While you might not think it at first, there’s lots of food items on grocery store shelves today that boast a remarkable history. The time has to come for us to reflect on some of the more significant — and downright weird — moments in food history. So we hope you're hungry for strange facts and important culinary moments, because we’ve got a full plate for you! We'd have never guessed that our favorite foods had such humble beginnings...
40. The first mechanical dough mixer
Back in the first century BC, a former slave changed the way that bread was made forever. Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces created a mechanical dough mixer — the first of its kind. Using animals such as donkeys and horses, they’d tug wooden spades in a circular motion to stir the paste inside a stone bowl. Who knew that donkeys were partly to thank for our morning toast?!
39. Spain made tomato sauces first
If we were to ask you point-blank which country made the earliest tomato sauces, what would you say? It’s Italy, right? Well, we’ve got some news for you — you’d be wrong! As it turns out, Spain was responsible. Their European neighbors just followed their lead. That’s one to remember for your next trivia night.
38. Chilies and bell peppers
Did you know that bell peppers are from the same plant family as chilies? No joke! The latter started to make its way across Europe thanks to the Columbian exchange. But due to the peppers’ scorchingly hot taste, farmers began to alter them during the growing process in order to remove the spiciness. And thus, the bell pepper was born.
37. Inventing the popsicle
Frank Epperson is the man behind the popsicle, yet the story of its creation in 1905 is still a bit of a mystery. You see, Epperson said that he took some water and juice outside his house one day and mixed them together in a glass. He forgot about it as the evening drew in, though, and claimed that the concoction froze overnight, accidentally creating our favorite icy treat. Is that true? No one knows.
36. World’s largest carrot producer
While some vegetables don’t have the greatest taste, you can’t say that about carrots. They’re so good. But here’s a question for you: Which nation tops the list when it comes to cultivating our favorite orange veggies? Surprisingly, China holds that particular crown. Nearly half of the planet’s carrot supply came from China in 2011.
35. Table manner origins
Before the 1200s, there were no historical records about table manners. But they finally started to emerge throughout that century, and historians have a pretty good guess as to why. It’s strongly suggested that the dinner-time behaviors were created to distance the rich from the poor. We couldn’t have predicted that...or maybe we could've.
34. Spices, butter, and pastry
Going into the 1600s, spices weren't readily available to the average person. Their rarity made them very costly. Yet thanks to improvements in harvesting, spices started to grow in popularity at the food market, and their prices were slashed. Of course, rich folks didn’t like that, since spices were essentially exclusive to them prior to this. So, items ranging from pastry to butter became the new hot commodity.
33. Waffle irons in ancient Greece
It’s hard to imagine the people of ancient Greece tucking into delicious waffles for breakfast. But according to Ranker, the item was indeed on the menu back then. Chefs utilized irons to make them, which gave each waffle a wafer-like texture. They took on a more recognizable form during the medieval ages, and eventually became the pillowy texture we love today!
32. Avocado seeds and red ink
How about this for a surprise? As overseas travelers from Spain touched down in the Americas for the first time, they stumbled across avocados. They’d never seen the fruit before. Yet the settlers saw more than just a food source at their disposal. In fact, the Spanish eventually used the seeds found in each avocado to make a form of red ink and dye.
31. Bagels at childbirth
Although bagels are often associated with America, their origins can be traced to Poland in the 1300s. But some three hundred years later, a bizarre piece of legislation was given the green light in Krakow. If a woman just had a baby, you were required to hand her a bagel! As per Ranker, the delicious buns denoted a “long, healthy life” at the time.
30. The old price of black pepper
A bag of black pepper today won’t set you back by too much at the supermarket. In the past, though, it was a very different story. Apparently, one boat carrying a harvest of black pepper between India and Europe had enough value to cover the wages of roughly 7,000 armed troops in the second century. We’re serious! It was extremely pricey (and spicy).
29. Carrots weren’t always orange
It’s difficult to picture carrots as any other color, but in the past they were a variety of different shade. As per Ranker, the vegetable ranged from yellow to purple hundreds of years ago. The orange tint was a result of a “mutation” that harvesters encouraged. It gave the veggie a sweet flavor. Why are we getting X-Men vibes?!
28. Chicken pie “handles”
We hope you’re not squeamish folks, because this next factoid is pretty wild! Chicken pies were hugely popular in medieval England, but they didn't always make for the most delectable meal. For example, the feet of the poultry weren’t removed from the pastry. The feet supposedly helped consumers identify the pie's flavor and doubled for a pair of handles. Yuck!
