The Muddled, Medieval Origins Of Jell-O Shots

If you've ever been to a college party, chances are you've encountered a Jell-O shot. A mixture of gelatin and alcohol (usually vodka, because it doesn't interfere with the overall flavor profile of the Jell-O), they're basically a prerequisite for any frat rager or sorority mixer. 

It makes sense; if you're going to drink, who doesn't want an easy-to-consume alcohol delivery method that tastes like snack food? More than a few people have been fooled by the easy drinkability of Jell-O shots and woken up the next day feeling like a mature walrus sat on their head.

And surely, Jell-O shots are a modern creation, right? Something that seems so weird, so uniquely American as Jell-O itself has to be a recent creation. Especially considering the role Jell-O plays in some of America's stranger culinary traditions, we have to be responsible for this. Yeah, about that: not so much, because these delectable inebriating concoctions are actually hundreds of years old.

Jell-O shots are way, way older than you think

The history behind the Jell-O shot is a bit confusing, but the generally accepted legend is that Jell-O shots date back to 1956, when Tom Lehrer (yes, that Tom Lehrer, the guy who essentially created the genre of musical comedy) mixed vodka into Jell-O as a way of sneaking alcohol onto a military base. 

As with a lot of food origin stories, though, this one is provably apocryphal. Powdered gelatin was created in 1845. And — to no one's surprise — humans started experimenting with how to turn it into booze shortly after the new substance was invented.

But the truly wild thing is the history is older even than that — a lot older, it turns out. There's a medieval cookbook called "Le Viandier de Taillevent" that dates back to the 1300s and contains a recipe for an aspic combined with wine. You might be saying an aspic and a Jell-O shot aren't exactly the same thing. But it's still boozy gelatin, and it's hard to argue that later creations weren't simply building on a long-existing idea.

Jell-O shots aren't the only food that's been around longer than you think

More "modern" foods have longer histories than you might realize. Popcorn was originally a Native American dish dating back to around 3000 B.C.; multiple figures commented on the prevalence of popcorn necklaces among indigenous groups in the 1600s. The modern version of ketchup comes from a Chinese sauce called "ke-tsiap" dating from 1690 A.D. that Europeans bastardized into the word we know today (although it didn't feature tomatoes until the late 19th century). 

Sausages date back to 4000 B.C. in Mesopotamia, and later became hugely popular in Rome (although they were briefly outlawed when Rome converted to Christianity). Curry dates back to India at around 2500 B.C., and it's remained remarkably unchanged since then.

While the culinary landscape is forever in flux, with new gastronomic creations entering popular consciousness every year, some ideas remain classic. There's something comforting about the fact our ancestors were going to town on sausages thousands of years ago.