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food fun facts

Conversation Starters: Food

Hands up if you’re a foodie tuning in!

If we asked you to make a list of some of your favorite food, what would be on that list? Whatever your favorite cuisine is, there’s bound to be an interesting story that someone in your social circle is unlikely to have heard of before.

Here are some nuggets of information on different types of food around the world, AKA food for thought. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist the pun.)

1. Swedish meatballs…aren’t actually from Sweden

Ikea's famous meatballs dish is currently made up of a mixture of pork and beef. They’re part of the Ikea experience and the furniture brand sells two million meatballs every day.

It came as a great shock to many people when Sweden's official Twitter account announced that the popular dish actually originated from another country and culture.

In fact, Swedish meatballs are based on a recipe that King Charles XII brought home from Turkey in the early 18th century.

“My whole life has been a lie,” one Swede lamented on Twitter.

Turkish meatballs are different from the Swedish version in several ways. Turkish meatballs are made with ground beef and lamb, eggs, bread crumbs, onions and parsley. Swedish meatballs on the other hand sometimes contain pork and usually are served alongside gravy.

2. Chocolate…was once only consumed by royalty

Chocolate has been consumed in drinks for almost four thousand years.

One vessel found at an archaeological site on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz, Mexico, dates chocolate's preparation as early as 1750 BC.

The Aztecs controlled a big portion of Mesoamerica during the 15th century and cacao featured heavily in their culture. In contrast to the Maya, who prepared their chocolate warm, the Aztecs prepared it cold and added additives like chile pepper, vanilla, and honey.

The Mayan civilization believed The Cacao Tree to be of divine origin. The word “Cacao” is from the Mayan language and means “God’s Food.”

The Aztec's Emperor, Montezuma, reputedly drank it from a golden goblet up to fifty times daily.

In the 1600’s, cacao and sugar were expensive imports, so chocolate was considered a luxury. In France, chocolate was a state monopoly that was only consumed by members of the royal court.

Chocolate as we know it today first appeared in the mid-1800’s when Fry & Sons of Bristol, England added sugar to cocoa butter and cocoa powder, which created the first chocolate solid bar.

3. A Brief History of Salt and Pepper

Salt and pepper are the two absolute basic seasonings you need if you cook often.

Salt brings out the flavor in food, and it’s also required for life. Sodium ions support numerous basic tasks of the human body, like maintaining fluid in blood cells and helping with the absorption of nutrients. Humans aren’t able to make salt in their own bodies.

It’s thought that wars were fought over the salt reserves in Shangxi province of China as early as 6000 BC. The Egyptians were the first to recognize the preservation possibilities of salt and got their salt from Nile marshes, while early British towns were clustered around salt springs. The “wich” suffix in English place names like Middlewich and Norwich is associated with areas where salt working was common.

As for black pepper, it’s indigenous to Kerala, a province located in southwest India.
Traders from southern Arabia controlled the pepper routes and spice trade in 1000 BC, enjoying a monopoly over a profitable business. To protect their routes and deter others from disrupting their profits, traders created fantastic stories about the hardships to procure spices.

Later on, Italian city-states like Venice and Genoa held a monopoly on shipping lines once black pepper reached the Mediterranean. Pepper was expensive to ship over the 4,000 miles of the most well-known trade route, but it was so desirable that Italian traders could set their own prices. This brought about pepper’s status as a luxury item in medieval European times.

4. Bird’s Saliva is an Expensive Delicacy

Bird’s saliva might not exactly sound appetizing, but it’s an expensive delicacy in the Asian region.

Chinese cooking includes one of the world’s most expensive delicacies, known as bird’s nest soup.

It’s referred to as “The Caviar of the East” and is made from edible bird nests made out of dried and hardened bird saliva. The main ingredient costs $2,500 to $10,000 per kilogram, and a single bowl of soup will cost $30 to $100.

The high cost of bird's nest soup is due to the hazardous process to retrieve nests, and the painstaking cleaning they undergo before being safe to consume.

5. Apple Pie is Not American

Apple pie has long been a beloved symbol of America, but the dessert didn't actually come from the U.S. The apples did not either, as apples are native to the Asian continent.

The first recorded apple pie recipe was written in England in 1381. The recipe called for figs, raisins, pears, apples, and saffron. Early recipes for apple pie typically excluded sugar, and their pastry crust was used more as a container than a crispy part of the pie.

Dutch apple pie recipes have been found from the 1500s.

In terms of expressions, a 1924 advertisement in the Gettysburg Times promoted “New Lestz Suits that are as American as apple pie.”

North America is home to only one kind of apple: the ‘crabapple.’

The dish is believed to have been brought over by Swedish, Dutch, and British immigrants. The dish was declared ‘uniquely American’ by early settlers who for some reason did not note the dish’s true cultural origins. By the early 20th century, the pie had become established as part of the fabric of American culture. By the 1940s, the phrase ‘as American as apple pie’ was coined as an expression of patriotism.


References:

NY Times, Mirror.co.uk, Science of Cooking, History

AllThatsInteresting, Smithsonian Mag, Culture Trip

mm

Jess Chua

Jess writes and edits content for the Optimal Living Daily podcast network. Her interests include personal growth, cooking, and spending time with her pets.
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