10 Interesting Backstories Behind Popular Foods
Food recipes are, after all, random combinations of ingredients that taste good. Our favorite dishes are the products of trial and error, experimentations, intuition, observation, and accidents. Only the most convenient and tastiest ones survive, and the rest of them were discarded. From this whole bunch of food randomness, the following is a list of 10 interesting backstories behind some of the most popular foods.
1 Tater Tots
Tater Tots were invented by Nephi and Golden Grigg who were trying to figure out what they could do with the leftover slivers of cut-up potatoes. The brothers first chopped the slivers, added flour and seasoning, then pushed the mash through holes and made slices of the extruded mixtures. This is how Tater Tots came to be.
The Grigg brothers used to run a frozen potato company, Ore-Ida, in a small town near the Oregon border. Nephi stressed himself to find a way to reuse the slivers of the potatoes made while slicing them to make fries.
For a while, they fed the waste to cattle but later in 1953 got creative and included a new machine that would smash those bits together and make a new item. First, they planned to fry the Tots. but realized later that baked Tots taste not much different than the fried ones.
They traveled to many markets to promote the new product but had no luck with it. In 1954, they traveled 2,883 miles to the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami carrying 15 pounds of their new creation.
They bargained with the head chef of the restaurant to let their golden potatoes be cooked and served. After some bribing, the chef agreed and the customers loved the novel dish. After this event, Tater Tots entered the mainstream market in 1956.
“Tater Tots” literally mean “baby potatoes” but are known by different names in varied countries. Today, Americans consume more than 70 million pounds of Tater Tots per year.
Initially, ketchup started its journey as a fish-based sauce in China, then it was picked up by the British who turned it into a mushroom-based sauce. Finally, the Americans picked it up and made it into a tomato-based sauce.
Merriam-Webster defines ketchup as a “seasoned pureed condiment usually made from tomatoes.” However, the sauce has been made out of a variety of ingredients in the past. Its origins can be traced back to China where it was known as “ke-chiap.”
Many centuries ago in China, the condiment was a fish-based sauce similar to many fermented sauces found throughout southeast Asia. It was used there as a seasoning for cooking.
In the 18th century, it moved to the Malay Peninsular and Singapore where it was discovered by British colonists who pronounced it “ke-cap.” The sauce flavored the bland British cuisine, and they started making it out of mushrooms and pickled walnuts.
It was only in the 19th century that it was finally introduced to Americans who made the same sauce with tomatoes. They did experiments with it: sweetened, soured with vinegar, and spiced with cloves.
In 1812, Philadelphia scientist and horticulturist James Mease published the first recipe for tomato ketchup. The company, Heinz, is responsible for popularizing the condiment in America, and today the country is the biggest exporter of ketchup. (Source)
3 Maple Syrup
Chief Woksis Iroquois threw his tomahawk at a maple tree in the cold of winter and the next day, the sun had warmed the sap inside the tree. From the hole, a sweet syrup sprang which Woksis’ wife used to cook their meat in. It was so delicious that the natives made maple sugar a part of their lives.
The discovery of maple syrup is only written in legends. One of the legends is of the Chief of the tribe, Woksis, and his tomahawk, and another legend goes that Native Americans came across the sap running from a broken maple branch.
However, it is a well-established fact that early settlers in the US and Canada learned about maple sugar only from the Native Americans. After the 17th century, dairy farmers started selling maple syrup to supplement their income.
Later, the commercialization was taken over by the sugar makers who inserted small plastic spouts into holes into the tees that connect huge webs of plastic tubing into large tanks. There have been technological advancements in the extraction technique, but the essence of the process is the same; collect the sap and reduce over heat.
Maple syrup has been proved great as an alternative to processed cane sugar mostly because of the movements of the natural food. (Source)
The origins of waffles can be traced back to ancient Greeks who used a tool like a waffle iron to make cakes. However, it was only during the 1930s when a Californian family came up with a creative way of mass-producing waffles by using waffle mix and electricity. The product they came up with was Eggos, which accounts for 70% of frozen waffles.
In ancient Greece, the Athenians used two metal plates to cook flat cakes called “obelios.” Even the word “waffle” is related to “wafer”, like the Communion wafers that were staples of early Christian fasts.
People had to wait until the middle ages when finally secular and considerably tastier waffles came to be. They were made from iron plates engraved with coats of arms and symbols of love and the familiar honeycomb.
Waffles came into the US with Thomas Jeffery who bought a waffle iron home from France in 1789. The pilgrim sampled the food in Holland on his way to Massachusetts and was also successful in sparking a fad of waffle parties in the Americans.
The three Dorsa brothers, Frank, Tony, and Sam, eventually invented an instant waffle mix in the mid-1930s. The machine later developed into a carousel-like contraption that churned out thousands of waffles in an hour ready to be frozen and shipped.
Kellogg didn’t miss out on the opportunity to buy the company in 1970 and made the waffles famous with the logo “Leggo my Eggo.” (Source)
5 Ranch Dressing
In the 1950s, a plumber working in Alaska invented ranch dressing. In 1954, along with his wife, he opened a Dude ranch named Hidden Valley Ranch in Santa Barbara County, California. It has been the best-selling salad dressing since 1952, and 40% of Americans reported that ranch-style dressing is their favorite.
Hidden Valley Ranch was started by Kenneth Henson who later changed his name to Steve. He stayed in Alaska for three years with his wife Gayle while he worked as a contract plumber for oil companies.
One of the responsibilities that Steve had to handle was to cook for the workers, therefore, it was crucial to get creative to satisfy the workers to eat vegetables. Out of necessity, he took the ingredients available at hand – buttermilk, mayonnaise, some spices, and herbs – and made a salad dressing. It was so delicious that the workers ate their vegetables with gusto, and then the dressing could be found on every salad bar in Alaska.
With his wife, Steve moved to Santa Barbara, California in 1954, launched the dressing as Sweetwater Ranch, and then renamed it to Hidden Valley Ranch. The couple and their invention were doing well in the 1960s and 70s, although, in October 1972, they got a massive break after selling the rights to the ranch dressing to the company Clorox. They sold it for eight million dollars to the bleach company.
Today, Hidden Valley Ranch holds a 51% percent market share and is recognized as America’s most popular condiment. The currently sold ranch dressing is way different from its original one, however. The former one was created with only a few basic ingredients. (1, 2, 3)
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