RFF#109 – Pulcinella takes every opportunity to gorge on macaroni, spaghetti and gnocchi

This is a truly random food fact I was delighted to learn when I came across the following statue at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto:

Pulcinella with Gnocchi - Austira, Vienna, State Factory, c. 1744-1750, Hard-paste porcelain, Modeller: unknown

Pulcinella with Gnocchi – Austria, Vienna, State Factory, c. 1744-1750, Hard-paste porcelain, Modeller: unknown

Pulcinella is from the Commedia dell’arte and is a stock character in Neapolitan puppetry. While stock characters are known for having defining characteristics, I’ve never come across one who is defined by the fact that he carries around macaroni and a wooden spoon…at least until now that is.

I have to admit, gnocchi is one of my all-time favourite foods, it’s my go-to Italian restaurant favourite, I guess you could say I felt a special connection to Pulcinella, hence today’s post.

Gnocchi from "Como" one of my favourite Italian Restaurants in Niagara Falls, New York

Gnocchi from “Como” one of my favourite Italian Restaurants in Niagara Falls, New York

I learned about this fact from the Gardiner Museum in Toronto.

RFF # 108 – “Quality vs quantity” or “How the apprentice beat the master”

In 1883 Milton Hershey (whose chocolate you probably know and love) was an apprentice to John Huyler (someone whom I’m guessing you’ve never heard of).

The story of how the apprentice (Hershey) beat the master (Huyler), is one I couldn’t resist sharing because it is a perfect example of the struggle between quality and quantity…a struggle that permeates all aspects of life, but is perhaps never more salient then when discussing food.

At the turn of the century, Huyler’s Chocolates was extremely successful and had fifty-one stores and soda fountains across the East Coast. It’s believed that the key to John Huyler’s success was his deep sense of ethics. He insisted on producing the finest quality candy—he used only the purest ingredients, he (and his sons) sampled every batch, and he never mass-produced his product—as a result, he kept portions small to maximize quality.

Huylers Sign

So why has everyone heard of Hershey, yet no one has heard of Huyler?

That’s because two years after his apprenticeship (in 1885), Hershey left Huyler’s Chocolates to establish his own factory. However, he unfortunately did not maintain the same devotion to quality and opted to mass produce his chocolate using additives, preservatives, and substitute ingredients.

The Huyler family refused to compromise on quality and eventually sold their business. Sadly, when the new owners resorted to mass production and compromised standards, the popularity of Huyler’s chocolates diminished rapidly.

This simple story illustrates one of the great challenges in the field of nutrition. In our quest for quantity, we are constantly compromising the quality of the food we eat. In doing so, we allow ourselves to consume a lesser product, the copious consumption of which only gives the illusion that we are well-nourished.

I learned about this fact from an exhibit in the MinGei Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego

RFF #107– John Huyler was a master marketer

It is believed that part of John Huyler’s success can be attributed to the fact that he was a master marketer.

In the 1870s he invented the concept of pulling saltwater taffy in his window to draw customers in.

Additionally, he was the first person to blow the mouthwatering scent of his candy out onto the street using a reversed fan. I’m certain we can all relate to what a genius idea this was…remember the last time you walked by a Cinnabon?…I think you know what I’m talking about.

I learned about this fact from: The MinGei Museum, Balboa Park, San Diego

RFF#106 – John Huyler was the first confectioner in the US to employ large scale advertising to market his products

In 1909 John Huyler—the candy-man behind one of the largest confectionery companies at the turn of the century—created postcards that featured intriguing facts juxtaposed with well-known landmarks, as a means to educate his customers about the pure ingredients used in his chocolates.

IMG_7795IMG_7798IMG_7797IMG_7796IMG_7799
I learned about this fact from the MinGei Museum located in San Diego’s Balboa Park. “MinGei” literally means “everyone’s art” and is a concept created by Japanese philosopher Soetsu Yangai to celebrate the beauty in everyday utilitarian objects made by unnamed artists. The images seen on product packaging or in product advertising are often works of art that exemplify “MinGei”. Thus, fittingly there was a special exhibit in Spring 2014 showcasing the artwork associated with Huyler’s Chocolates over a century ago.

