We all love food, and honestly, lunchtime is probably most people’s favorite time of the day. But how much do we actually know about the things we all crave and love? Where it came from, how it used to be made, or even why it was invented in the first place? Those are all questions that will be answered in this list of 10 Curious ORIGINS of Your Favorite FOODS (Part 2).
Who as a kid didn’t love a nice, cold sugary glass of Kool-Aid after a hard day at school? The process of preparing this powdered delicacy was very easy but still had to be done meticulously. All you needed was a giant pitcher, a pack of Kool-Aid powder, and a cup – or two – or five – of sugar. Mix it all together, and you had the perfect after-school treat. But did you know that this little sacred ritual almost never existed? At least, not in the way we know it today? The powdered version of Kool-Aid didn’t come into our lives until the 1920s. Originally, Kool-Aid wasn’t even called Kool-Aid. It was called something a little more aggressive than that: Fruit Smack. The smacking beverage was sold as a liquid concentrate in 4-ounce, corked glass bottles and was available in only 6 flavors. While the sales did great in its hometown of Hastings, Nebraska, the creator Edwin Perkins had to come up with a new, effective way to sell his drink on a nationwide scale. Cue the powder packet. To reduce the risk of broken bottles and the high shipping costs, the glass bottles were transformed into cheap little paper envelopes filled with powder. Greatly inspired by another childhood’s favorite, Jell-O, powdered Kool-Aid was now ready to be shipped without any worry. And thank goodness it was! Half the fun came from mixing the powder with water – because, let’s face it, without that charm, it’s just another way-too-sugary drink.
9. French Fries
You think you know where this is going, right? We say origins of french fries, so you assume they must be French, right? Well, not exactly. The origins of french fries can actually be traced back to Namur, a city in Belgium. Common beliefs claim that the french fry was first created when the rivers froze during winter, cutting off access to the fish. This meant that the good people of the village were not able to cook one of their staple dishes – fried fish – so they started frying potatoes instead – and voila! The name is also rumored that have originated in the same region. U.S. soldiers stationed in this francophone city during World War I, allegedly dubbed the potatoes ‘french fries’ and, well, it stuck. And that’s the story of how French fries came to be. At least one of the stories. Many have argued over who is really to thank for bringing these delicious fried potatoes into our lives. Even though Belgium has petitioned UNESCO to endorse the fry as an official icon of Belgian cultural heritage, there is some speculation that fries actually come from the Spanish, but that hasn’t been proven. The truth is, we might never be 100% sure where the true original french fries were born, but one thing is sure, they are insanely tasty, and we’re more than grateful they were brought all the way here!
You’ve probably come across Spam at least once in your life. The canned, processed meat is pretty infamous around the world, so; chances are, you’ve heard a lot of stories about it. However, you might not all be familiar with how and why Spam was originally invented. Spam is pretty… special and, let’s say, unique in its own way. After all, how many other successful canned meat brands do you know? This very distinguished meat was first invented in Austin, Minnesota, in 1937 by Jay Hormel in response to the growing need for non-perishable protein food items. It especially helped the U.S. troops during World War II and eventually became a staple of their diets. The reason it was so greatly in demand was its longer shelf life and because it didn’t require any refrigeration, making this the perfect nutritious meal for soldiers – or for your busy, busy weeknights. Spam also had an important influence in Hawaii, as it basically saved them from starvation when the American government put restrictions on their fishing activities, leaving them to replace the fish with, you guessed it, our valiant Spam. This is why today if you go to Hawaii, you’ll most likely find Spam in the majority – if not every – restaurant. Spam eventually made its way to Europe and Asia and grew in popularity, and it can now be found almost anywhere. We thank you for your service, Spam!
