Some questions are better left unanswered. Like: What would happen to a slice of bologna if you left it out in the sun? What’s worse than the smell of the world’s stinkiest cheese? Let’s agree to leave those inquiries a mystery. But other questions are worth an investigation. Some food-related mysteries might occur to you that simply don’t have a widely-known answer.
For example, have you ever stopped to think about the shape of a Pringle? What’s that shape called, anyway? Or you might find yourself surprisingly puzzled trying to decipher the purpose of the hole in the middle of a bagel. Just how does string cheese get so stringy? And that red juice that bleeds from a rare cut of steak isn’t blood. So what is it, anyway?
There’s a lot about our food that’s no longer a mystery. Ingredient labels and other forms of food transparency have lifted the shroud from many of your favorite products. But some of the sillier, more trivial queries related to food and beverages remain largely unanswered. Here are the solutions to 18 of the more pressing food-related mysteries.
What does teaching have to do with apples, anyway? There are a few theories. One is that the story of Adam and Eve made the apple into a symbol not only of sin, but of knowledge and education. So people began gifting their favorite educators with apples as a symbolic gesture. Another theory is that in the Old West, teachers used to rely on their students’ families for food and shelter. School started in the fall, when apples were harvested — hence, teachers would have received lots and lots of apples.
Does it weigh a pound? That depends on the size of your cake. A pound cake got its name because the original recipe called for a pound of each ingredient: flour, butter, eggs, and sugar. The first ever printed recipe for a pound cake was found in Amelia Simmons’ “American Cookery,” the first American cookbook. It was published in 1796.
Is it really cheese at all? Surprisingly, yes. Cheetos cheese dust is technically cheese — it’s just dehydrated and processed cheese. The powder is typically made by blasting liquid cheese into a chamber of hot air to instantly dry it. When the liquid evaporates, cheese dust is left behind as a residue. Cheetos also are colored with artificial colors; cheese isn’t neon like that when it dries.
There’s a reason Kraft calls it “Cheez.” Cheez Whiz isn’t actually cheese at all; it’s an imitation cheese product. At one point, Cheez Whiz was made with actual cheese. But at some point after the 1950s, Kraft tweaked its recipe, quietly removing the real cheese from the product altogether. The current ingredients list for Cheez Whiz is lengthy and complicated. But put simply, Cheez Whiz is made from whey (a protein byproduct of milk), oil, sodium-heavy flavorings, and a concoction of other ingredients that help make it bright yellow and shelf-stable. Yum!
This beloved childhood cereal seems like it would have different fruity flavors. You might think you were eating a strawberry red loop, for instance, or a blueberry-flavored blue. But no matter which color Froot Loop you pop in your mouth, the taste will be the same. Toucan Sam had you fooled! All Froot Loops have the same, sugary-sweet “froot” flavor.
M&M’s have been one of America’s favorite candies since their invention in the 1940s. Chocolate that doesn’t melt in your hand! Isn’t it incredible? And if you look closely, each piece of M&M’s candy comes coated with a colored sheen and a white stamp of the letter “m.” But what do those M’s stand for? The M’s in M&M stand for Mars and Murrie. Forrest E. Mars Jr. was the mastermind behind making them, and Bruce Murrie also played a large role in starting the company. (Mars’ father Forrest E. Mars Sr. also had a penchant for naming candies after himself — he’s the guy who made Mars bars.)
French fries probably do not actually come from France. The French language actually omits the distinction — in France, asking for french fries simply entails a request for “des frites.” “French fries” is almost certainly an American coinage based on the snack’s perceived origin — the British, of course, call them “chips” and have done so at least since the 1860s. According to the History Channel, one story is that french fries’ introduction to American palates occurred in largely francophone Belgium, where soldiers serving in World War I encountered a regional version of fish and chips and called the potatoes “French” due to the language of the locals. Another possible explanation for the name involves Thomas Jefferson. He is sometimes credited with introducing French fries to America, having encountered them while serving as the United States’ diplomatic minister to France from 1784 to 1789.
You might have noticed at the grocery store that some eggs are brown while others are white. They’re sold in separate cartons and sometimes even have a notable price difference. The idea that brown eggs are healthier than white eggs is a total myth; that’s only true for bread. The exterior of the egg differs in color based on the breed of the chicken that laid it. Certain breeds produce pigments that create white shells while others produce the pigments for brown ones. Some breeds of chicken even lay eggs that are blue or green! You’d have a hard time finding those at the supermarket. But you’re not missing out on anything — the interior of the eggs are, nutritionally, almost all the same.
