Food factoids: Stuff you may not know

Somewhat useful tidbits about food you might drop into a conversation at, say, a wine tasting.

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  • Wild Rice
    Not really a rice at all, wild rice is actually a water-grass seed native to North America. It was a staple in the diet of the Chippewa and Sioux Indians. Today, the wild rice grown on Minnesota waters is highly regulated and must be harvested in the traditional Indian way, by hand in canoes.
  • Tofu
    Tofu was first made in China over 2000 years ago. Made from soybeans, tofu is one of the best sources of calcium.
  • Bamboo Shoots
    Bamboo shoots come from an edible species of bamboo plant, and are cut when they’re still young plants. When eaten raw, they can be deadly (hydrocyanic acid). They are indigenous to South Asia but several species have been cultivated successfully in North America.
  • Cilantro
    Cilantro is the leaf of the young coriander plant, an herb in the parsley family. It is used frequently in Mexican, Southwestern and Asian cooking. It was one of the first herbs ever used, possibly as early as 5000 BC.
  • Turkey
    The domestic turkey is a descendant of the wild turkey in Southern Canada. Fossil evidence indicates that turkeys roamed North America as early as 10 million years ago. Female turkeys are called hens, male turkeys are toms, and baby turkeys are called poults. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest turkey ever prepared weighed 86 pounds.Yikes.
  • Wheat Germ
    The internal core of the wheat berry, wheat germ is a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals and protein. It contains 48 grams of protein per cup and more Vitamin E than any other food.
  • Chile Pepper
    Christopher Columbus uncovered chiles in 1492 in what is known today as the Dominican Republic. Prior to this, chiles were unknown in Europe and Asia. The heat generated by a chemical called capsaicin increases as the chile matures, and the smaller the pepper, the more heat it contains. The most effective way to neutralize this heat in your mouth is by consuming milk. Casein, a protein found in milk, curbs the chemical reaction. The hottest chile in the world is the habanero Trinidad Moruga Scorpion… err… Pepper X.
  •  Rocky Road Ice Cream
    Edy’s Ice Cream makers William Dreyer and Joseph Edy produced the first batch of chocolate ice cream mixed with nuts and marshmallows in 1929. They named the ice cream flavor not after the texture of the dessert, but they felt it was a “comment on the time” and they hoped it would “give people something to smile about.”
  • Marshmallow
    Marshmallows date back to ancient Egyptian times, about 200 BC. Originally, they were made by hand, extracting a sweet, sticky substance from the Mallow plant (a plant grown wild in marshes). But in the late 1800s, the demand was so intense, that candy makers and manufacturers invented a quicker, more efficient way to substitute gelatin for the mallow root. Today, marshmallows consist of corn syrup, cornstarch, sugar, and gelatin.
  • Onion
    Onions are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables in the world. Ancient Egyptians took oaths on onions, believing them to be symbols of eternity because of the internal layers forming several spheres. Onions are part of the lily family. One onion provides 15% of the RDA of Vitamin C and contains no fat.
  • Saffron
    The world’s most expensive spice, saffron comes from the stigmas of the rare crocus flower. Each flower only has three stigmas and they must be handpicked then dried. It takes over 14,000 stigmas to produce an ounce of saffron. It is primarily used to flavor and to tint foods that require its orange-yellow color, like risotto and paella. Saffron is marketed in both thread form (the stigmas) and powdered, but threads hold their flavor longer and are less susceptible to adulteration from cheaper substitutes like tumeric.
  • Ice Cream Cones
    Ice cream cones were invented at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis when an ice cream vendor ran out of dishes and found a perfect substitute at the nearby waffle-maker’s booth.
  • Brown Sugar
    Brown sugar is made when white, refined sugar is combined with molasses. “Light” brown sugar has a more delicate flavor whereas “Dark” brown offers a more intense molasses quality. To soften hardened brown sugar, place it in a bowl next to a mug of water and microwave it 2-3 minutes on high.
  • Pasta
    Although many claim to have invented it, archaeological evidence puts the origin of noodles in Asia, around 1000 BC. There are hundreds of different types of pasta, ranging from macaroni to farfalle (bow-tie pasta). It can be made with various type of flour. The Italians use semolina, a wheat flour, but Asians have been know to use buckwheat or rice flour for their various noodles.
  • Potato Chip
    Invented in 1853 by chef George Crum when a complaining railroad mogul wanted his french fries sliced thinner. In the United States, a pound of potato chips costs twice as much as a pound of potatoes, and we consume more than 1.2 billion pounds of chips each year.
  • Chocolate
    Chocolate is produced from the tropical cocoa bean, and the word “chocolate” comes from the Aztec xocolatl, meaning “bitter water.” There are several levels of sweetness in chocolate. The least sweet is unsweetened chocolate, then comes bittersweet, semisweet or sweet – depending on the amount of chocolate liquor in the mix. Milk chocolate is created when you add dry milk to sweet chocolate. White chocolate is not actually a chocolate at all because it doesn’t contain any chocolate liquor and is usually a mixture of sugar, cocoa butter, milk solids, lecithin and vanilla. In the United States, an average person consumes 12 pounds of chocolate per year, perhaps because chocolate contains a natural substance that is purported to stimulate the same physical reaction as falling in love.
  • Salads
    Caesar Salad: Legend says it was created in 1924 by Caesar Cardini who owned a restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico.Cobb Salad: In 1926, restaurant owner Bob Cobb was looking for a way to get rid of leftovers and threw together some avocado, celery, tomato, chives, watercress, hard-boiled eggs, chicken, bacon, and Roquefort cheese.
  • American Food
    Swiss steak, chop suey, Russian dressing, fortune cookies, sliced bread and hamburgers were all invented in the United States.
What Did You Think?


  1. I think your website is great & I like all your info & tips about wines. I started reading your column in the Weekly Planet. A minor point. I believe the hottest chili in the world is the bhut julokia also known as the naga julokia.

  2. Tim is right. The naga julokia (also known as the ghost pepper) was the worlds hottest pepper, coming in at around 1 million scoville units. Habaneros highest was 850,000 units. The new king in town is the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, with a range of 1.2 million scoville units to as high as 2 million units. For a gauge, raw jalapeños max out at 8,000 scoville units. So basically, the scorpion is something over 400 times hotter than Tabasco! I love hot and spicy, but I am never going near any of these bad boys.

  3. Rick – thanks for the heads up.


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