27. The birth of food journalism
It shouldn’t be too surprising to hear that food journalism got its start in France. It just fits, right? Then again, other aspects of its origin may catch you off guard. You see, the written pieces began to crop up once the French Revolution came to an end. This timing wasn't coincidental. The authors wanted to impart aristocratic etiquettes to the masses via their articles.
26. Perfecting foie gras
"Foie gras" sounds much more appetizing than "goose liver"! Yes, we know they’re the same thing, but still! People often thought that you had to forcefully overfeed the bird to get the best foie gras possible, but that’s not the case. Ahead of the migration period, geese pack on fat without any encouragement, which in turn beefs up their livers. Just leave it to them!
25. Caesar salad has Mexican origins
Mexico is known for numerous tasty dishes. But were you aware that Caesar salads should be included on that lengthy list as well? No, we’re not pulling your leg! According to EatFirst, the first bowl was put together in a Tijuana restaurant that had run low on supplies on Independence Day. Cook Caesar Cardini produced it — hence the name.
24. America’s first chocolate cake
How do you feel about mahogany cake? Would you say that you’re a fan? If so, the following fact could blow your mind. According to BuzzFeed, mahogany cake was the “first chocolate cake on record” in the United States, with the recipe being traced to the early 19th century. That’s quite the honor, wouldn’t you agree?
23. Mysterious hot dog origin
The question seems simple enough: Where were hot dogs first created? But there isn’t a clear-cut answer. EatFirst notes that three stories are often flagged as the food's potential origin. The first is that a meat specialist concocted the idea in Coburg, Germany, in the 17th century. As for the second, it’s said neighboring Frankfurt was responsible. And the last tale says two men came up with it in Austria. We're just glad that hot dogs exist at all!
22. Pistachios are fruit
Good luck naming another food item that’s as addictive as pistachios. You can’t stop with just one! We’d say they’re the tastiest nuts around, but that’d be false. Why? Well, they're not actually nuts at all. Instead, the snacks are fruit seeds. You learn something new every day, right?
21. Use the forks
Without wishing to state the obvious, cutlery hasn’t always been a thing. Each piece was slowly introduced across past periods as people continued to refine their table etiquette. Mind you, forks were still very late to the party. As it turns out, the pronged tools didn’t become popular until the latter part of the Middle Ages!
20. The benefits of dark chocolate
Since chocolate bars made their bow in the early 1900s, people of all ages haven’t been able to get enough of them. Yet while some may demonize the candy for its unhealthy properties, dark chocolate is a different beast entirely. As per EatFirst, it can bring blood pressure readings down and give your eyesight and cholesterol a welcome boost. Does this mean chocolate is actually good for you?!
19. PEZ or a cigarette?
Today, PEZ is seen as a tasty snack housed inside cool dispensers. But in the past, it was meant to serve a very different purpose. Yes, as the website Ranker reports, the man behind the product believed that it could be a worthwhile substitute for cigarettes. This was back in 1927. We wonder if PEZ helped anyone kick their nasty smoking habit?
18. The St. Louis gooey butter cake was an accident
There is such a thing as happy accidents, and the St. Louis gooey butter cake is proof of that. Initially, a cook from the Missouri city was trying to make a coffee cake in his kitchen in the 1930s. As he went on, though, he messed up the butter measurements, which led to the dessert’s creation.
17. Ciabatta isn’t as old as you’d think...
We’ve always figured that the recipe for ciabatta bread is hundreds of years old. How about you? It’s just got that look, right? Yet we couldn’t be more wrong. BuzzFeed reported that the first of these delicious loaves was cooked in the mid-1980s. It’s true! A baker from Italy created them to compete with French baguettes.
16. Inventing the sandwich
John Montagu was the Earl of Sandwich in the early 1760s, and it’s believed that he created his namesake snack during that period, too. But the idea didn’t pop into his head in the kitchen. Instead, the legend goes that Montagu was deeply entrenched in a card game when his stomach started to rumble. To avoid stepping away, he instructed someone to slap a bit of beef inside two bread slices.
15. Popcorn is an ancient snack
Popcorn may look like a modern snack developed specially for cinemas, but that isn’t true. In fact, its origins can be traced back several thousands of years. Yes, BuzzFeed noted that a few “popped corn cobs” were discovered in Peru which came close to 6,700 years old. That’s not a typo, folks!
14. World War II carrot trick
Can carrots really improve your eyesight? Well, the German soldiers of World War II certainly thought so, as the British pulled an ingenious trick on them. According to legend, the U.K. put it out there that its airmen weren’t blinded by the dark due to “a carrot-heavy diet.” In truth, the line was a cover for the bolstered tech installed in the planes. Apparently, Germany didn’t have a clue.