Because Huyler was such an interesting fellow, this will be the first of a set of three “Huyler” themed posts. Stayed tuned!

RFF#104 – There is an online banana museum @ www.bananamuseum.com

Every once and a while you stumble across something really interesting on the internet, the Washington Banana Museum—an online museum dedicated to anything and everything related to bananas—is one of those things.

The virtual museum (www.bananamuseum.com) provides a visual history of the banana and includes numerous items including banana themed postcards,  buttons, sheet music, stamps, photographs and even a banana cello.

The museum was created by Ann Mitchell Lovell who said that even as a baby she was crazy for bananas. Thus, she said that after growing up as “Ana Banana” with a love for the taste of bananas, it was inevitable that if she was going to collect something, it had to be bananas.

Lovell’s collection of banana memorabilia officially started in the 1980s with a t-shirt she picked up from a bar in Hawaii called “Anna Bannanas.” Since then she has collected more than 6000 items from antique stores, thrift stores, yard sales, and of course eBay. She said some of her favourite items in the museum are old photographs of people eating bananas in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and commented, “I love seeing a window into the past and imaging the people posing in their very elaborate clothing holding a peeled banana in a studio setting. At one time it was a sort of status symbol to have a banana.”

Boy with a fine bunch

 

Chicago theater troup eating bananas

She is also very fond of the bakelite Josephine Baker necklace…

Josephine Baker Necklace

…and the miniature Sebastian figure of Chiquita Banana.

Chiquita Banana Figuirine - courtesy of Banana Museum

Personally, my favourite item is the Banana tokens which were issued by Elders and Fyffes (banana importers, who also operated passenger carrying banana boats) as part of a promotional campaign in England.

Banana Tokensbanana tokens2

And if the virtual museum leaves you wanting more, Lovell also has an actual museum in Auburn, Washington where the items are on display at 120 E. Main St., Tuesday-Thursday 10:00am-1:00pm, Friday 10:00am-3:00pm and Saturday 10:00am-3:00pm.

Photo of the museum

—Special thanks for Ann Mitchell Lovell for the interview and for sharing these photos courtesy of the Banana Museum.

 

RFF#101 – In the 1970s, Linus Pauling believed that the common cold would cease to exist if everyone ate an appropriate amount of Vitamin C

On my almost annual family trips to Florida, a visit to the local used bookstore has become a tradition.

Bookstore in Florida

On my latest trip I found quite a treasure…an original copy of Linus Pauling’s Vitamin C and the Common Cold.

Linus Pauling Book

Today, the scientific consensus is that vitamin C does not reduce the incidence of the common cold, but rather, will only reduce the severity and duration. However, considering the lack of agreement among studies in combination with yesterday’s post, this may be yet another example of confusion arising from trials on genetically heterogeneous populations. Who knows…only future research will tell. And until then, eat your citrus, because when it comes to fruit, you can’t go wrong!!

I learned about this fact from:

Pauling, Linus. Vitamin C and the Common Cold. W.H. Freeman and Company; San Francisco: 1970.

Douglas RM, Hemilä H, Chalker E, Treacy B. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Jul 18;(3):CD000980.

RFF#99 – Some grocery stores still have public body-scales

Over the past few years, I’ve often used the scales in Publix and other grocery chains during trips to Florida.

Mary on Scale

On my most recent visit, I couldn’t stop thinking…why is this here? And after a quick call to Publix headquarters, I was delighted to learn the history of these scales…

In the 1930s people didn’t weigh themselves in their bathroom, the way we do today. As a matter of fact, the only way to weigh yourself was at the doctor’s office, or via public coin-operated scales.

However, a grocery entrepreneur named George Jenkins (affectionately known as Mr. George) wanted his customers to be able to weigh themselves for free. So, he put a free scale in all of his “Publix” grocery stores, and they’re still there today!

Although “grocery store scales” may seem like an artifact of a bygone era, when considering the obesity epidemic, their presence is as relevant today as it was 80 years ago. A statement found on a surviving scale from Paris says it all…

He who often weighs himself knows himself well.

