22. The Math Mistake Behind the Myth
Popeye’s passion for spinach, as well as the popular faith in its exceptional benefits, was caused by a simple mathematical error. It began in 1870 when German scientist Erich von Wolf was conducting research into the amount of iron in spinach and other vegetables. He discovered that spinach had an iron content of 3.5 milligrams per 100-gram serving. That was not unusual compared to other vegetables.
However, when Wolf wrote up his findings, he misplaced a decimal point and ended up putting down spinach’s iron content as ten times greater than what it actually was: 35 milligrams of iron per 100-gram serving, instead of 3.5 milligrams. It was not until 1937 that somebody double-checked Wolf’s math, and spotted the error. By then, Popeye was already a cultural icon, and the weird spinach super strength myth had taken hold.