8 American food favorites you didn’t know had fascinating origin stories

What makes a food iconic? The taste? The size? The fun commercial jingle that sometimes comes with it? Chances are you can’t go through an entire day without seeing at least one ultra-famous brand name, even if you never leave your house. Here’s a look at the history of eight brands and how they became so iconic.

1. Spam

On July 5, 1937, the Austin and Minnesota-based company, Hormel introduced Spam to the world and with hindsight, we see that its release couldn’t have been more timely. Spam skyrocketed in popularity during WWII as there was little meat to go around and the meat didn’t have to be refrigerated. It was also a staple for US troops. The US military started shipping it around the world, and the canned pork product was on its way to gaining an international following. Now Spam is a staple of Hawaiian cuisine and it’s also a symbol of cultural pride for many Filipino and Korean-Americans.

Spam skyrocketed in popularity during WWII.

2. Coca-Cola

The inventor of the famous drink was Dr. John Pemberton of Atlanta. He originally called it “Pemberton’s French Wine Coca” when it was first made in 1885. Among other things it contained cocaine and kola nut, and was originally used as a cough syrup. Pemberton shortened the name to the much simpler Coca-Cola in 1886, but cocaine extract continued to be included in the drink until 1905. Now Coca-Cola is available for purchase virtually everywhere in the world except for Cuba and North Korea.

Coca-Cola used to contain cocaine.

3. Kellogg’s Corn Flakes 

In 1876, brothers John and Will Kellogg began running the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. Not too long after its erection, it became a world famous place for those seeking wellness, seeing around In 1876, brothers John and Will Kellogg began running the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan. Breakfast foods of the time were incredibly greasy and difficult to digest – especially for the very ill. As a result, the brothers experimented with foods that could be digested easier by their patients, eventually creating Corn Flakes. The brothers fell out and Will left the sanitarium, eventually forming the Kellogg’s Cereal Company. Now even Queen Elizabeth loves it.

Corn Flakes were invented as an easily digestible breakfast for sick people.

4. Kraft macaroni 

Probably the most iconic blue box in American history was introduced by Kraft to a grateful public in 1937, in the midst of the Great Depression. A single box could serve a family of four for just 19 cents. With the incumbent World War II further limiting meat and dairy supplies, many families came to love the stuff. Now Whether you call it Kraft Mac & Cheese or just Kraft Dinner, it’s a North American mainstay.

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese was introduced to America during the Great Depression.

5. Heinz Ketchup 

Way back in 1852, eight-year-old Henry John Heinz started selling his mom’s leftover vegetables out of her garden to neighbors in Pittsburgh. By age 15, he started manufacturing and selling horseradish. Associated condiments like vinegar, sauerkraut and pickles came next. It wasn’t until 1876 that ketchup first appeared. I bet you couldn’t even imagine a world without ketchup now.

John Heinz started out by selling leftover vegetables from his mom's garden.

6. Twinkies 

In 1930, baker James Dewar of the Continental Baking Company in Schiller Park, Illinois, created the first Twinkies. These were made with unused shortbread pans and banana cream fillings coupled with light buttery vanilla sponge cake to make “magic”. As World War II came around, banana imports disappeared, and Continental switched to vanilla cream – a cream we’ve all come to know and love. In the 80-plus years that have passed since Twinkies were introduced, the brand has withstood everything from being used as an alleged legal defence in a murder trial, to Hostess’ 2012 bankruptcy. Somehow, the golden cream-filled piece of the American dream has survived it all. Legend has it that it can survive a nuclear strike.

Twinkies used to be filled with banana cream.

7. Hershey’s chocolate

The creator of this American favorite goes by the name Milton Hershey. At his third attempt at a confectionery company: the Lancaster Caramel Company of Philadelphia, Hershey originally sold caramels before chocolate, in 1886. These caramels stood out because they were made with fresh milk, and the candy-buying public went wild. It wasn’t until 1893 that he saw people enjoyed caramels covered in chocolate and the Hershey’s Chocolate Company was born. Now you can’t go anywhere without finding a Hershey’s product for sale today. From Cadbury to York Peppermint Patties, the company practically owns the candy aisle in every store.

Milton Hershey started out manufacturing caramels before chocolate.

8. Pop Tarts 

Kellogg’s launched Pop Tarts in 1964. Post beat them to the punch with a product called Country Squares – but the company kept trying to perfect their product in the lab after announcing it to the world. It wasn’t long until Kellogg’s launched its “Fruit Scones” product, and soon renamed them “Pop Tarts.” The name was inspired by Andy Warhol’s pop art movement — and the humble toaster pastry soon delighted both kids and adults everywhere. Now there’s always some kind of limited edition flavor popping up.

Pop Tarts were named after Andy Warhol's pop art movement.

Did you find this insightful, or did this just make you really hungry? For me… it was kind of both. With people leaning towards a more health-conscious diet, it will be interesting to see what these brands will do next to adapt. Vegan pop tarts, anyone?

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