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.