Spinach consumption dropped significantly after an E. Coli outbreak in 2006, from 2.3 pounds per American to 1.6 pounds, and has remained flat since, according to the USDA. Now, a scientist at the agency hopes to boost the leafy vegetable’s place in our diet by introducing USDA Red, “the world’s first true red spinach variety.”
“A true red spinach like USDA Red will bring excitement to the spinach market and could help attract people back to eating spinach,” Agricultural Research Service geneticist Beiquan Mou, who developed the new variety, said in a press release.
But could changing the color of spinach really make it more desirable? There’s some science to back up Mou’s hypothesis. According to a 2016 study from International School of Advanced Studies, humans associate the color red with calorie-dense foods. “The redder an unprocessed food is, the more likely it is to be nutritious, while green foods tend to be low in calories,” said SISSA researcher Francesco Foroni.
The new spinach variety is the result of traditional breeding, with the color derived from betacyanin, the red pigment found in plants such as beetroot. The USDA said that betacyanin allows USDA Red to have an antioxidant capacity that’s up to 53 percent higher than other spinach varieties, which could help prevent sickness, inflammation and cancer.
We often forget, but almost all of the fruits and vegetables we enjoy today are the products of genetic breeding. For example, corn used to be 10 times smaller, hard and tasted like potato, Vox reports, while watermelon had also been significantly smaller and bitter. Carrots can be found in many colors, but through selective breeding the root vegetable is mostly found in orange. Earlier this decade, a black tomato breed called Indigo Rose debuted.
The USDA said that it’s seeking a partner to license production of red spinach seeds for the market. Until then, you’ll just have to make due with green spinach, or leaf it alone (not sorry).