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. They’ve simply always been around, right? Here are ten common foods and their origins.
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. When it comes to the origins of the sandwich, much like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.
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.