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Types of Food – Origins

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Loaves have been found in 5,000-year-old Egyptian tombs, which are displayed in the British Museum, but the first evidence of bread goes back further still.

The origin of bread lies in the Neolithic Stone Age, with people who made solid cakes from stone-crushed barley and wheat about 12,000 years ago.  Archaeologists have discovered a millstone, thought to be more than 7,000 years old, which was used for grinding grain.

The Bible contains several references to bread, including the parable of the loaves and fishes, and the ancient Greeks and Romans used both unleavened and leavened (risen) bread as a staple food.


The basis of pizza, unleavened bread, has been around for centuries, and historical writings record that the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all used forms of flat unleavened bread as a base for vegetables.

The invention of the first modern pizza is credited to Neapolitan restaurant owner Raffaele Esposito.  His pizza Margherita combining pizza crust, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and basil – the red, white, and green of which matched the colors of the Italian flag – was produced to commemorate the visit of Queen Margherita di Savoia (1851-1926) to Naples in 1889.

The first pizzeria in the United States was opened by Gennaro Lombardi on Spring Street, New York City, in 1905.

Chicago deep-dish pizza is jointly credited to Ike Sewell, a Texan businessman, and Ric Riccardo, who opened Pizzeria Uno, serving their newly invented pizza in 1943.


The potato was cultivated in South America for approximately two thousand years before it was introduced into Europe by the Spanish.  Potatoes were brought to England from the West Indies by Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)


Cultivated in South America, tomatoes were introduced into Europe by the Spanish in the early part of the sixteenth century.  Homegrown tomatoes were first eaten in England in 1596, from the garden of John Gerard, a barber-surgeon.


The first cheese is thought to have developed around 4000 BC as a result of Sumerian herdsmen storing their daily ration of milk in dried calf stomachs.  The milk combined with the natural enzyme rennin left in the stomach and then curdled, becoming cheese.

Cheese was described by Homer in the Odyssey in about the seventh century BC.

In Greece, whey was separated from curds by using a wicker basket called a formos, which is the root of fromage, the French word for cheese.

Stilton was first made in the mid-1700s in Melton Mowbray by Mrs. Frances Pawlett (1720-1808).  It was Britain’s first blue cheese and remains a market leader.

Cookies (Biscuits)

In the United Kingdom cookies are known as biscuits.  The word biscuit derives from the Latin bis coctum, meaning “cooked twice.”  The biscuit is first recorded in the twelfth century.  Richard I (1157-99), also known as Richard the Lion-hearted took “biskits of muslin” to the Crusades.

Beginning in the seventeenth century, the English navy supplied mass-produced biscuits for its sailors because they lasted longer than bread on extended sea voyages.

The Garibaldi biscuit was baked to commemorate the visit of Guiseppi Garibaldi (1807-82), founder of modern Italy, to London in 1864.  Cookies (biscuits) were first brought to America by British and Dutch immigrants in the seventeenth century.

The first known recipe for brownies was published in the Sears Roebuck catalogue of 1897, and the same catalogue sold the brownie mix.

Chocolate chip cookies were invented by Ruth graves Wakefield of Whitman, Massachusetts, in 1937.  She chopped pieces of sweet chocolate into cookie dough, assuming it would melt into the mixture during cooking.  To Wakefield’s surprise, the chocolate held its shape, a taste sensation was born, and the rest is history.

Fortune cookies are an American invention, introduced by the so-called forty-niners (Chinese laborers working in the 1849 California gold rush), and were not eaten in China until the 1990s when they were advertised as “Genuine American Fortune Cookies.”


The word sausage is derived from the Latin salcicius, meaning “salted and preserved meat,” not necessarily in a skin, which was to be cooked and eaten hot.  Various forms of sausage were known in Babylonia, ancient Greece, and Rome.

Homer mentions goat meat sausages in the odyssey in about 700 BC, and ancient Greeks were certainly eating cooked sausages by 9 BC.  Sausages were introduced into Britain by the Romans.

Sausages were known as “little bags of surprises” in Victorian England.  This expression came from the uncertain contents.  In the days when product labeling lay nearly a century in the future, it was not unheard of for sawdust to be included.

The origin of the nickname banger for a sausage came about during the Second World War, when sausages contained so much water that they had a tendency to explode during frying.

