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    19 Fascinating Food History Facts That I Can't Stop Thinking About

    I can't stop thinking about people making fake bananas out of parsnips.

    1. Lobsters used to be so plentiful in the US that they were used as fertiliser.

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    To be clear, this wasn't wasteful – there really were so many lobsters in the States' seas that they'd often wash up on beaches in 60cm-high piles. Native Americans made smart use of the bountiful supply, using the then-common crustaceans for tasty meals, effective fishing baits, and, of course, a nutrient-rich fertiliser.

    2. Cornflakes were originally invented to discourage masturbating.

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    Yep, you heard me – the crunchy breakfast staple was invented by Mr Kellogg, who believed that enjoying anything – from food to ~other experiences~ – counted as "self-pollution". In other words, if you've always found the cereal a bit boring, history's on your side!

    3. A spud-loving French pharmacist used to put guards around his potato patch to make the veg seem valuable, and then remove them at night so the potatoes would be stolen.

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    In the 18th century, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was doing everything he could to make the potato popular. Parmentier's PR stunts included serving tons of potatoes at his lavish 20-course dinners, getting celeb endorsements from people like King Louis XVI, and presenting bouqets of the plant's blossoms to kings and queens (club promoters could never).

    4. Tomatoes aren't native to Italy, spuds aren't native to Ireland, and chillis aren't native to Asia.

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    All of these now-essential staples came from South America in the Columbian Exchange, which also gave the rest of the world corn, cacao, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and loads more.

    5. Ciabatta was first made in the '80s.

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    Yup, it sounds wild, but your fave "traditional" loaf was actually made in 1985 by an Italian baker as a response to the popularity of French baguettes in his home country.

    6. Most chickens in the States today are bred to be similar to the winning bird from "chicken of tomorrow" contests that were held in the '40s.

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    Chickens weren't really a mainstay of Western diets in the way they are today until after the Second World War – until then, the birds were mostly used for eggs. When appetite for chicken meat grew, the USDA ran a "chicken of tomorrow" contest to find the best breed (or cross-breed) for the job. A guy called Charles Vantress from California won that contest and the later edition of the competition with a cross-breed that's become the template for chicken farmers.

    7. Black pepper was once worth more than its weight in gold.

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    In fact, the spice was so expensive that when Alaric the Goth conquered Rome in 410 A. D., he asked for 3,000 pounds of pepper as a ransom. Something to think about when you grab your pepper grinder for dinner!

    8. Forks were once considered by some to be an affront to God.


    When a Byzantine emperor's niece used a gold fork at her wedding in 1004, a disgusted Venetian onlooker commented "God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks—his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metal forks for them when eating.” The use of forks was ridiculed in the UK as late as 1608!

    9. Ancient Greeks had waffle irons.

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    They were often intricately-designed and were used to make wafers rather than fluffy waffles. Still, the concept was the same – take some batter, put it between metal, add whatever sweet stuff you can get your hands on, and voila!

    10. Cocoa beans were used as currency in Aztec communities.

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    One bean was worth a tamale, and a good turkey could cost you around 100 beans! The pods have been used for thousands of years, with evidence that folks fermented the pulp around the beans to make booze as long ago as 1,400 B.C.

    11. European invaders left islands full of feral pigs behind as backup food supplies during their trips to the New World.

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    Travellers placed herds of pigs, cows, and other animals on islands along their journeys around the world so they'd have fresh produce if they were stuck (and yes, of course those animals went wild). You can still find feral horses on places like Sable Island for that reason!

    12. During World War 2, British people made mock bananas by adding banana essence to parsnips.

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    In 1940, the British minister for food ordered a complete ban on banana imports. It's safe to say the affected countries missed the fruit – dance hall legend Harry Roy came out with a song called "When Can I Have A Banana Again?", and home cooks tried to make their own, uh, alternative versions.

    13. Speaking of the Second World War, there was once a German plan to feed Churchill an exploding chocolate bar.

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    The plan was to place chocolate-coated explosives in Churchill's dining room. The package would have detonated about five seconds after the bar had been unwrapped, but MI5 agents caught wind of the plot in time. Gives a new meaning to the phrase "death by chocolate", right?!

    14. People used to say "receipt" rather than "recipe".

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    Both words derive from the Latin recipere meaning "to receive", and it doesn't seem that much of a stretch when you consider that both words now mean a kind of written record.

    15. Mac'n'cheese is hundreds of years old.

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    While it wasn't exactly the gooey, salty goodness we know today, there was a pasta-and-cheese dish recorded in the 14th century Italian cookbook Liber de Coquina. A later recipe from Mrs Beeton's Book Of Household Management in 1861 is much closer to the cheesy goodness we enjoy today!

    16. Oh, and NBD, but popcorn has existed for thousands of years.

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    Researchers found old popped corn cobs that suggest Peruvian people were chowing down on the snack up to 6,700 years ago. I'm no historian, but I'm pretty sure that's before blockbusters started hitting the big screens.

    17. Some rhubarb used to be picked by candlelight, and in some cases, it still is.

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    If you really want rhubarb to grow fast (like, so fast you can literally hear it growing), you can starve the stalks of light so that the plant is forced to turn on itself for food. It's been the perfect hack for those cold winter months since the 1850s! The only downside is that you can't pick the stem in daylight, because the light would stop the fast-track growth of all the other plants. The solution? Picking the crops by candlelight!

    18. Popsicles were made by accident when a kid left his drink out overnight.

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    Frank Epperson was 11 years old when he left his cup of soda with the stirring stick still inside on his windowsill. It froze overnight, and Frank was impressed by how great the cold treat tasted! Originally, he wanted to call the frozen sweet Eppsicles, but his friends at school started calling it a Popsicle (and clearly, the name stuck).

    19. The first meal eaten on the moon was bacon.

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    The first meal eaten on the moon contained bacon squares, alongside other treats like sugar cookie cubes (yes, really). The bacon was drier and more long-lasting than the breakfast staple we're used to today, but it's still fun to think about Buzz Aldrin enjoying an out-of-this-world fry-up!

    Hat tip to The Smithsonian Magazine for many of these fun facts!