13. Lobsters as fertilizer
It’s hard to picture a time when lobster wasn’t a luxury food item, but that was indeed the case during the colonial period in America. The crustacean was seemingly everywhere, to the point where it even fed prisoners. And prior to this, Native Americans created fertilizer from lobsters. There were just too many to eat!
12. The “Chicken of Tomorrow”
Nope, the “Chicken of Tomorrow” isn’t the name of a bizarre Hollywood blockbuster...yet, anyway! Instead, it was a competition staged in the late 1940s in America. The goal was simple: to unearth the perfect birds that were big and beefy enough to feed families across the nation. Thanks to that event, most of the chickens we consume now are descendants of the victors.
11. “Decorative” tomatoes
While tomatoes are incredibly tasty today, that certainly wasn’t the case when they originally arrived in Europe. You see, tomatoes had a sour flavor back then. So in a lot of cases, they were solely used for “decorative” purposes before farmers made them more palatable. We're not sure how people "decorated" with them, but we can't help but imagine tomato plants being shown off in vases like flowers!
10. Oyster shells in ancient Greece
Who knew that oyster shells could be so useful? Going back to ancient Greece, they were often pulled out when a vote needed to be taken among the people, with each shell serving as a ballot. If that wasn’t enough, members of the jury penned their judgement on them in court sessions as well. Pretty cool, right?
9. The world’s most expensive spice
Saffron is the costliest spice on the entire planet. Seriously — in some places, a single pound can set you back by more than $1,500. Holy smokes! And it carried just as much value in the past, too. For instance, Cleopatra would take baths filled with saffron before seeing her admirers. Then, there’s Alexander the Great. Incredibly, he called on saffron as a makeshift hair dye.
8. Meals on the Lewis and Clark Expedition
The Lewis and Clark Expedition must’ve been quite the experience for the crew. The food situation alone was absolutely wild. That ship carried tons of edible supplies, with William Clark recording their eating routines some 12 months in. He wrote, “We eat an immensity of meat. It requires four deer, or an elk and a deer, or one buffalo to supply us plentifully [for] 24 hours.” Vegetarians would've been out of luck!
7. Adopting American ingredients
Reluctant. That seems like the best word to describe Europe when batches of American produce hit its shores for the first time in the past. Although the ingredients included stuff such as potatoes, corn, and tomatoes, they weren’t eager to embrace them. Overall, roughly three centuries spanned before the majority of the food was adopted in Europe. Now that's a grudge!
6. Developing today’s table etiquette
How long has modern table etiquette been in place? Well, this might shock you. While the Renaissance period introduced the idea, most of it has remained the same over the following centuries. It’s not really “modern” at all! Prior to that, folks would share kitchen utensils and clean their digits across tablecloths. It was a grim time for germaphobes.
5. First meal on the moon
The moon landing is one of the most iconic moments in our history. It’ll be remembered forever for its importance. Mind you, certain facts around that event aren’t as well known. For instance, what was the first bit of grub to be eaten up there? As per Ranker, that honor belonged to bacon, peaches, and cookies. How distinctly American!
4. “Tomato” ketchup
We hope you’re sitting down, as this next tidbit could knock you off your feet! As it turns out, ketchup was not a tomato condiment to begin with. It started out as a fishy relish in China known as “ke-tsiap.” But once boatmen from Europe began to ship the stuff in the 1600s, they threw in additional items. Tomatoes were eventually introduced to the tangy condiment some 200 years later.
3. How desserts got their start
Imagine a world without dessert. It doesn’t bear thinking about, right?! Yet up until the 1600s, the idea didn’t even exist. So what changed, then? During that time, people found it easier to get hold of sugar, which opened the doors to the confectionery industry. With that in place, sweet-tasting third courses soon followed. And thank goodness for that!
2. Pasta isn’t Italian
In food terms, pasta is synonymous with Italy. Yet the Mediterranean country didn’t actually create it. Yes, we know that’s hard to believe! Marco Polo was responsible for shipping the first batch over to Venice, picking it up out of China. Evidence suggests that people in Asia were making their own pasta as far back as four thousand years ago. Our whole life is a lie!
1. The origin of Margherita pizza
You can’t go wrong with a Margherita pizza. It might be plain, but it’s still delicious! These beauties have been around since the late 1800s when cook Raffaele Esposito of Da Pietro made one specially for Italy’s Queen consort. Her name? Margherita Maria Teresa Giovanna of Savoy. Yep, that’s how the pies got their title.