He who knows himself well lives well”

 I learned about this fact from: Brian West, the Publix’s Media and Public Relations Manager; and Health Boosters from Withings “A Short History of the Weighting Scale” http://blog.withings.com/2011/09/30/a-short-history-of-the-weighing-scale-2/

 

RFF#98-Canada’s first food guide debuted in 1942

Referred to as the “Official Food Rules”, the 1942 guide aimed to help Canadian maximize their nutrient intakes despite rationing.Official Food Rules - 1942

By 1944 minor changes were made…and they added pictures!

Food Rules - 1944

In 1949, advice to “avoid eating too much” was first seen…

Food Rule - 1949

In 1961 the “rules” became a “guide”…

1961-eng

For sentimental reasons the 1977 version happens to be my favourite…

01-Canada's Food Guide - 1980s

I first encountered  this version of the guide at my Great-Great Aunt’s house when I was somewhere between 4-7 years old. Around the end of our visit, she pointed to each food group displayed in the guide on her fridge and said, “you’ve had some of this (bread), some of this (dairy) and some of this (meat)…now when you go home, make sure you have some of this (vegetables).” Upon hearing this, I distinctly remember thinking “Ya right! We don’t follow that!”…little did I know what my life would become!

I also have fond memories of the 1992 guide which hung on the fridge in my childhood home…

1992

And today of course we have…

CFG_2007

 

The important thing to remember about the food guide is that it’s far from perfect, it doesn’t represent an “ideal diet”, and its specifics are highly controversial. Nevertheless, it’s a starting point and if everyone followed its recommendation to consume 7-10 servings of fruit and vegetables each day, there wouldn’t be enough fruits and vegetables to go around, but in theory, we’d be much healthier!

I learned about this fact from: Health Canada. “Canada’s Food Guides from 1942 to 1992” 2007. http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/context/fg_history-histoire_ga-eng.php

RFF #96 – In the 1950s, Quaker Oats Co. sponsored research that fed radioactive minerals to institutionalized children

The unsuspecting boys were told that they were going to be part of a “Science Club.” Meanwhile, the parents were told that their children would be fed a diet high in nutrients, which technically was true, but of course they failed to mention that the nutrients were radioactively labelled!

In case you’re wondering, researchers radioactively labelled the nutrients to enable them to track their absorption in the body. One theory is that they wanted to ensure that the cereal didn’t decrease the absorption of calcium and iron in fortified milk.

Despite the fact that the children received a dose of radiation that is equivalent to 50 chest x-rays, the task force that investigated this in the 1990s concluded that “no significant health effects were incurred.” Nevertheless, some of the subjects were financially compensated due to the lack of informed consent.

Filling out ethics applications is a task that most scientists dread. Unfortunately, it’s something I’ve been doing for the past few days. Nevertheless, stories such as this remind one of the importance of transparency in research, and thus makes the task slightly less onerous.

I learned about this fact from: A “Cold Case Episode” oddly enough, and http://tech.mit.edu/V115/N49/radiation.49n.html and http://www.disclose.tv/forum/the-fernald-experiments-t76342.html

RFF#81 – Michael Bloomberg was not the first person to try to regulate beverage sizes

For this extra special food fact I decided to do a video blog, I hope you like it…

In case you’re wondering how it works, here’s a cross-section of the cup…

I learned about this fact from: The tour guide at the Greek pottery shop somewhere between Athens and Corinth!

Special thanks to Pete (my brother) for helping me film this.

RFF#78 – Joseph Priestly discovered carbonated water in 1767

Joseph Priestly, not to be confused with Jason Priestly, was an 18th century theologian, natural philosopher, chemist, educator and political theorist.Though the discovery of “soda water” had little scientific value, Priestly called it his “happiest discovery”.

jj priestly

So how did the discovery come about? It was largely due to the fact that in 1767 he: 1) got a new job and 2) moved.

For starters, by getting a new job as a minister he had a lot more free time (to experiment and make discoveries) compared to when he was a teacher. But what was more important was the fact that when he moved to his new town, the official minister’s home was not ready. As a result, he stayed at another house which happened to be located beside a brewery.