No matter what brand of pretzel you buy, it likely has that same shape. But where does that classic curvy pretzel bend come from? Well, there are a few theories — none of which can be proven true, unfortunately. One legend is that an Italian monk used to gift pretzels to children who learned their prayers; the interlocked arms of the pretzel would have mimicked arms folded in prayer. Another theory claims that the knot shape symbolized a promise. Another legend tells of a medieval baker who was forced by a local noble to craft a loaf through which the sun would shine three times. Others claim that pretzels got their shape for practical reasons only — that the holes allowed them to be hanged on strings for sale or that the shape maximizes the deliciously salty surface area. So why are pretzels shaped like that? The world may never know.
People used to think that the holes in Swiss cheese came from gas emitted by bacteria that grow during aging — but science discovered that story itself had one crucial hole. The holes in Swiss cheese have actually been shrinking, leaving many befuddled. A new explanation devised by scientists is filling in the gaps. During the traditional milking process, tiny particles of hay or other material may fall into the milk. While they are at first invisible, the tiny specks of hay weaken the otherwise sturdy structure of the curd when cheese is made; the bacterial gas accumulates in these spots to create the holes so often seen in a slice of Swiss cheese. Many modern dairy farms, however, have changed their milking methods. Thanks to mechanization and automation of milking, no longer is it as likely for hay to fall into milk. Hence, the holes are disappearing from Swiss cheese.
These candies lie dormant until you eat them — but as soon as you do, they pop like firecrackers in your mouth. How does this candy accomplish such a sensation? Pop Rocks get their fizz from the same sources as soda: carbon dioxide. In addition to water and sugar, each candy contains 600-psi of pressurized carbon dioxide trapped by tiny walls of sugar. When you put it in your mouth, those walls start to dissolve; when they’re too thin to withstand the pressure, the shells shatter and release the air, resulting in that fizzy feeling.
It’s definitely not crab — this “imitation” food product is pretty up front about that. But it looks just like it! So how does cheap grocery store sushi do it? Imitation crab is actually made mostly of fish (usually Alaskan pollock), mixed with egg white, wheat, or another binding ingredient, salt, and crab flavoring. A layer of red food coloring is then added to the outside.
Chicken meat is just called chicken. Turkey meat is just called turkey. What makes cow and pig meat so special? Sheep (mutton) and deer meat (venison), too, have special names. These names can be traced back to 1066, when the Norman French took over England. There were suddenly two terms for meats such as cow and pig; animal terms were left to the Anglo-Saxons while dining terms were left to the Normans. This is likely because the lower-class Anglo-Saxons dealt with the actual animals, while the higher-class French most frequently referred to these animals as items on the dinner table. The Anglo-Saxon words that later became pig and swine were supplanted at the table by the French porc, which was Anglicized to pork; the Anglo-Saxon cu (later to become “cow”) was compared to the French boeuf, which became beef; and the dinner-table version of sheep became mouton and eventually mutton.
We eat chicken eggs. Heck, we even eat quail eggs! Why not turkey eggs? Their meat may be similar, but the eggs of chickens and turkeys are actually quite different. Chickens lay about 300 eggs pear year on a pretty consistent schedule, starting from the age of about 20 weeks. Turkeys, on the other hand, only lay about 100 eggs a year, and generally only during the spring. They don’t start laying eggs until they’re 32 weeks old. There are other impediments to the turkey egg industry, as well. (Yes, the turkey egg industry does exist — it’s just very small.) Turkeys are clunkier and more ornery than chickens, requiring more space, feed, and careful attention than chickens to harvest eggs. All resources considered, turkey eggs would cost around 50 cents apiece; much pricier than a chicken egg.
These eggs certainly sound like they are up to no good. Where did deviled eggs get their hellish name? To get to the bottom of this, you have to start at the beginning. Which came first: the devil or the egg? The devil, actually. In the late 18th century, to “devil” a food meant to cook it with a spicy seasoning or over very high heat. It was thought that this association grew from the similarly high heat presumed from the depths of hell. Later, the definition warped into heavily seasoning a dish or slathering it with an excess of rich condiments. If you’ve ever made a platter of deviled eggs, you know that they are loaded with mayo and seasoning. Voila: The deviled egg was born.
There’s nothing rare about ordering your meat cooked lightly. In fact, any seasoned steak eater knows that the best way to order beef is at least medium rare — some even prefer it raw. So why do we call lightly cooked meat that? According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, a rare cut of steak or a rare burger is called as such because “rare” is a variant of the Old English word hrere, meaning “lightly cooked.”
It’s certainly blanketed in bread and it certainly has a meaty, condiment-covered filling. But does that classify a hot dog as a sandwich? Or is it something else entirely? Merriam-Webster defines a sandwich as “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between.” So yes, they are technically sandwiches. But classifying a hot dog as a sandwich feels sort of like classifying a Pop Tart as ravioli. It’s just nonsense; a hot dog has little in common with the best sandwich in your state, for example.
More From The Daily Meal: