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  • What Would Popeye Think?

What Would Popeye Think?

Red spinach plant growing in the soil

USDA Red, the first true red spinach variety. (Beiquan Mou, D4224-1)

Spinach consumption increased rapidly in the 1930s, thanks to cartoon character Popeye’s love of the leafy green vegetable. The joke, of course, was that the iron in spinach gave Popeye superhuman strength.

Today, Popeye’s green spinach has some competition. USDA Red, the world's first true red spinach variety, has been developed and released by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

Unlike other red-leafed veggie species that go by the name red spinach, USDA Red is true spinach (Spinacia oleracea). It owes its red color to the phytonutrient betacyanin instead of the more common anthocyanin.

Betacyanin is a potent antioxidant that has been shown to significantly reduce oxidative stress in humans and may help in preventing inflammation—the condition underlying many chronic diseases. The antioxidant capacity of USDA Red was 42–53 percent higher than other spinach cultivars tested.

“Betacyanin adds another benefit to a plant already loaded with phytonutrients, making spinach a true ‘super food,’” said ARS research geneticist Beiquan Mou, who developed the new variety by using traditional plant breeding techniques. Mou is in the Crop Improvement and Protection Research Unit in Salinas, CA.

Learn more about this exciting ARS achievement. —By Sue Kendall, ARS Office of Communications.

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