Can you imagine a world without coffee or chocolate chip cookies? From coffee to chocolate chip cookies to nachos, some of the world’s best food and beverages were completely discovered by accident. Thanks to human luck or divine intervention, these famous foods have achieved iconic status in the food industry. These food items are loved by everyone and are easily available everywhere around us. Here is a list of the top ten famous food items discovered by mistake and their interesting backstory.
1. Coffee – Coffee was discovered in the 9th century by a goat herder named Kaldi. He found his goats frolicking and full of energy after eating the red fruit of the coffee shrub. He tried some of them himself and was soon acting as hyper as his herd.
This world-famous brew can be traced back to the ancient coffee forests on the Ethiopian Plateau. An Ethiopian coffee herder named Kaldi discovered the magic beans. He noticed his goats being hyperactive and refused to sleep after eating certain berries. After trying some for himself, he too experienced the same symptoms. He reported his finding to the seer of a local monastery.
The monks brewed a concoction from the berries and found that it kept them alert for long hours of prayer. Soon, word began to spread about the magic beans and the plantation owners in the Arabian Peninsula started cultivating coffee. Around the 16th century, coffee made its presence felt in Persia, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey. Then coffee made its way into Europe carried there by travelers in the 17th century.
It was dubbed as the “bitter invention of Satan” by the people and local clergy in Venice. The controversy surrounding the drink reached such a peak that Pope Clement VII had to intervene. He tasted the brew himself and awarded it a “papal approval” after he liked its taste. The brew started replacing traditional breakfast beverages such as wine and beer. It was preferred by people as it imparted a feeling of alertness. By the 18th century, coffee had become one of the world’s highest money-making export crops. It is the most sought after commodity in the world after crude oil. (source)
2. Splenda – In 1976, Sucralose (Splenda) was discovered when a scientist at a British college misheard instructions about testing a substance. Instead, he tasted it and realized that it was highly sweet.
The artificial sweetener was an accidental discovery made by researchers at the Tate & Lyle and Queen Elizabeth College, University of London. In 1976, the British sugar company, Tate & Lyle, was exploring new ways to blend sugar with laboratory chemicals. The research was carried out in collaboration with Professor Leslie Hough’s laboratory at Queen’s College. She halogenated sugars and placed a request for “testers” to experiment with the compound.
However, a foreign graduate student, Shashikant Phadnis, misheard the request as “tasters.” He sampled the sugar compound and found it to be three hundred times sweeter than sugar. Soon, word began to spread about the sweet discovery. Canada became the first country to approve the use of Splenda in 1991. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted American marketing approval in 1998.
Shortly after its approval, Johnson & Johnson purchased the rights to develop sucralose in the United States as a commercially available product and started marketing the product aggressively. Today, it is the most recognizable and iconic low-calorie sweetener brand in the world. It has sold more than 100 billion yellow packets since its launch. (source)
3. Yogurt – Around 6,000 BCE, Neolithic peoples of Central Asia were also herdsmen. They began the practice of milking their animals. The natural enzymes in the carrying containers (made from animal stomachs) curdled the milk, essentially making yogurt.
The creamy goodness was discovered accidentally as a result of milk being stored by simple methods in tropical regions. The word “yogurt” is derived from the Turkish language and was discovered by Neolithic peoples of Central Asia. The herdsmen left the milk in the carrying containers made of animal stomachs that contained natural enzymes. The enzymes activated by warm temperatures curdled the milk making it into a thick, creamy consistency.
The yogurt was preferred by the people due to its enhanced taste, texture, and longer storage period. It is recorded in history that Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire, and his army thrived on yogurt. They consumed yogurt during their invasions to ward off stomach infections.
The benefits of yogurt began to spread, and it was soon made commercially available. It was produced on a large scale by Isaac Carasso in 1919 in Barcelona under his company Danone. The company was instrumental in popularising the yogurt in the United States. Moreover, many brands cashed in on the healthy trend by offering the yogurt in various forms such as yogurt with fruits, fruit-flavor-infused yogurts, and frozen yogurts. (source)
4. Tea – The history of tea began in 2737 BCE when the Emperor Shen Nong accidentally discovered tea. While boiling water in the garden, a leaf from an overhanging wild tea tree drifted into his pot.
