Brain food: Facts about what you eat every day but never knew
Food is more than just something we chew, swallow and digest in order to survive. It has its place in history, a cultural significance so great that we automatically associate country names with their most famous recipes, and it is a matter of great scientific concern. Given its role in our daily lives, you'd have thought we'd know more about what we put in our mouths. The History of Food is even a course at some universities, covering everything from beefeaters to baltis. We've decided to provide you with a crash course of some interesting facts about the everyday foods we eat!
Let's start out with everyone's favourite. You'd be hard pushed to find someone who didn't like chocolate (and even when they do say they don't, deep down we know they're lying), but the Ancient Aztecs loved it so much they used it as currency. As it was so hard to grow in Mexico's arid, rocky valleys, it became extremely valuable. Aztec rulers even collected it as a tax! They only ate it once the bean itself started to wear out. And while we're at it, a staggering 40% of the world's cocoa comes from the Ivory Coast alone, and 70% from West Africa as a whole.
The names of meat are also a good clue as to their status and history. If we take the English names for three types of meat; beef, chicken and pork, it reveals a lot about who exactly ate them. Beef and pork are both French names, boeuf and porc respectively, indicating they were eaten by the Normans who renamed the meat of cows and pigs after their successful conquest of England. The Normans were the land owning elite and could afford such cuts of meat, while the peasants made do with chicken, which never got a separate name for its meat owing to the fact French and Latin names were only given to more luxurious items. It still works nowadays too. Take, for example, crepes and coq-au-vin compared to pancakes and chicken stew. Which ones are going to cost more on the menu?
You may find carrots in your coq au vin, but did you know before the 17th century, all carrots used to be purple? It wasn't until the Dutch started experimenting with mutant strains and discovered orange carrots had a much more pleasant taste, which could be eaten raw. They were also thicker than the purple ones too, so they were more economical to produce. There's also a rumour that they were so popular as they were a sign of support for the House of Orange, as they struggled for Dutch independence against the Spanish and the Holy Roman Empire. While the orange carrot may be Dutch, all carrot species can be traced back to Afghanistan. A lot has happened to the humble carrot before it ended up on your plate!
Think you know the difference between a fruit and a vegetable? Think again. In terms of the botany, a fruit bears seeds whereas vegetables are other plants, such as roots, stems and leaves. But in terms of cuisine, the lines are blurred. Fruits are considered sweet, while vegetables are savoury. So fruits such as aubergines, peppers and tomatoes would be considered vegetables inside a kitchen. It's even defined as such in American law! In a drawn out court case in 1893, tomatoes were ruled to be vegetables, as per their 'ordinary' definition, so they'd be taxed more upon import. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad!
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