Ice Cream

In the first century, the Roman emperor Nero (AD 37-68) ordered runners to pass buckets of snow from the mountains in the north, along the Appian Way, down to Rome.  The snow was mixed with red wine and honey to be served at banquets.

The Chinese may have invented a form of half-frozen, fruit-flavored ice cream in the first millennium.  Marco Polo (1254-1324) returned to Venice from his trip to the Far East with ancient recipes for concoctions made of snow, fruit juice, and fruit pulp.

The first documented record of milk being added to the icy slush to produce a form of modern ice cream was in 1672, when it was served to King Charles II (1630-85) of England.

The first company to sell ice cream from tricycles was Wall’s in 1924.  The new means of distribution was launched with the slogan “Stop me and buy one.”  The Wall’s company sold sausages in winter and ice cream in summer to “equalize the seasonality.”


Margarine was invented and patented in 1869 by the exotically named food chemist Hippolyte Mege-Mouries (1817-80).  The first mixture consisted of beef fat, cow’s udder, and chopped sheep’s stomach.  The French government had offered a prize to anyone finding an acceptable substitute for butter, and the deeply unappetizing Mege-Mouries creation won.

Modern margarine was created in 1915 by adding hydrogen to the mixture to harden it to the consistency of butter.  The raw ingredients were almost irrelevant, as flavorings were added at a later stage of the process.

Canned Food

In 1810, Nicholas Francois Appert (1750-1841), a French chef, published a method for preserving food in tin cans.  With his invention, Appert won the 12,000 franc prize that Napoleon Bonaparte had offered for the best method of preserving food for his troops on long marches.

Frozen Food

The practice of freezing food to preserve it can be traced back to 1626, and commercial production of frozen food began in 1875, but early food-freezing methods suffered by freezing the food too slowly.  Slow freezing broke down the cell walls of the foodstuff and failed to preserve texture, appearance, and flavor.

In the 1920s, Clarence Birdseye (1886-1956) developed two methods for quick-freezing fish.  While he was working as a fur trader in Canada, Birdseye had observed how the Inuit people preserved fish by rapid freezing, in readiness for the harsh Arctic winters.  He bough a simple electric fan and, using buckets of salt water and ice, devised an industrial method of flash-freezing food under pressure and packing it in waxed cardboard boxes.  In 1924, Birdseye put his first frozen fish on sale and founded the frozen food industry as it has evolved today.

Starting with an initial investment of only $7, Birdseye sold out his patents in 1929 for $22 million.  The product range was rebranded Birds Eye.


The Aztecs and Mayans discovered the stimulation value of the cacao tree in around AD 600 and made a nourishing drink from the cocoa leaves.  They called it xcoatl, and in 1519 served the bitter drink to Hernan Cortes (1485-1547), the Spanish conquistador.  He took it with him on his return to Spain, where it remained secret for more than one hundred years.

The first chocolate factory in America was set up by John Hannan and James Baker in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1765.

The first chocolate bar in Britain was sold by Fry & Sons in 1847.  John Cadbury (1801-89) started selling chocolate in 1849 at Bingley Hall in Birmingham.

Chewing Gum

The ancient Greeks chewed mastic gum, a product of the mastic tree.  Other ancient cultures in India and South America also enjoyed the benefits of chewing raw gum.

The first modern chewing gum was invented by Thomas Adams of New York in 1869 after a meeting with Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (1794-1876), the exiled ex-president of Mexico, who told him of chicle gum, which the native Mexicans had been chewing for years.  Initially, Adams tried to market a blend of chicle gum and rubber as a substitute material for carriage tires, but this failed.  He then began selling it as a flavorless but chewy ball to be used as chewing gum, calling his product Chiclets.

Potato Chips

American restaurant owner George Crum invented potato chips in 1853 after the railway and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) had complained about the thickness of the French fries being served in Crum’s Saratoga Springs, New York, restaurant.  Crum was angered by these remarks and decided to serve up deep-fried, paper-thin potato chips.  To Crum’s surprise, Vanderbilt approved the new product.  Crum’s potato chips became a well-known delicacy, which he called Saratoga chips.

Mass-marketing of potato chips began in the United States in 1926 when Laura Scudder began to sell them in waxed paper bags.  Scudder invented the airtight bag to keep the chips fresh, by ironing together pieces of waxed paper.  Until that time, potato chips were distributed in large tins, and the last chips out of the tin were usually stale.


12/29/2009 - Posted by | Food Origins

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