Crisps, brownies and Caesar salads: Myth-busting food origin stories

When you’re absolutely ravenous and tear into a bag of crisps, it’s likely that you won’t be spending too much time thinking about the history of what's in it.

But some foods really do have delicious stories behind them; some of epic proportions and some of a teeny tiny accident in the kitchen.

Occasionally however, it’s hard to pin down when they were first made, and urban legends are born about their origins. We’ve taken a few prime examples and found out what really happened... sort of.

Crisps

Crisps
The biggest ever packet of crisps was made in Cambridgeshire in 2013, and it weighed a whopping 1140kg.

A popular urban legend about the invention of crisps goes as follows: in 1853, a man called Cornelius Vanderbilt ordered some fried potatoes from a restaurant in New York, and sent them back saying that they were too thick. The chef saw red, and thinking he’d get the picky customer back, he threw the thinnest possible slices of potato into hot oil and fried them to within an inch of their lives. He sent the burnt and crunchy snack back to Mr Vanderbilt who, much to the chef’s surprise, loved them and wolfed them all down. The rest, as they say, is history.

Turns out that the story gets history very, very wrong. According to an article on the academic news site JStor Daily, pretty much everything about the story is a bit fishy. On the date of the reported 1853 restaurant incident the customer in question was actually travelling around Europe, and the restaurant he’s said to have ordered them from (Moon’s Lake House) didn’t open until 1854. Maybe we’ll never know the real story behind the salty treats.

Chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip cookies
One of a few foods that are just as delicious raw as they are cooked.

The theories about the invention of the chocolate chip cookie are somewhat contested. The facts we do know are that they were first made by an American woman called Ruth Wakefield and that she went on to sell the recipe to Nestlé for a dollar in 1939 (as well as apparently receiving an unlimited supply of chocolate).

From there, the creation theories start to diverge. One school of thought is that it was a complete accident: she may have run out of bakers’ chocolate or cocoa when she was trying to make chocolate cookies, so used chunks of chocolate instead hoping they would melt. Others say it’s ludicrous to suggest that she, an experienced baker, would have run out of key ingredients, and that she actually just didn’t have time to melt the chocolate into the mixture whilst experimenting. Whether the stories are true or not, we definitely owe Ms Wakefield a great deal.

Brownies

Brownies
If the brownie batter doesn’t contain cocoa powder, it’s called a blondie - the jury’s out on whether or not they have more fun.

The gooey, chocolatey squares we know and love are sometimes thought to have been born out of a pretty fatal baking accident. The story goes that a woman in Maine in the US was trying to make a chocolate cake but left out the baking powder. Not wanting it to go to waste, she cut it into squares and served it anyway, and people have enjoyed eating them ever since.

Turns out that this isn’t quite right either. They were apparently made entirely on purpose: the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago claims a woman called Bertha Palmer asked the pastry chefs at the hotel to come up with snacks for the women in a group she was the head of. She gave them strict instructions that they needed to be able to fit neatly into lunch boxes and so voilà, the brownie was born. Her recipe tops the brownies with walnuts and an apricot glaze, and you can still get them from the hotel to this day.

Caesar salad

Caesar salad
Ceasar salads typically contain chicken, anchovies, croutons and shaved Parmesan.

Going down a bit of a healthier route, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Caesar Salad was a Roman invention in honour of the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar. It was apparently named in honour of someone called Caesar, but not the one who conquered Europe.

It was in fact an Italian immigrant living in Tijuana, Mexico, called Caesar Cardini. He ran a restaurant in the city and was one day running low on quite a lot of ingredients, when suddenly lots of people piled into the restaurant. In a panic, he threw together everything he could lay his hands on, and one of the most famous salads in the world was born.

A brief history of chocolate
Why don’t we all like the same foods?
The takeaway treats that have become national treasures