Due to his scientific curiosity, it wasn’t long before he began conducting experiments in the brewery. He noticed that the vats of fermenting liquid emitted what he called “fixed” or “mephitic” air (what we call carbon dioxide), and he discovered that if he poured water between two cups over top of the vats, the water became suffused with the “fixed air” and acquired a “fizz”. Within days Priestly was discussing this new invention with colleagues and published a pamphlet describing it: Directions for impregnating water with fixed air, in order to communicate to it the peculiar spirit and virtues of Pyrmont water, and other mineral waters of a similar nature.

Here’s a picture of Priestly’s soda water apparatus:

apparatus

Priestly was a “compulsive sharer” and he believed in the circulation and dissemination of ideas. So instead of protecting his invention and patenting it, he shared it immediately with everyone. Apparently the notion of withholding information for personal gain was unimaginable to someone like Priestly.  However, as a result of this “compulsive sharing”, a man by the name of Johann Schweppes would eventually patent a method of carbonating water in 1783 and Priestly would forever be dependent on financial patrons.

I learned about this fact from: Johnson, Steven. The Invention of Air A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. River Head Books, New York: 2008. [By the way, a great read, I highly recommend it]

RFF#76 – Gingerbread houses became popular after the publication of Hansel and Gretel

It’s all thanks to the Brother’s Grimm who published the story in 1812.

Here’s a picture of me beside a gingerbread house at the Gardiner Museum…

Mary and Gingerbread House

I learned about this fact from: http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/crossculturaldesserts/a/gingerhistory.htm

RFF#74 – Gingerbread may have been an early form of “news media”

It’s likely that gingerbread was firstly created during the 11th century when the crusaders brought spices back from Asia. Apparently, some of the early recipes were like a paste, and thus would be pressed into wooden molds. Interestingly, “gingerbread molds” were often carved to portray the news of day in the form of a storyboard including images of the King, Queen or Emperor. Though historical evidence is lacking, I’d like to think that gingerbread could potentially be considered a form of “news media” or rather “gingerbread media” in an era before the printing press.

A Gingerbread mold of Willem III of the Netherlands

A Gingerbread mold of Willem III of the Netherlands (circa 19th century)

Willem III's wife

A Gingerbread mold of Willem III’s wife

I learned about this fact from: http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/crossculturaldesserts/a/gingerhistory.htm

Photo credit: http://www.enotes.com/topics/gingerbread

RFF#73 – During the middle ages gingerbread was considered “medical candy”

At the time, gingerbread was commonly eaten in the winter because ginger supposedly “warmed the body” and thus could help restore the balance of the humors (earth, air, water and fire) which physicians at the time believed was the key to health.

There’s a story behind this post…when I first came up with the idea for this blog, my goal was to give my readers facts and anecdotes that will hopefully come to mind when they’re eating, cooking or shopping at the grocery store. Because don’t you just love it when you have a deeper appreciation for something on account of knowing its fascinating history, its biological significance or its connection to various people or places? Today when I was eating a gingerbread cookie,  I realized I don’t know anything about the origins of gingerbread! Thus I was compelled to uncover the deeper meaning behind this Christmas tradition. Upon doing so, I’ve discovered a wealth of random gingerbread facts. So stay tuned, there are many more to come!

I learned about this fact from: http://www.enotes.com/topics/gingerbread and http://thecreationofanneboleyn.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/gingerbread-and-tudor-medicine/

RFF#68 – Kids’ meals were first introduced at restaurants during prohibition as a way to compensate for lost revenue

Prior to prohibition children rarely ate at restaurants. However, when restaurants could no longer serve alcohol, kids were seen as a new way to make up for lost revenue.

Interestingly, unlike the kids’ meals served today, back then, kids’ meals were healthy. The leading paediatrician of the time, Dr. Emmett Holt, had everyone convinced that children should only eat healthy foods, while pies, tarts and pastries were forbidden prior to the age of 10. As a result, the earliest kids’ menus featured flaked chicken over boiled rice, mixed green vegetables and broiled lamb chop.

It’s unfortunate that by World War II, most people no longer believed in the nutritional tenants of Dr. Emmett Holt, which is unfortunate, because had people continued to think like this, we probably wouldn’t have the obesity and diet-related disease epidemic that we do today.

