case you didn’t know, Popeye debuted on film in 1933 as part of a Betty Boop cartoon. His voice, with a few exceptions, was a man name Jack Mercer. Watch the video below to see Mercer’s appearance on the “To Tell The Truth” TV Show. You’ll learn about the other characters he voiced, including a very popular cat!