To be honest, it’s hard to imagine a world without brownies. They’re delicious, cute, gooey, chocolatey, and oh so tasty. They’re the perfect way to end a big meal or to snack on before one. They’re just amazing, okay? And to think that they originated in good ol’ America. It all happened in the 19th century when Bertha Palmer, president of the Board of Lady Managers, who, when heading to a conference in Chicago, found herself in the middle of a dessert crisis. She needed a portable pastry that would please the ladies, and that would fit in a traditional lunchbox. Her husband, Potter, was the owner of Palmer House Hotel, and so, she asked the hotel’s chef to help her out a little. She asked for a dessert that was easier to eat than a piece of pie and smaller than a layer cake, So the chef set out to create just that. He cracked the code to one of America’s favorite baked treats, the Brownie. The decadent, chocolatey brownie. The name didn’t come until much later, however. The first-known printed use of the word was in 1896 in the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Farmer – 3 years after the recipe was created . Now Hilton owned, The Palmer House bakes up batches with the original recipe: chocolate cake-like squares with walnuts and apricot glaze. Thanks to this dessert emergency, we can now enjoy these exquisite and refined little treats anytime we like!
Ketchup is the definition of an American hero. It goes great with everything. It saved our burgers and fries from dullness, and 97 percent of US households report having a bottle in the fridge. Truly, an American staple. So it’s safe to assume that it has American origins, no? But, as it turns out, that’s not entirely true. It actually comes from a completely different continent! The word “ketchup” comes from the Hokkien Chinese word ke-tsiap, which is a very popular fermented sauce in China. The “original” Chinese “ketchup” is made with fish entrails, meat byproducts, and soybeans, which isn’t exactly the kind of ketchup you dunk your fries in at McDonald’s. The first recipe for the tomato-based ketchup we all know and love was invented by James Mease, a scientist from Philadelphia in the 18th century – or as some people like to call it, the Golden Age of Ketchup,. And the best-selling brand of ketchup, Heinz, came out in 1876 with its very own version made with distilled vinegar, which resolved the whole “preservation issue” from previous incarnations. Since then, ketchup has become the go-to condiment in basically every American and European kitchen, and the bright red bottle full of goodness is an essential item at any good barbecue.
Have you ever heard of serendipity? An unplanned yet fortunate discovery that was not sought after, but ended up creating something amazing? Well, this is exactly what happened when our favorite frozen treats, Popsicles, were invented – and we owe it all to an 11-year-old from the Bay Area. Way back in 1905, Frank Epperson was about to make history on a cold, night in California. Wanting to enjoy a drink, he made himself a lemonade with some sugary soda powder water. He carelessly left his glass outside overnight with the mixing stick still in it, and when he came outside the next morning, it had frozen. He pulled on the stick, and the whole frozen block followed, and the rest, as they say, is history. Epperson sold some around in his neighborhood for a while, but it’s only in 1923 that the name Popsicle was put in place after his kids begged him to change the name. Before that, it was called an Epsicle – because it reminded Epperson of icicles. But his kids wanted him to change the name to what they called them: Pop’s sicles – which is honestly really adorable. Today, the term Popsicle has become the “generic” word for any frozen treat – kind of how Kleenex has become the generic word for tissue. With the most popular flavor being cherry, there are over two billion Popsicles sold each year. Popsicles are the perfect example of plain ol’ dumb luck!
4. Mac And Cheese
Is there anything more comforting than a warm bowl of mac and cheese on literally any given day? You feel sad? Mac and cheese. You feel homesick? Mac and cheese. You’re too lazy to cook something extravagant? Boxed mac and cheese. Any excuse is a good excuse to enjoy this ultimate American food. But contrary to what most people might think, the origins of mac and cheese aren’t exactly “All-American”. Obviously, the “original” macaroni and cheese has roots in Italy, but like every good origin story, there is a lot of controversy and argument about where the version we know is really from. The true original mac and cheese dates all the way back to the 1300s in southern Italy and was more a type of lasagna than anything else. But for the “American version,” it’s not as easy to track down. Some say it comes from New England when a new casserole dish, known as “macaroni pudding” was showing up at church suppers. Others claim that it was none other than Thomas Jefferson’s wife after he brought back a pasta machine from a trip to Italy, and she used it to create the now famous mac and cheese. Kraft was the first company to take mac and cheese and sell it in a box. This was in 1937, right in the middle of the Great Depression, and we couldn’t be happier about that. No matter where it’s from, mac and cheese – boxed or not – is delicious, and there’s no arguing that!