I learned about this fact from: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/food/2013/08/children_s_menu_history_how_prohibition_and_emmett_holt_gave_rise_to_kid.html

RFF#61 – Wheat was the first crop cultivated by humans

Apparently it has been reaped and sowed since 8000BC. Following wheat, crops including barley, peas, lentils, bitter vetch, chickpeas and flax was subsequently cultivated.

And since I know you’re wondering, bitter vetch is a an ancient legume.

I learned about this fact from: http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/plaintexthistories.asp?historyid=ab56

RFF#56 – Pizza Margherita was invented to honour the Queen of Italy with a food containing the colours of the Italian flag

In 1889, a pizza-maker by the name of Raffaele Esposito created “Pizza Margherita” to honour the Queen consort, who was referred to as “Margherita of Savoy”. Supposedly, he garnished it with tomatoes, cheese and basil in honour of the Italian flag.

I learned about this fact from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_pizza#cite_note-amherit-16

RFF#53 – Fig Newtons were the first mass produced cookie

The machine that creates them was invented by a man named Charles Roser in 1891. He sold the recipe to the F.A. Kennedy Steam Bakery located in Cambridgeport Massachusetts, and they named them “Newtons” after the town Newton, Massachusetts.

I learned about this fact from:  “101 Fast Foods” which aired on Thursday July 24 2013

RFF#50 – Aspartame was discovered when a chemist accidentally licked his finger and realized the compound he spilled on it tasted sweet

It’s true! In 1965, a chemist by the name of G.D. Searle was experimenting with drugs to treat gastric uclers. As the story goes, one of the intermediate compounds he created got on his hand…he accidentally licked his finger…and with that, the first FDA approved artificial sweetener was discovered.

I learned about this fact from: Whitehouse CR, Boullata J, McCauley LA. 2008. The Potential Toxicity of Artificial Sweeteners. AAOHN, 56(6)251-259.

RFF#49 – “Peter Piper” (who picked a peck of pickled peppers) was a real person

You know the old nursery rhyme:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?

Apparently the real “Peter Piper” was a horticulturist, missionary and colonial administrator by the name of Peter Poivre. In the 1760s he was the colonial administrator on the island of Mauritius. It was there that he established a botanical garden where he grew trees, shrubs and plants from all over the tropics. He supposedly smuggled clove and nutmeg out of the Spice Islands, which at the time were controlled by the Dutch East India Company, and thus broke their monopoly. To this day his 25-hectare garden still exists in northern Mauritious and is called the “Botanical Garden of Pamplemousses”.

I learned about this fact from: Globe Trekker – The Story of Spice which aired on WNED Sunday July 21st 2013

RFF#46 – The invention of the ice cream sundae (version III)

The third and final version of the story took place in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, in 1881. The supposed inventor was a man named Ed Berners, who, like our other inventors, was the owner of a soda fountain. One day a customer by the name of George Hallauer requested a dish of ice cream topped with the syrup used to make sodas. Soon after Berners added it to his menu and charged a nickel. Meanwhile a competitor soda owner caught on to this new treat, but because he thought the price was too cheap,  he only served it on Sundays. Hence, it was called the “Ice Cream Sunday”. Before long, it was doing so well, he decided to serve it everyday and thus the name changed to “sundae”.

I learned about this fact from: http://inventors.about.com/od/foodrelatedinventions/a/Sundae.htm

RFF#45 – The invention of the ice cream sundae (version II)

According to the second version of the story, the ice cream sundae was invented in Ithaca, New York by a man named Chester Platt. Platt owned a drug store, which in those days often had a lunch counter and soda fountain. As the story goes, on a Sunday in 1893 he served a dish of vanilla ice cream with cherry syrup and a candied cherry to Reverend John Scott. In honour of the day, the Reverend named it a “Sunday”.

I learned about this fact from: http://inventors.about.com/od/foodrelatedinventions/a/Sundae.htm

RFF# 44 – The invention of the ice cream sundae (version I)

Apparently there’s debate over the invention of the ice cream sundae. For the next three days, each post will be a different version of that story. First, I’ll share my favourite…

In the 1890s many states had “blue laws” which required that Sunday was a day of worship. In the town of Evanston, Illinois there was a law specifically prohibiting the sale of soda water, and thus preventing the sale of ice cream sodas.  So to evade the law, they served a soda-less soda, consisting of ice cream and syrup, which came to be known as the Sunday soda. To avoid objections to the blasphemous reference to the Sabbath, “sunday” was eventually re-spelled “sundae”.

