Sometimes you only have to look as close as the meal on your plate to find international inspiration. That’s why we’re diving into history to figure out where three of America’s most iconic foods got their start (we’ll give you a hint… it’s probably not where you think). Get ready to sink your teeth into these mouthwatering mysteries of the origins of American food!
Hamburger and Fries
Does it get any more classic than a hamburger and fries? Probably only if you grabbed them at the drive-thru. And although the good old US of A can lay claim to perfecting this fast food favorite, its roots span the globe…
… starting with Genghis Kahn, and his army’s “minced meat” sandwiches that were first crumbled, then cooked under their horses’ saddles thanks to pressure, movement and friction. The soldiers would then wrap the
ground, cooked meat so they could eat it on the go (sound familiar?). The rest, as they say, is history. Eating ground beef spread throughout Eastern Europe as Kahn’s reach spread, making an appearance and adding some spices (like nutmeg, clove, garlic, salt and pepper) in Hamburg, Germany around the mid-1700’s. But it wasn’t until 100 years later that the Hamburg Steak made its voyage across the Atlantic to the shores of North America, where it would morph into the modern-day dish we just can’t get enough of.
Buns and Beyond
The burger’s global roots don’t stop there. How about that sesame seed bun? Bread is a bedrock of East Asian civilization, allowing previously nomadic tribes to settle in and really get down to the work of organizing societies. As for the yeast that makes your bun so airy and light? Well, ancient civilizations were in on that too. By using dough, sugar and water, they were able to make sourdough starter, while other cultures used wheat bran steeped in wine to ferment yeast!
Let’s not forget your favorite hamburger fixings. Do you love topping your burger with a slice of cheddar cheese? How about ketchup and mustard? These three favorites started overseas too!
- Cheddar cheese can be traced back to the 12th century, and was most likely brought to Britain via the Romans. For a while, it had to be made in the village of Cheddar in Somerset, southwest England, to be considered legit cheddar cheese. But now it’s made and enjoyed all over the world.
- Ketchup as we know it is a wholly American made product, but it’s name isn’t. Many believe the Cantonese word “keh jup” (meaning tomato sauce) is where it came from.
- We’ve got the Romans to thank for experimenting with mustard seed. Way back in the 4th and 5th centuries they were busy mixing unfermented grape juice and ground mustard seeds to make a spicy spread. It probably didn’t taste too much like the condiment we love, but you gotta start somewhere!
A Deep Fried Side
Nothing pairs with a juicy burger quite like a side of fries. And although the battle is on between the French and the Belgians as to who created this tasty dish, one thing’s for sure, it didn’t happen here. The Belgians claim that potatoes were being deep fried in their country as early as 1680, whereas the French hold that the original pomme frites were sold by street vendors in Paris around 1789. And if you think that ketchup is the only natural thing to dip them in, think again. Belgians often dip fries in mayonnaise!
The origins of the name are just as unclear. But one rumor is that Belgian soldiers introduced American soldiers to this culinary delight during WWI, where our troops mistakenly associated the treat with France because French is what the Belgian soldiers spoke.
All of this is probably moot if you consider this most favorite tuber was domesticated around 10,000 years ago in what’s now known as Peru. We’ve got a Spanish sailor to thank for bringing this underground staple back to Europe so the French and Belgians could get creative with the prep in the future. Think about that the next time you dip your French fry into your favorite sauce!
While you might be aware that John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich (an English noble) is the genius behind the sandwich’s creation (rumor has it he wanted to eat hands-free during a marathon gambling tournament and requested servants bring him salted meat between two pieces of bread so he could), you might not know that Julia Davis Chandler is credited with creating the always-popular PB&J.
Much like the United States of America, peanut butter and jelly is a quintessentially American food with a melting pot of international origins. Breadhas been around for tens of thousands of years, but it was an American inventor, Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa who invited the bread-slicing machinethat makes sandwiches a go-to choice in the modern world. And grapes? Well, people started growing them about 6,000-8,000 years ago in ancient western Asia, but it took the Welch family pureeing grapes into “grapelade” to start the wheels turning on sandwich possibilities. As for peanut butter… there’s evidence the Aztecs may have used a peanut paste to treat toothaches in the first century, but peanut butter wasn’t patented until 1884 by Canadian, Marcellus Gilmore Edson. And it took the Great Depression in the 20’s & 30’s to get peanut butter to the masses. Put it all together and you’ve got an undeniable classic!
Whether you like yours topped with ice cream, whipped cream or sharp cheddar cheese, apple pie is to America what crepes are to France, or curry to India—an iconic dish. But this iconic dish got its start a long time ago, way back in the Middle Ages. In fact, recipes for apple pie have been found in a Dutch cookbook from 1514, and one printed by Chaucer in 1381, which means people have been enjoying this fall staple for hundreds of years!
The best part of making apple pie has got to be choosing the apple varieties you’re going to use. But did you know that apple trees have been around for thousands of years, growing wild in Central Asia and Europe? It’s true, and they were brought to North America when the European colonists arrived way back when. Now, apples are produced all over the world, with China leading the way in per ton production, growing 37 million tons each year. Talk about a lot of pies!
The origins of American food are fascinating and complex. From where crops were first grown, how they were traded and where migrating people brought their favorite foods, to how they were adapted once they arrived in a new land. Now, you’ve followed the path of a few favorite foods. What are the origins of the American food that you love?
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