It really shouldn’t be surprising to hear that cheesesteak originated in Philadelphia. I mean, you can’t say “Cheesesteak” without hearing the word “Philly” in front of it; it’s practically impossible. The two go hand in hand and are the perfect inseparable pair. What could be surprising, however, is how the famous Philly cheesesteak got its humble beginnings. In the 1930s, Pat Olivieri, a hot dog vendor and namesake of Pat’s King of Steaks, wanted to make himself a sandwich for lunch. He threw some beef on the grill, not really thinking too much about it, and a passing cab driver was immediately compelled by the smell and asked Pat to make him one as well. The driver was so in love with the sandwich he told Pat he should forget about hot dogs and sell these babies instead. And so he did. And from that moment on, the cheesesteak was born. Fast-forward to decades later, when Philly Cheesesteaks are now a major part of Philadelphia’s cultural scene and are served literally everywhere in America. It’s safe to say that this hot dog vendor never expected this seemingly small step would end up changing the entire sandwich game forever. With perfectly sizzled beef, caramelized onions and your choice of cheese, cheesesteaks are Philadelphia’s pride and joy and do a good job representing the city. Whether scarfed down at a ballgame or as a midnight snack, cheesesteaks are always worth savoring, no matter the occasion!
2. Red Velvet Cake
Red velvet is definitely one of the most polished cakes out there. It’s sophisticated, elegant, and just looks like it’s out of the average person’s budget. It’s just a very fancy cake, basically. And when we dig deep into its roots, we can see that red velvet cake had a very decent and humble start in life. This cake was, well, sort of invented to make your Instagram feed look prettier – kind of. Velvet cakes have been made since the 1800s, when ingredients like cocoa and cornstarch were added to soften the flour and make finer texture cakes. This is where the name gets its “velvet” component. They were known as “luxury” cakes and would be served at distinguished parties. Now, for the “red” part – here’s where controversy arises. Some people argue that it was beet juice that gave the cake that bright red color – added to the recipe sometime during World War II to make the cakes moister and more appealing. Others say it comes from a chemical reaction that happens when the cocoa powder, vinegar, and baking soda mix together which gives it that brownish-red hue. Either way, today we have – drumroll, please – food dye! It’s the perfect way to – let’s say -make it easier on the eye than that dreadful brownish color. Even though red velvet cakes are still somewhat a little more pricey than regular cakes, we mostly buy them for their looks, not for their taste. It’s become more like a “fancy” version of a chocolate cake that just looks better in pictures.
1. Hot Dogs
Yummy hot dogs! Yet another American food staple that’s not at all American. We love to claim ourselves the inventors of stuff, when we really just adapted an already great idea from someone else. Hot dogs were not originally from the U.S., contrary to popular belief – at least, not entirely. The hot dog – once called ‘dachshund sausages’ – was first invented in Germany and made its way to America during the wave of German immigration in the 1860s. The first hot dog was sold in New York around 1870 by a German immigrant named Charles Feltman, at a little stand he set up on Coney Island. He sold over 3,600 frankfurters that year, and it spread all across America like wildfire. Stories say the sausages began being sold in buns because a vendor in St. Louis, who usually gave gloves to customers to hold their hot sausages, ran out of gloves, so he started serving the goods in a bun instead. So technically, it’s not 100% American, but close enough. There’s a difference between inventing and popularizing, and we did the latter perfectly. Now an iconic food to eat anytime and anywhere, hot dogs are here to stay!