Skip to content
Home » 15 Beloved Foods With Improbable Origins

15 Beloved Foods With Improbable Origins

* Products recommended in the post contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through our posts, we may receive a commission at no extra charge to you. See our full disclosures here.

Posted October 3, 2014 by Michael Peckerar

slideshow-prev-red-2590882PREV NEXTslideshow-next-red-6266395

Sometimes certain foods become so much a part of culture that we forget they had to be created. Those stories of how certain foods came to be are often quite weird…

The idea to dunk a roast beef sandwich came from Philippe’s in Los Angeles. As legend has it, a local police officer stopped in for lunch but was in a rush. When the sandwich accidentally fell into the beef drippings, the officer thought that might actually look good and said he’d take it as-is. There is debate, however over the name. Some say it got the name since the owner was from France. Others claim the officer was named Officer French.

Ignacio Anaya owned a joint in Piedras Negras, Mexico — just across the US border from Fort Duncan in Texas.

When the wives of some high-ranking soldiers stopped in just after closing, hungry from a shopping trip, Ignacio needed something to give his VIP guests. The only things handy were chips, cheese, and pickled jalapenos. Into the broiler they went, and it was a hit. Since Ignacio went by “Nacho” — the name stuck.

There’s a number of stories as to how the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY came to invent the buffalo wing. There’s the one about the owner’s son coming home late at night with friends, and another about a mistaken delivery of wings and drumettes. As many stories as there are, the one thing that is for certain is why they came to be spicy.

It made the patrons thirsty and they’d buy more beer.

Louis Lassen owned Louis Lunch in New Haven, Conn. The specialty of the house was steak sandwiches and he was famous for them. In 1900, a group of sailors came in one night hungry — and Louis was out of steaks. Thinking on his feet, he remembered the Hamburg Steak made from ground beef. He quickly ground up some trimmings, broiled them, put it on toast, and a classic was born.

Louis Lunch is still open in New Haven, in the same building.

Deep frying a burrito should have been a no brainer, but it took a clumsy cook to make it happen. Monica Flin of El Charro’s in Tucson, Ariz had accidentally dropped a burrito into the fryer and was about to exclaim “ay chingada!” — Spanish for the f-word. With young people in the restaurant, she caught herself and said “chimichanga”, which means “thingie.” Once calm, she realized a fried burrito might just work and put it on the menu.

Eduard Haas III was a candy maker in Vienna cranking out his peppermints he called “regulars.” He ended up naming them PEZ because they are pressed candies. What most people don’t know is why they come in the iconic dispensers. As PEZ got popular, the company started putting them in dispensers shaped like cigarette lighters — and marketing them as a smoking alternative.

The history of pretzels date all the way back to the European monasteries around 610 AD. Legend has it the monks would bake the small snacks as a reward for the kids who would learn their prayers correctly. The shape was meant to represent arms crossed in prayer. Since they were referred to as “pretiola” or “little reward” — over the years it became “pretzel.”

There actually is a marshmallow plant, and it was used for centuries as a cure for sore throats. The Egyptians were the first to sweeten the extract and eat it as a confection. Later, the Roman gladiators used the sap from the plant to rub on their bodies before battle. Leave it to the French to mix both of those things together, whip it and create a dessert made from gladiator body rub.

Everyone has their own version of the sub sandwich. In New Orleans, the Po’Boy is a local identifier.

Putting fried seafood on french bread is pretty obvious in New Orleans, but the name came in 1920 when the streetcar workers went on strike. Two restaurant owners handed the sandwiches out to the picketers. The workers called the sandwiches “poor boys” after their lack of a paycheck. In NOLA, though, that comes out as “po’ boy.”

Peanut butter was not invented by George Washington Carver.

Marcellus Gilmore Edson was a doctor in Quebec who patented the condiment in 1884. As it turns out, a common problem in those days was not being able to chew. Dr. Edson knew those patients needed protein, and created a paste from peanut flour to get it to them. He later solidified it with sugar — and it ended up being pretty awesome.

Pizza is one of those foods that has just always been there. But it came to become part of American culture in a roundabout sort of way following WWII. American GI’s serving in Italy had tried the pizza over there and loved it. However when they returned home, it became another memory of the service. That is until Italian immigrants started packing them in their lunch. Former GIs recognized the food and were thrilled to have it again.

Soda used to be a treat served at drugstore counters and flavored with syrups, one serving at a time by Soda Jerks. During the Temperance Movement of the early 1900s, soda was considered a vice and therefore not allowed on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. Drugstores needed something to do with the syrups, and began putting them on ice cream as a Sunday special. They spelled it sundae because why not?

Dr. John Kellogg was in charge of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan in the late 1800s. Sanatariums were the equivalent of health spas back then, and Dr. Kellogg being a Seventh Day Adventist, insisted upon a strict vegetarian diet — a church requirement. He developed corn flakes as part of the diet because they were bland. This was in an effort to decrease sexual desires, since that was thought to be a side effect of spicy food.

John Montagu was the 4th Earl of Sandwich back in 18th century England. He was also a pretty hardcore card player, and usually refused to leave the table — even to eat. In order to take on two tasks at once, he would ask his valet to bring him a piece of meat between two slices of bread. This way he could eat and not get the grease from the meat all over the cards.

George Crum was a chef at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, NY. He also hated difficult customers. When one diner kept sending his fried potatoes back for being too thick and too bland, Crum decided to teach this jerk a lesson. He sliced them as thin as he could, fried them crisp, over-salted them, and presumably told the customer to choke on it. He didn’t, as they ended up being a huge hit and the customer laughed last.