8 Fun Food Facts You Never Knew You Wanted to Know

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Have you ever eaten mashed potatoes and wondered if you could grow vegetables in space? So often, we eat food to fuel our bodies or savor flavors without ever asking the story behind it. 

From hot chocolate to pasta, here are eight fun food facts you never knew you wanted to know — and some might really surprise you.

  1. The Mayans Loved Hot Chocolate

There’s nothing like hot chocolate on a winter day, but did you know that this frothy, sweet beverage dates back to the Mayans?

Archeologists have traced the earliest findings of cacao to Ecuador’s northern Amazon region, where they uncovered 5,300-year-old pottery with cacao residue. 

Similar to how today’s society perceives chocolate, the Mayans considered it a gift from the gods and would mix ground cacao beans with water, chili peppers, vanilla and spices to make the drink. Often, they used cacao in ceremonies, such as weddings and funerals. 

  1. There’s a Spam Museum

Spam has been a part of Hawaiian cuisine since World War II when scarce resources made it difficult to feed hungry soldiers, natives and the growing number of Japanese immigrants. 

Today, Spam remains a culinary staple in Hawaii — Spam and eggs, Spam fried rice and a traditional dish called Spam musubi, in which grilled Spam and rice are wrapped in nori. In fact, the Spam website states that Hawaiians consume seven million cans of Spam every year.

Spam’s origins began in 1937 at Hormel Foods Corporation in Austin, Minnesota. With Spam now an integral part of American culture, Austin is dubbed “The City of Spam” and even has a Spam museum that welcomes 115,000 visitors annually.

  1. Pasta Is Really Old

Italians may turn their noses up at this historical fact, but pasta originated in China during the Han Dynasty nearly 4,000 years ago. They prepared the noodles by forming sheets and ribbons with dough and dropping them into boiling water. 

Centuries later, Thomas Jefferson introduced the first macaroni maker to the U.S. after a trip to Europe in 1789. By 1848, the first pasta factory opened in Brooklyn, New York, by French immigrant Antoine Zerega who powered the machinery with one horse.

Usually, dry pasta is made with flour and water, while fresh pasta includes eggs. The combination of eggs and flour creates protein-rich gluten strings, making it easier to shape the noodles. Eggs also enhance the pasta’s flavor and give it a smoother finish. 

  1. Nutmeg Is a Hallucinogenic

Nutmeg is a common ingredient in pies, puddings, savory meals and gravies. During the holidays, you might even sprinkle it over your eggnog. However, when it comes to the amount you use, it may be too much of a good thing.

Studies show that nutmeg has hallucinogenic effects when consumed in excess — it only takes two teaspoons for toxicity symptoms to appear, also known as a “nutmeg high.” 

Most people experience a nutmeg high within three to eight hours after consuming it, with the effects lasting up to 10 hours. Common symptoms include dizziness, fatigue, hallucinations and dry mouth, while more severe reactions cause nausea, vomiting, numbness and low blood pressure.

  1. Pretzels Once Symbolized Love

Nothing says romance quite like a pretzel — and in 1614, Swiss royals began using pretzels during wedding nuptials, which may be where the phrase “tying the knot” originated. 

Since the 17th century, children in Germany also wore pretzels on New Year’s for good fortune.

However, pretzels also have religious beginnings. As the story goes, in 610 BCE, a monk from Italy or France gave twisted bread to his students after they learned their prayers. He called it “pretiola,” meaning “little rewards” in Latin and said each hole alluded to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  1. Potatoes Were Planted in Space

During a NASA mission in October 1995, astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia planted potato seeds in its Microgravity Astroculture Laboratory. 

The research aimed to find methods of producing large quantities of potatoes in a highly-controlled environment, utilizing agricultural techniques from China and cutting-edge technologies, such as advanced lighting, humidity and temperature control.

Under the right conditions, the astronauts grew pathogen-free crops within 40- to 50-day cycles, as opposed to the traditional yearly agricultural yields. Replicating the same production procedures back on earth, facilities can now grow 10 to 20 million potatoes annually, delivering a solution for food insecure countries.

  1. French Fries Are From Belgium

Next time you visit the drive-thru, ask for a juicy burger and a side of Belgian fries. 

While French people have shared several beloved delicacies from croissants to fondue, French fries are actually from Namur, Belgium. 

Although people debate its origins, the story often depicts the harsh winter of 1680, when the River Meuse froze, rendering it impossible to fish — so locals fried potatoes instead. The name itself is said to come from American soldiers stationed near Namur during World War I.

Why are they called “French?” It actually references the French culinary technique known as julienne — the method of slicing vegetables into thin strips so they cook more evenly.  

  1. Ice Cream Dates Back to Ancient Greece

Did you know that the average American consumes about 32 pounds of ice cream annually? Anyone who can resist a bowl of Rocky Road with chocolate syrup doesn’t know what they’re missing.

Yet, ice cream wasn’t always so creamy. During the 5th century BC, the ancient Greeks indulged in snow mixed with fruit and honey, which became very popular.

The invention of ice cream, as the Greeks knew it, also sparked a technological revolution — how could you store snow for year-round enjoyment? The answer came in the form of an underground stone chamber — an ice house. 

There’s Always a Story Behind What You Eat

The next time you grab a snack, perhaps look up where it came from. While it may not be all that important, it’ll certainly be fun to blurt out a random food fact over dinner with your family or friends. 

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