The history of food is a long and winding one. Sometimes the names they acquire along the way can seem a little odd. Where's the corn in that corned beef? Are fries really from France? Here, we look at some foods that aren’t quite what they might first appear.
Though the term naturally relates to Jewish dietary requirements, it is not the salt itself that is considered kosher. Rather, this type is the large, rough-grained variety required for the process of "koshering." To render meat truly kosher, the blood must be removed before cooking. Salt is rubbed into it when raw to draw out the liquid by osmosis. This method has the added benefit of killing bacteria and preserving the flesh. You can see the difference between koshering salt and ordinary table salt in the larger size and uneven shape of its grains.
Russian dressing is a pink sauce that can be served with salads or sandwiches — especially the Reuben. Despite its name, the dressing was first popularized in America in the early 20th century when it was manufactured and distributed by James Colburn, a caterer from New Hampshire. Though its name is now used almost interchangeably with 1000 Island dressing — a mixture of mayonnaise and tomato ketchup — the original “Russian” recipe called for sour cream, tomato, horseradish and, crucially, caviar. The association of this latter ingredient with the Eurasian motherland anchored the name in the American mind.
Refried beans — is there anything they can't do? As utterly delicious as they are, the English name of this popular dish is based on a mistranslation. Though the prefix "re-" in English suggests a repeated action — as in "rerun" and "reform" — in Spanish it is a form of emphasis: the action has been done thoroughly. So, the frying, or "frito," is not done twice, it's done more. "Frijoles refritos" does not mean "refried beans," but rather something like "well-fried beans." Some of us don't care too much how they're made just so long as they keep on coming.
No corn here. Like kosher salt, corned beef takes its name from its method of preparation. Before modern refrigeration, many methods were dreamed up for preserving meat — including spicing, drying, pickling and potting (popular in Britain, real potted meat is quite different from the stuff in cans). As for corned beef, one of the many — and oldest — definitions of "corn" in the Oxford English Dictionary is as "a small hard particle, a grain, as of sand or salt." The word "corn" comes from the same root in Old English as "kernel" and "grain." This method, then, involved packing or covering the beef or pork in large, rough "corns of salt" to chemically preserve it. Corned beef was popular in the trenches of the First World War where it was called "bully beef" — a corruption of bouilli boeuf or "boiled beef."
Another food finding favor with the troops during World War I was the French fry — or the Belgian fry, as it probably ought to be known. American troops stationed in the Meuse Valley in Belgium — where locals had been frying chipped potatoes since the 17th century —— enjoyed the local staple so much, they very soon began to make their own. Because the Belgians spoke French, the soldiers called them "French fries" — the alliteration probably helped the name stick too. Another, somewhat questionable, story claims they were introduced to the United States by Thomas Jefferson. Though they are unlikely to be French, whether you call them fries, patatas fritas, sültkrumpli, pommes frites, frytki or chips, they are undeniably irresistible.
Though some farmers do pick carrots early to sell to specialist markets — you can usually tell these because the green stalks are left on — most bagged “baby” carrots are anything but immature. The small, peeled snacks are created from larger carrots that have been chopped short and reshaped to create the bitesize version. They were first created in 1986 by Californian farmer Mike Yurosek in an attempt to reduce the amount of waste crop he lost to misshapen or broken vegetables. At first, he experimented with different shapes, but finally settled on the now familiar baby carrot — an instant hit with consumers. Vastly reducing the amount of waste a farm produced, the baby carrot was also a game-changer for the industry.
Despite their name these Chinese delicacies are — you may be relieved to hear — nowhere near as old as they sound. Century (or, sometimes, millennium) eggs are preserved but this process takes weeks rather than years. Dating back to the medieval Ming dynasty, they are most often chicken, duck or quail eggs. Traditionally, they were soaked in a solution of salt, lime and ash before being wrapped in rice husks. This latter part of the process leaves tree-like patterns on the surface giving them their Chinese name, songhua dan, or "pine-patterned egg." These days, a mixture of brine, calcium hydroxide and sodium carbonate and an airtight plastic wrapping replaces the old method. The process turns the yolk green and gives it a creamy texture while the white goes dark brown and gelatinous. According to bestedu.com, during preparation, "the pH of the egg raises [and] the chemical process breaks down some of the proteins and fats into smaller, more complex flavours." The resulting creamy, cheese-like texture is offset by serving them with pickled ginger root.