Everyone knows Popeye the sailor. And everyone knows his secret. Whenever the cartoon sailor is on the verge of a fight, he pops open a can of spinach, pours the greens down his throat, and uses his muscles to pummel his opponent (almost inevitably fellow sailor Bluto, his arch-enemy.)
As an interesting sidebar, in the classic Popeye animated cartoons, it wasn't always Popeye who eats the spinach. In one Popeye cartoon, he actually forces the spinach down Bluto's throat, so Bluto will work him over and he'll get sympathy from his dream girl, Olive Oyl.
Even Olive Oyl eats her spinach in one rare Popeye cartoon. A Mae West-like competitor is flirting a little too intimately with Popeye in a gym and Olive gets fed up, downs some spinach, and proceeds to beat the crap out of her competition.
Few people know that the U.S. government is directly responsible for Popeye's dependence on the canned green vegetable.
In the 1930's, America was mired in the Great Depression. The U.S. government was looking for a way to promote iron-rich spinach as a meat substitute. To help spread the word, they decided to hire one of America's favorite celebrities, Popeye the Sailor Man. It was a smart plan. And it worked like a charm.
In all the Popeye comic strips up to that point, Popeye's superhuman strength was never explained. But with the government's campaign in place, Popeye was suddenly more than willing to share the secret of his strength. Sure enough, soon after Popeye took up spinach, American sales of the mighty vegetable increased.
Spinach sales skyrocketed by a full one-third. Even more amazingly, children actually rated spinach as their third favorite food, right after turkey and ice cream.(In those years, I wonder if spinach consumption was skewed toward male children, as opposed to little girls? I mean, okay, boys would be encouraged to eat their spinach to be strong and tough like Popeye, but what would have been the incentive for a young girl to eat her spinach?)
But it wasn't just spinach the government was endorsing. They were also pushing the merits of canned foods. U.S. officials wanted Americans to know that cans were the perfect way to stock up on emergency rations.
Spinach is a superfood. It is loaded with tons of nutrients in a low-calorie package. Dark, leafy greens like spinach are important for skin, hair, and bone health. They also provide protein, iron, vitamins, and minerals.
The possible health benefits of consuming spinach include improving blood glucose control in people with diabetes, lowering the risk of cancer, and improving bone health, as well as supplying minerals and vitamins that can provide a range of different benefits.
Spinach has been used by various cultures throughout history, notably in Mediterranean, Middle-Eastern, and South-East-Asian cuisines. It can be incorporated quite easily into any diet, as it is cheap and easy to prepare.
There are literally thousands of ways to prepare spinach, here’s one of our favorites:
Sautéed Spinach in The Catalonian Manner (with Pine Nuts and Raisins)
Look for shelled pine nuts that are long and oval rather than stubby and round. The former, which are primarily European-grown nuts, have a delicate flavor, while the latter, which are Asian in origin, have a sharper flavor. Purchase pine nuts from markets with a good turnover as these nuts have a short shelf life due to their naturally high concentration of oil. Store in an airtight container in a cool place away from light for shorter periods, or in the refrigerator or freezer for longer periods.
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 lb. spinach leaves, tough stems removed and leaves well rinsed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper or cayenne pepper, to taste
Put the raisins in a small heatproof bowl and add boiling water to cover. Cover the bowl and let stand for about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, if desired, toast the pine nuts by heating them gently in a dry small, heavy fry pan over medium heat, tossing them every so often as they become golden and fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. Watch the pine nuts closely as they burn easily. When toasted, immediately pour onto a plate.
In a fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté lightly until golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute more. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
Put the spinach with just the rinsing water clinging to the leaves in a saucepan over medium-high heat, cover, and cook until the spinach is bright green and wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain well in a sieve, pressing the spinach with the back of a spoon to remove excess moisture. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, chop it coarsely. (If using baby spinach leaves, omit the chopping.)
Add the spinach, drained raisins and pine nuts to the onion and garlic in the fry pan and return to medium heat. Stir until the spinach and onion are heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature. Serves 4.
Variation: Use golden raisins or large muscatel raisins in place of the black raisins, and slivered blanched almonds in place of the pine nuts.