How Olive Oyl and Popeye became an item

Olive Oyl is heart friendly

Olive Oyl is heart friendly

Olive Oyl, a popular comic strip character of the 1920s, is named after olive oil… a healthy choice for vinaigrettes. Early newspapers  also featured  Olive’s brother, Castor Oyl, and his wife, Cylinda Oyl… as well as my personal favorite, the intrepid explorer Lubry Kent Oyl.

Lubry Kent’s gift to Castor and Olive led them into the adventure where they met Popeye, the sailor man. As it turned out, Popeye was mad for spinach. And the perfect match for spinach is none other than the lovely Olive Oyl!

But why did Olive Oyl’s creators choose spinach as Popeye’s passion?  It all hinged on one little mistake, a mistake that launched the first modern super-food.

In 1870 the chemist Erich von Wolf correctly determined the amount of iron in spinach:  3.5 milligrams of iron in a 100 grams. But in reporting his results, he accidentally misplaced a decimal point, claiming a serving of 100 grams had 35 milligrams of iron.

This is a huge amount. And as iron was known to carry oxygen in the blood to muscles, Popeye ate it to increase his strength. This error wasn’t corrected for 70 years.  So spinach enjoyed a lifetime as the most vaunted of vegetables. Popeye’s love of spinach  helped increase American consumption of the dark green leaf by one third!

As it turns out, even at 3.5 milligrams a serving, spinach has the most iron of all commonly eaten veggies. It’s still a great food to eat.

When we partner spinach with olive oil, we get antioxidants from the oil along with the oxygen-transporting iron in the spinach leaves. Antioxidants help keep oxygen from rusting us out on the inside, while the gas goes about energizing our tissues. Extravirgin olive oil is your best choice for flavor and antioxidant activity. As with all oils, buy it in small quantities in dark jars and store it in a cool cupboard to keep it fresh.

Enjoy spinach and olive oil together and cash in on Popeye’s romance with the first super food of the twentieth century.



Popeye’s salad, with spinach, beets and olive oil

  • 1 cup spinach washed and chopped
  • 1 cooked beet, diced
  • 5 black olives, halved
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 1 or 2 ounces cooked chicken breast, sliced (optional)
  • vinaigrette made from 2 parts olive oil to one part vinegar
  • balsamic vinegar glaze, to garnish (optional)

Build a salad starting with the greens and layering the ingredients (like Lego blocks)

Drizzle on the oil, vinegar and glaze or use a prepared vinaigrette. I used a beet vinaigrette that I made the previous week. It went nicely with the beets in the salad.

As I had no spinach on hand the day I made this salad, I used red leaf lettuce, instead. It doesn’t have nearly as much iron as spinach. The beets make up for it somewhat, as does the chicken. But if iron is the goal, spinach is still a better way to go. Regardless of the building blocks you use, salads like this one are as delicious as they are nutritious. Eat up!


  • Building your salad in jars, Lego style – Lego instructions for building perfect salads every time. Plus a recipe for spinach strawberry salad with variations… many variations (with links to lots of great salad ideas).
  • Beetniks – a winning formula – Beets increase the oxygen-carrying capacity of your blood. Beets and spinach are great food choices for athletes.

12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mr. Wapojif
    Feb 09, 2015 @ 15:23:57

    Olive Oyl… I don’t get it. Olive… Owl? Hmmmmmm, a most perplexing mystery!


  2. John N. Frank
    Sep 02, 2014 @ 10:10:41

    Not eating anything I like anymore is controlling my weight for me. My heart issues are in God’s hands now, I’m taking all the pills, etc., but ultimately when it’s my time to go, it will be time to go, so I’m just trying to enjoy life as much as possible now, sans chocolate and steak, that is.


    • Vinny Grette
      Sep 02, 2014 @ 10:33:27

      I’m sorry that you still find healthy foods to be foods “you don’t like.” For me, I now find myself getting MAD at foods that have too much salt, fat or sugar :). And that makes me not “like” them. I really do LOVE salads now, when I mix them up with foods from all levels of my Lego salad lists. And I love the veggie and egg mixes I make for breakfast and my delicious soups and my meat and veggie dinner-combos and my yogurt and fruit desserts.

      I do know that if I fall off and eat a “bad” food (like drumstick cones – I’m still a sucker for ice cream), it still tastes good. But I would never put a MacDonald’s burger into that category – all I think of is “Ugh” when the name MacDonalds pops up, even though I used to love fast food hamburgers and fries like everybody else.

      Guess it’s a continuing battle. My wish for you, though, is that you try interesting ways to cook the things you can eat so that you actually love them. People deserve to enjoy their dinners! Take care and best of luck 🙂


      • John N. Frank
        Sep 02, 2014 @ 12:23:57

        Vinny, I have items I like now, salmon was always a favorite and now I’ve found some salt-free marinades that heighten it’s wonderful flavor. And I’ve made the switch to multi-grain pasta so I can somehow keep in touch with the Italian foods of my family and heritage. I don’t miss McDonald’s burgers either, I never really considered those any good and had given them up long ago. I do miss an occasional Wendy’s or a gourmet burger at the many shops that now sell those. And eating out with others has gone from fun to painful for me as I watch them get all the dishes and desserts I once loved while I tell the waiter I need a piece of fish with no salt added and some plain vegetables because any sauce will be too high in salt and fat. I will never be a nuts, seeds and twigs guy, but as I wrote recently, I no longer life to eat, I just eat to live. I’m doing it for the people around me, not for me now. Here’s a fun ahi tuna dish I made recently:


  3. John N. Frank
    Sep 01, 2014 @ 18:30:10

    Weight is not an issue anymore. Just had my two-year check up and it went well, gotten taken off of one medication:


    • Vinny Grette
      Sep 01, 2014 @ 18:33:34

      Congratulations, John! I guess it really is possible to eat your way to better health. My weigh is still holding too, although I did fall off the wagon at a cottage holiday recently…


  4. John N. Frank
    Sep 01, 2014 @ 15:17:00

    Looks great, I add spinach to my lunchtime salad bar meal every day:


    • Vinny Grette
      Sep 01, 2014 @ 15:31:51

      What do you add to your salads for protein? And what do yo prefer as your dressing? I too always order a salad when I go out for lunch, and I’m always delighted with what’s on offer. Salads are wonderful!!! 🙂


      • John N. Frank
        Sep 01, 2014 @ 18:03:29

        I buy two ounces of sashimi raw salmon to add. I use olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dressring, all the packaged dressing s have too much salt, fat and sugar.


    • Vinny Grette
      Sep 01, 2014 @ 18:11:42

      That sounds excellent. I bet you are doing really well with controlling your weight and resolving your heart problems :).


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