I learned about this fact from: http://www.epl.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=218&Itemid=331

RFF#40 – In 1955, the “prize” inside the Quaker Oats cereal box was a deed for one square inch of land in the Yukon

At the time, Quaker Oats had a radio show called “Mountie in the Yukon”, and after struggling to find a way to promote Quaker Oats, they came up with the perfect idea…every box of Quaker oats would contain a deed for a piece of land where the fictional show took place.

The original deed that appeared in 1955 cereal boxes

Apparently, it was one of the most successful sales promotions in North American business history, all of the boxes (containing deeds) were sold within weeks.

freegoldrushland

Unfortunately, the deeds were never formally registered, and as a result, no one ever actually owned the land. In 1965, the company that was established to handle the land affairs went out of business, and the Canadian government repossessed all of the land.

Apparently thousands of supposed “land owners” still write to officials in the Yukon, inquiring about their property.

I learned about this fact from: http://www.yukoninfo.com/klondikebiginch.htm

Photo credit: http://www.yukoninfo.com/klondikebiginch.htm

RFF#39 – In 1902, the “prize” inside the Quaker Oats cereal box was a deed to a small piece of land

Apparently they were very small lots (some as small as 100 square feet) in Milford, Connecticut. Very few people claimed their prize, which required you to mail the box top to New York , where the deed was then forwarded to Milford to be registered. As a result, in the 1970s developers foreclosed the land to make way for a factory.

Gee, this makes the sparkly crayon I once got in a cereal box seem pretty dingy. Nevertheless, this wasn’t the only time Quaker Oats gave land away…more on that in tomorrow’s post.

I learned about this fact from: http://www.ctpost.com/local/article/Oatmeal-lots-gave-officials-indigestion-687006.php

RFF#34 – Corn is a man-made grain

Because corn has never been found in a truly wild state, it’s believed that it likely emerged as a result of the hybridization of two grasses somewhere in Ancient Mexico. And thanks to Christopher Columbus, who stumbled upon it in Cuba, it eventually made its way to Europe and beyond.

I learned about this fact from: Hawjes, AD. A World of Vegetable Cookery – An Encyclopedia Treasury of Recipes, Botany and Lore of the Vegetable Kingdom. Simon and Schuster, New York: 1968.

RFF#33 – Ice cream cones were popularized at the 1904 World’s Fair when an ice cream vendor ran out of cups and a waffle vendor helped him out

As the story goes, Ernest Hamuri, a Syrian immigrant, was the waffle vendor who rolled up his waffles for Arnold Fornachou, the teenage ice cream vendor who had run out of paper cups, at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. Apparently the “waffle cone” took off immediately and many of the other ice cream and waffle vendors at the fair quickly collaborated to copy their creation.

There’s debate over who actually invented the ice cream cone. While this was probably the first major appearance of the edible, conical shaped waffle cone we all know and love, other edible ice cream containers of various sorts were recorded as early as the 1700s. As a matter of fact, an Italian immigrant by the name of Italo Marchiony held the first patent for an ice cream cone mold, in 1903. However, his “cone” apparently was more like a cup with handles.

This diagram is from Marchiony's 1903 patent application, illustrating his ice cream cup mold

This diagram is from Marchiony’s 1903 patent application, illustrating his ice cream cup mold

One point of clarification, it’s likely that Hamuri wasn’t technically selling “waffles” but rather, “zalabia”, which is a flat, waffle like pastry that is popular in the middle east.

I learned about this fact from: Dr. Bob Brewer; http://www.idfa.org/news–views/media-kits/ice-cream/the-history-of-the-ice-cream-c/ and http://www.google.com/patents?id=kBVUAAAAEBAJ&pg=PA1&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false

If you’d like to see Marchiony’s original patent application click here

RFF#30 – John Harvey Kellogg was a physician and he invented corn flakes in 1895 as a healthy breakfast for his patients

Kellogg was the director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a long-term hospital he ran using holistic methods. As a Seventh-day Adventist he believed in, and practiced vegetarianism, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, as well as regular exercise and enemas.