This miracle brew has its origin in ancient China. The legendary Emperor of China Shen Nong, also the inventor of agriculture and Chinese medicine, discovered tea. Around 2737 BCE, the emperor was boiling a pot of water for drinking when few leaves were blown from a nearby tree into his pot. The leaves changed the color and the taste of the water. The emperor was blown away by the taste and restorative property of the brew and recommended it to his subjects.
Tea was considered as a medicinal drink during the Shang Dynasty in the Yunnan Region. The drink finds prominence in the medical text written by Hua Tuo, a Chinese physician who lived during the 3rd century CE. The tea became a rage in China that during the late eighth century. A writer called Lu Yu wrote the first book entirely about tea, the Ch’a Ching or Tea Classic. The Chinese began trading their prized commodity to other countries via the “Silk Road” into India.
During the 17th century, the British East India Company introduced tea in India, Britain, and Europe to break China’s trade monopoly over tea. In order to preserve its freshness and taste during its long journey, the traders discovered the popular “black tea.” Various varieties of tea such as green, black, white, Oolong, Pu’er, and yellow tea are obtained from the same plant, the Camellia sinensis. The plant is native to China and is one of the drinks that more than half the world has come to love. (source)
5. Popsicle – In 1905, eleven-year-old Frank Epperson left a cup filled with powdered soda, water, and a stirring stick on his San Francisco porch. That night, low temperatures caused the mixture to freeze, and the result was originally named “Eppsicles.”
Popsicles were originally named “Eppsicles” after their eleven-year-old founder Frank Epperson who left a cup filled with soda water and a stirring stick on his porch. The low temperatures caused the soda mixture to freeze onto the stirring stick giving birth to the world famous “Popsicles,” or should we say “Eppsicles.” In 1922, an enthusiastic Epperson debuted his invention at a fireman’s ball, and the “Eppsicles” were sold out in a jiffy.
Later in 1923, he began selling the frozen pops to the public at Neptune Beach, an amusement park in Alameda, California. Shortly afterward, he applied for a patent for “frozen ice on a stick” called the “Epsicle ice pop.” His children persuaded him to rechristen his invention to “Popsicles”. He partnered with the Joe Lowe Company of New York to distribute the yummy treats all over the country.
The food giant Unilever acquired the Popsicle brand in 1989, expanding the brand beyond its original fruity flavors. Over the years, the Popsicle has achieved an iconic status of a frozen, summertime treat. It is popular among both kids and adults. (source)
6. Potato Chips – George Crum invented potato chips after customers kept complaining his French fries were too thick and soggy. In an effort to teach the customers a lesson, he sliced the potatoes really thin. He fried them to a crisp and heavily salted them. The customers loved them and the potato chip was born.
In 1853, the world’s famous snack potato chips were invented by George Crum, an African-American chef at the Moon Lake Lodge resort in Saratoga Springs, New York, USA. The story goes that the restaurant was famous for its French fries. On a particular day, a grumpy restaurant complained that the fries were too thick and soggy. Although the chef made a new batch with thinner fries, the customer remained unsatisfied.
After having enough from the customer, the chef finally made fries that were too thin to eat with a fork, hoping to annoy the extremely fussy customer. However, the customer was pleasantly surprised and loved the chef’s new invention. The chips were initially known as “Saratoga chips” and later came to be known as “potato chips.” The crisps were packaged and sold all over the world without giving him any credit as it was illegal for African Americans to apply for a patent.
In 1895, the manufacturer William Tappendon mass-produced and marketed the chips in Cleveland, Ohio. A salesman, Herman Lay, sold the famous potato chips “Lays” in the southern USA from the trunk of his car in the 1920s. Laura Scudder invented a wax paper bag in 1926 to keep the potato chips fresh and crisp. (source)
7. Beer – In the 5th century BCE, beer was accidentally discovered by ancient Mesopotamians while making bread. They had accidentally left the barley grains in a damp room that co-mingled with some wild yeast and fermented.
Dating back to 5th millennium BCE in Iran, beer is considered as one of the oldest drinks in the world. It finds prominence in the history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia and spread throughout the world. The ancient Egyptian documented the brewing process on papyrus scrolls around 5,000 BCE when beer used during religious ceremonies. The pharaoh was instrumental in directing the brewing schedule and its distribution to the masses.
