Food is perhaps one of the most important things in our lives. While some look at it as just a means with which to continue living, others look at it as an art, a reason to broaden their culinary horizons.Whether they view food as nourishment, exploration, or a medium for socialization and bonding, few people spare much thought for where the items in their fridge came from or what history may be behind them.
Perhaps the most famous, and maybe most contentious, food origin story, the “invention” of the sandwich has traditionally been credited to John Montagu, the fourth earl of Sandwich. Montagu, an 18th-century British aristocrat, is said to have had a tremendous gambling problem, one so severe that he often refused to get up from the card table for hours. He then called to his chefs, asking them to put some beef between two slices of toasted bread. Culinary history was never the same.Whether or not that anecdote is true, where did Montagu get his inspiration? Perhaps the answer can be found in the Mediterranean, where the earl often traveled. Turkish and Greek cooks often served mezze platters, groups of appetizers where different foodstuffs could be “sandwiched” between (or on) layers of bread. Another possible answer can be found in the first-century-BC Jewish religious leader Hillel the Elder, whose eponymous foodstuff, known as the Hillel sandwich, consisted of a number of different spices, nuts, and fruit placed between two matzos.
While the first known alcoholic beverage came from China, a 9,000-year-old recipe of rice, honey, and fruit, the first drink we could reliably call beer originated in ancient Sumeria. Ceramic vessels dating back to 3400 BC have been found with beer residue still detectable. In addition to that, a recipe was found in a hymn to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer, dating back to 1800 BC. (The hymn reads like an instruction manual on how to create beer, in addition to the recipe.)Beer was said to be as popular as it was in ancient Sumeria because it was seen as a safer alternative to drinking water, which was often contaminated by the waste of their farm animals. Some scholars actually attribute the Neolithic Revolution, the wide-scale transition of humans to an agricultural life rather than a hunter-gatherer one, to our ancestor’s unquenchable thirst for beer. One researcher found that nearly all ancient societies which consumed beer often attributed the creation to a female goddess.
In 1890, Charles Leiper Grigg moved to St. Louis, Missouri, in order to work in the advertising field. Various business partnerships introduced him to the soda industry, a field to which he decided to dedicate his life. His first invention was an orange-flavored drink called Whistle, and his second was another orange soda called Howdy. However, neither could compete with the behemoth known as Orange Crush.Eventually, he decided to switch his focus to lemon-lime flavors, a decision which would change Grigg’s life forever. Originally known as Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda, 7 Up originally contained the mood-altering drug lithium.Created in 1929, the soda contained the chemical up until 1950, when research began to show it had potentially dangerous side effects. As for the name, many people erroneously believe it had something to do with the number of ingredients or the original size of the bottle, which was seven ounces. However, the truth has never officially been resolved, as Grigg took the secret to the grave. The most probable explanation is that he saw cattle branded with a mark which looked like “7UP,” and he decided he liked it.
One of the most stereotypically French foods, surpassed perhaps only by escargot, the baguette is a long, thin loaf of bread. The word translates as “wand” or “stick,” and is a reference to the traditional shape of the bread. Though the usage of the word “baguette” to refer to the bread only dates back to 1920, the bread itself dates back much further.Of all the theories regarding its creation, one of the more probable involves the Austrian officer August Zang, who is also credited with introducing Vienna bread and the croissant to France. Zang also brought the first steam oven to France in the early 19th century. The most improbable theory is that Napoleon Bonaparte asked his chefs to come up with bread his soldiers could fit down their trouser legs.