While Kellogg didn’t want to add sugar to corn flakes, his brother did. This dispute led them to establish separate companies. Unfortunately, his brother’s corn flakes (containing sugar) would eventually become the Kellogg Company staple.

Here’s the best part…Kellogg’s rival, Post Cereals, was started by one of Kellogg’s patients, Charles William Post. And according to Kellogg, Post stole the recipe from the safe in his office.

I learned about this fact from: “Salt, Sugar, Fat – How the Food Giants Hooked Us” by Michael Moss and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Harvey_Kellogg

RFF#29 – Ancient chewing gum was made from Mastiha

Mastiha (pronounced: mas-tee-ka) is a natural resin that comes from the Mastic tree (basically an evergreen shrub that was first cultivated on the Greek Island of Chios). People in ancient eastern Mediterranean countries commonly chewed (masticated) it to clean their teeth and freshen their breath. Today it can still be found in commercial chewing gums (among other foods) from Greece and other Eastern Mediterranean countries.

I was so surprised to find modern mastiha gum

I was so surprised to find modern mastiha gum at the grocery store in Athens.

I learned about this fact from: The ELMA gum box.

RFF#25 – The first ever Olympic champion was a baker

His name was Koroibos,  and apparently he won the “stadion”, a 192 meter race, which was the only event at the 776BC Olympics.

If you consider the importance of carbohydrates for athletic performance, this makes a lot of sense, as he probably had more access to carbohydrates compared to anyone else at that time. So, I guess you could say it’s evidence of carbohydrate loading in ancient times.

—I learned about this fact from: http://www.topendsports.com/nutrition/olympic-ancient.htm and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coroebus_of_Elis

RFF#20 – Visitors to the grave of Frederick the Great often bring potatoes

It has to do with the Russian famine of 1774. At the time, King Frederick began cultivating potatoes, and tried to convince the people to start eating them. However, to Frederick’s surprise, people refused them, on the basis that they were not accustomed to this vegetable. Nevertheless, clever King Frederick managed to coax the Russian people into eating potatoes by establishing a heavily guarded royal potato field. The crop eventually attracted the interest and envy of the local peasants who soon after began stealing the potatoes (as King Frederick hoped they would). Years later a French soldier who was captured by the Russians, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, attributed his survival to the potato and went on to write a “Chemical Examination of the Potato”, in which he declared the potato “capable of reducing the calamities of famine”. There you have it…that’s why people still bring potatoes to the grave of King Frederick the Great.

—I learned about this fact from: Guttman J. Ask MHQ: King Frederick II of Prussia. Historynet.com. 2009. Accessed: 10 Dec 2012. Available from: http://www.historynet.com/ask-mhq-king-frederick-ii-of-prussia.htm

RFF#13 – Vitamin B1 was discovered because someone noticed that chickens eating white rice were dying while chickens eating brown rice weren’t

As the story goes, Christiaan Eijkman, a Dutch doctor in Indonesia in the 1880s, was conducting an experiment to see if bacteria were responsible for a disease called “beriberi”.

At first, Eijkman couldn’t figure out why all of his chickens were getting sick. Then out of nowhere, they started getting better. After a chat with the chicken-keeper, Eijkman realized that initially the chickens were being fed leftover white rice that was donated from the hospital next-door. But after the hospital cook stopped providing them with these leftovers, the chicken-keeper started feeding the chickens brown, unpolished rice. Then, out of nowhere, the chickens recovered.

This is what ultimately led to the discovery of what Eijkman called the “anti-beriberi factor”, or what we call “Vitamin B1”.

—I learned about this fact from:  “Christiaan Eijkman, Beriberi and Vitamin B1.” Nobelprize.org.20 Sep 2012. http:www.nobelprize.org/educational/medicine/vitamin_b1/Eijkman.html

RFF#11 – You can thank Napolean III for the invention of Margarine

As the story goes, in 1869, Napolean III launched a campaign in search of a cheap replacement for butter to be used for the navy and the lower classes. It was this that led to the first patent on what was then called “oleomargarine”…and the rest is history…to be discussed in later posts.

—I learned about this fact from: Toussain-Samat, M. A history of food. Wiley-Blackwell; UK, 2009.