It might be hard to imagine, but there was a time when nachos didn’t exist. Or hamburgers. Or chocolate chip cookies. Every food that we eat, except for the real staples like rice, was invented at some point by someone. We rounded up ten of those inventors, and the stories behind some of your favorite foods are fascinating.
When we’re eating, we tend to not think about the history and historical context of the food in front of us. We tend to just think about how tasty (or not tasty) it is.
But behind every food item lurks a story; many have been lost to the ages (nobody really knows how bread came to be, for example, or pizza), but the stories behind some of the world’s most popular foodsare still around.
Learning about the histories behind popular foods is important for anyone who considers themselves to be a food lover.
Not only are the backstories behind everyday foods great bits of trivia to be able to pull out at a cocktail party (you’ll never believe how the term ‘sandwich’ came to be), they also help to give context to some of the things that we take most for granted.
So read on to learn the histories behind ten popular foods. We guarantee that by the time you’re done you’ll have learned something, and will also most likely be at least a little hungry.
In the mid-1920s, an Austrian by the name of Eduard Haas invented a small, brick-shaped peppermint candy which he called Pez, short for pfefferminze, or ‘peppermint’ in German. It was a hit among his friends, and as an anti-smoking advocate, he thought it could be a good cigarette alternative. So in 1947 he developed a Pez dispenser that resembled a cigarette lighter and dispensed them one at a time.
Sales weren’t great because they were marketed to adults, but once he decided to sell them to children in 1955, along with putting cartoon heads on top of the dispensers and introducing fruit flavors, it took off, and remains a cultural touchstone to this day. Bet you didn’t know the inspiration for the Pez dispenser was a cigarette lighter!
Like all the greatest inventions, Nachos were born out of necessity. The military base at Eagle Pass, Tex. Is located right across the Rio Grande from Piedras Negras, Mexico, and during an excursion across the border by military wives they stopped into a restaurant called the Victory Club. Maitre d’ Ignacio Anaya couldn’t locate his chef, however, so he quickly whipped up a canapé from what he could find lying around: tortilla chips, cheese, and jalapeno peppers. He named the dish after his nickname, Nacho, and the rest is history.
The Hamburg steak, a patty of ground beef cooked on a flat top, has been around for ages (and originated, as the name might suggest, in Hamburg, Germany), but the first person to put the patty between two pieces of bread is still up for a bit of debate. The most widely accepted contender, however, was Louis Lassen. He opened a lunch wagon in New Haven in 1895 and moved into a small building a couple years later.
In 1900, as legend has it, in order to satisfy a hurried customer, he placed ground beef into a vertical broiler and served it between two slices of bread, thus giving rise to the hamburger. You can still get the same exact experience as the first customer is you visit Louis Lunch in New Haven today, run by the fourth generation of Lassens.
4. Potato Chips
If you dig into the history of the potato chip a little, you might discover that they were originally named Saratoga chips. This is thanks to the place of their invention, in Saratoga, New York.
Here’s the legend: On August 24, 1853, a customer at Cary Moon’s Lake Lodge was unhappy with his soggy French fries, so a Native American chef by the name of George Crum sliced potatoes super-thin and fried them in oil to make them as crispy and crunchy as possible. This theory has been debated, however, and Crum never made any claims to having invented it (the invention wasn’t mentioned in any stories about him during his life or his obituary, either).
The more likely story is that his sister, Katie Speck Wicks, was frying crullers and peeling potatoes at the same time. A potato slice fell in the oil, and voila! Chips remained a local specialty until the Depression, when an entrepreneur named Herman Lay brought them to the masses.
5. Chocolate Chip Cookies
As the story goes, she was making chocolate cookies when she ran out of baking chocolate. So she ‘chipped’ a block of semi-sweet chocolate into little pieces and added them into the batter, but when the cookies came out of the oven they hadn’t melted into the cookie. She took a bite, and arguably the best cookie of all-time had been invented, by accident.
Check out the history behind even more of your favorite foods.
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