A Big Mistake – How Spinach Became Popeye’s Super Food

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Popeye the Sailorman is a famous animated character that originated as a comic strip in 1929. The one-eyed sailor eventually evolved into an animated cartoon, with his signature superstrength coming from a can of spinach. But why the heck was spinach chosen as the superfood? Well, because of a SERIOUS mistake that was taken as fact and widely spread.

Basically, in the 1870s, some science guy (OK, he was technically a German chemist) called Erich Von Wolf made a BIG mistake. In fact, it was so big that here we are talking about it in 2021. Anyway, Von Wolf examined the amount of iron in spinach – which is actually around a 3.5milligrams in a 100-gram serving. But when he copied the data off his notebook, he put the decimal point in the wrong place…recording it as 35mg per 100-gram serving. Von Wolf quickly realized his mistake and promptly took measures to rectify it…NOT.

What actually happened is this: the wrong calculation went to print and spread like wildfire. Spinach was regarded as a superfood. This mistake, which was put to print in the 1870s, was not corrected until 1937 when someone finally rechecked the numbers.

So, Popeye debuted in 1929, and at that time, people still hadn’t clocked that the claim about spinach’s iron content was totally off. So when Popeye and his superstrength was conceptualized, spinach was picked as his superfood of choice. The animation just spread the misconception even further and increased the consumption of spinach in America by one whole third!

The most shocking part of this story isn’t even the calculation mistake – blunders of the sort occur every now and again. No, what’s so surprising is how long it took for people to recheck the results and correct the mistake. 35mg per 100gram serving doesn’t mean much to the average Joe, but did the science guys not find it weird that a 100-gram serving apparently had the same amount of iron as a piece of a paper clip? Well, we got Popeye out of the whole ordeal, so maybe something good did come of it.