The Mesopotamians are considered to be the pioneers of brewing. They left behind malted barley scraps and bowls with a beer-like a residue. The historians have determined the residue to be the remains of a grain porridge. The porridge had been fermented naturally with wild yeast found in the air. The brew imparted an intoxicating effect to the consumer, and the process was repeated giving rise to the brewing process.
Modern beer was born during the early middle ages with malted barley as the primary source. Today, the beer brewing industry is a global business with several multinational companies and smaller breweries churning out regional favorites. More than 133 billion liters of beer are sold each year and brings in revenue of $294.5 billion every year. (source)
8. Chocolate chip cookies – In 1938, Ruth Wakefield invented the chocolate chip cookie by accident, expecting the chunks of chocolate to melt. However, the substituted Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate in place of baker’s chocolate did not melt giving rise to gorgeous cookies.
The sweet treats were invented by baker Ruth Wakefield at her restaurant when she ran out baker’s chocolate. To make up for the missing ingredient, she substituted with Nestlé’s semisweet chocolate bars. The chopped up chocolate bars failed to melt during the baking process. The chips softened and gave rise to the accidental discovery of the Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie.
As the popularity of the sweet discovery began to spread, the sale of Nestlé’s semi-sweet chocolate bars increased. The baker ultimately sold the recipe to Andrew Nestle from the Nestlé Chocolate Company. She was, in turn, provided a lifetime supply of Nestlé chocolate. The company began printing the Toll House Cookie recipe on its chocolate chip bags.
On July 9, 1997, to honor the cookie’s creation, the state of Massachusetts designated the chocolate chip cookie as the Official State Cookie. The world-famous cookie is often considered as a comfort food accompanied by a glass of fresh milk. The fat particles in milk are known to enhance the taste of sugar in the cookies giving it a smoother texture. (source)
9. Ice cream cones – The ice cream cone was invented at the 1904 World’s Fair by a vendor named Ernest A Hamwi. When an ice cream vendor ran out of ice cream cups, Hamwi toyed with wafer-like waffles and rolled it into a cone. Thus, the ice cream cone was invented.
Before the invention of cones, ice cream was served out of glass bowls and paper cups. In 1904, Ernest A. Hamwi introduced a waffle-like pastry, “Zalabis,” at a booth next to an ice cream vendor at the St. Louis World’s Fair. The story goes that the ice cream vendor ran out of paper dishes, and Hamwi offered to help him out by rolling his wafer-like waffles in the shape of a cone.
The ice cream served on the crispy cone was a hit among the crowd, and many vendors followed suit. Italo Marchiony is credited with creating the first ice cream cone in 1896 and was granted a patent for the same in December 1903. In 1910, Hamwi founded the Missouri Cone Company and started selling cones to various vendors.
In 1924, the cone production reached an all-time high by creating a record sales of $245 million. As technology improved, modern machines are capable of producing about 150,000 cones each day. (source)
10. Nachos – Nachos were discovered during WWII by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya. When she could not locate the cook, she combined neat canapés of tortilla chips, cheese, and jalapeño peppers to satiate the taste buds of the wives of American military officers.
The famous Mexican comfort dish is comprised of tortilla chips topped with cheese and jalapeños. The iconic dish was accidentally discovered by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya in 1943. The original dish originated in the city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. The story goes that wives of U.S. soldiers stationed at Fort Duncan in nearby Eagle Pass were on a shopping trip in Piedras Negras. After a long day of shopping, the women arrived at the restaurant and demanded a snack.
The head chef, Ignacio Anaya, failed to locate the cook. He invented a new snack for the hungry wives by frying some tortillas cut into the shape of triangles. Then he proceeded to top the fried corn chips with shredded cheese and passed them into a hot air oven. Finally, he topped the melted cheese with sliced, pickled jalapeño peppers and served it to them.
The dish was a hit among the women and became popular all over the country. Many customers flocked to the restaurant to sample the dish. In 1976, a modified version of the dish was marketed by Frank Liberto. He debuted it during Texas Rangers baseball games at Arlington Stadium in Arlington, Texas. To honor the inventor, October 21 was declared as the “International Day of the Nacho.” (source)