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Our favorite fast facts about snacks

Did you know that Americans didn’t start eating bananas — perhaps one of the most popular healthy snacks — until the late 19th century? Or that for many years, sailors considered the fruit bad luck? Those are just two of the bite-sized facts about snacks we’ve rounded up from across the website. Which of your favorite spud snacks were created to reduce waste? Which treats have been to space, or might spontaneously combust in transit? Find out these and more noteworthy nuggets below.

Chicken nuggets come in 4 different shapes

Think McDonald’s chicken nuggets shapes develop randomly from the raw pink goo? Think again! The nuggets actually come in four shapes, although they’re all a little rough around the edges: the boot, the bow tie, the ball, and the bell. They come out of a rotating mold and everything. After getting shaped and dropped on a conveyor belt, they’re breaded and slightly cooked before going out to restaurants, where they’ll finish cooking and be served to customers.

Oranges are sold in red bags for a reason

Citrus growers often bundle together bunches of oranges in mesh bags, which you may have noticed are made from red plastic. It’s no coincidence: Red bags against orange peels create an optical illusion that makes the fruit appear more vibrantly hued and enticing. The trick works for other citrus — like mandarins, clementines, tangerines, and even some grapefruit — though not all. Yellow citrus, like lemons, are often sold in yellow or green bags to create a similar color-popping effect.

Froot Loops are all the same flavor

The O’s of Froot Loops come in a variety of fruity colors, as if they each represent a different fruit flavor. However, the color is the only real difference among those O’s, because the flavor is the same throughout the box. You may still taste a difference between the colors, but it’s probably because your vision tells you to expect something different.

Speaking of fruity misconceptions, it’s always been spelled “Froot Loops” — contrary to a popular belief that the name changed because of a lawsuit over the cereal’s lack of real fruit.

Americans didn’t eat bananas until the 1870s

Bananas made their U.S. debut in Philadelphia in 1876, sold to fairgoers attending the Centennial Exhibition (the first world’s fair held in America). For 10 cents, visitors could purchase a foil-wrapped banana and get a taste of a fruit many had never seen before. Today, bananas are one of the most popular fruits among American snackers, who consume an average of 13.2 pounds per personeach year.

Doughnuts cook better because of their holes

Ever wondered why doughnuts have holes? Historians aren't certain why (or when) the doughy centers disappeared, but one theory suggests it may have been to help the pastries cook more evenly. According to food lore, American sailor Hansen Gregory created the doughnut’s modern shape around 1847 while at sea; by his account, doughnuts of the time were twisted or diamond-shaped and often cooked faster on the outside than in the centers. Removing the dense middles helped create uniformly cooked treats that fried quickly and didn’t absorb as much oil.

Potato chips were nearly discontinued during World War II

Ever wondered why doughnuts have holes? Historians aren't certain why (or when) the doughy centers disappeared, but one theory suggests it may have been to help the pastries cook more evenly. According to food lore, American sailor Hansen Gregory created the doughnut’s modern shape around 1847 while at sea; by his account, doughnuts of the time were twisted or diamond-shaped and often cooked faster on the outside than in the centers. Removing the dense middles helped create uniformly cooked treats that fried quickly and didn’t absorb as much oil.

The word ‘Sandwich’ likely came from a royal

John Montagu (1718-1792), the British noble who served as the fourth Earl of Sandwich, was a politician and postmaster. He’s also credited as the inventor of the sandwich. Humans have arguably been combining bread with savory fillings for thousands of years, but Montagu is said to have inspired the dish’s official term. (His noble title, meanwhile, comes from a place name that means “sandy harbor.”) One 18th-century account claimed Montagu popularized sandwiches by requesting sliced meat and bread as a meal so that he could continue gambling, though other accounts say the earl likely also consumed sandwiches while working at his desk. With his title used as a description, sandwiches exploded in popularity throughout Europe, soon served to nobility and civilians alike.

Pistachios can spontaneously combust

t turns out there’s a price to pay for how tasty and nutritious pistachios are: Under the right circumstances, they can spontaneously combust. This beloved nut is especially rich in fat, which is highly flammable. Thankfully, that only becomes a problem when pistachios are packed too tightly during shipping or storage. It’s important to keep the nuts dry lest they become moldy — but if they’re kept too dry and there are too many of them bunched together, they can self-heat and catch fire without an external heat source.

Though exceedingly rare and easy to avoid if the proper instructions are followed, pistachio self-combustion is a real enough concern that the German Transport Information Servicespecifically advises that pistachios “not be stowed together with fibers/fibrous materials as oil-soaked fibers may promote self-heating/spontaneous combustion of the cargo.” Don’t worry, though: It won’t happen in your pantry with just a few bags, which means you can indulge in the shelled snack of your dreams without worrying about their flavor becoming unexpectedly smoky.

Coca-Cola does taste better at McDonald’s

No, it’s not your imagination — Coke actually does taste different (and many would say better) at McDonald’s restaurants. This is largely due to the way it’s packaged. While the actual flavoring is identical to the flavoring at other restaurants, McDonald’s gets its Coke syrup delivered in stainless steel tanks instead of the more common plastic bags, which in turn keeps the syrup fresher. McDonald’s also filtersits water prior to adding it to the soda machines, and calibrates its syrup-to-water ratio to account for melting ice. In addition, McDonald’s utilizes wider straws than normal, allowing more Coke to “hit your taste buds,” according to the company.

Popcorn can pop up to three feet into the air

Popping an afternoon snack of popcorn in the microwave generally isn’t a messy affair, considering most popcorn cooking is contained to a bag. But if it wasn’t, you might have to watch out for flying kernels, since popcorn can pop as high as 3 feet while it transforms from kernel to puff. However, the tiny grains don’t just fly straight skyward as they expand; high-speed recordings of popcorn as it cooks show that the kernels actually flip like a high-flying gymnast, thanks to starches that push off a cooking surface and propel the corn into the air.

The way popcorn transforms from a hard nugget to a soft and springy morsel can seem like magic, except scientists say it’s really just a trick caused by heat and pressure. Each kernel has three parts: the germ (seed) found deep within the shell, the endosperm (a starch section used to nourish the germ if planted), and the pericarp (aka the hard exterior). Moisture and starch are also packed into each tiny kernel; when heated, that microscopic amount of water creates pressurized steam. By the time a popcorn kernel reaches 350 degrees, the pressure is too much to contain and the pericarp explodes, causing the starchy endosperm to expand outward. When the process is finished, the resulting popcorn has puffed up to 40 times its original size.

Jell-O is the official state snack of Utah

Although it wasn’t invented in and isn’t made in Utah, Jell-O has been the official snack of the Beehive State since 2001. Utahns are known to consume more Jell-O per capita than folks anywhere else in the U.S., even rallying to take back the title when Iowa surpassed their consumption in 1999. The state’s reasons for honoring the jiggly gelatin dessert are endearingly wholesome, including it being “representative of good family fun, which Utah is known for throughout the world.” During the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics, an enamel pin shaped like a bowl of green Jell-O became an official souvenir, and is now a coveted collector’s item.

Twinkies got their name from a shoe advertisement

The spongy, cream-filled cakes we call Twinkies were first created in 1930 in an attempt to put unused bakery pans back into production. Creator James Dewar was a manager at the Continental Baking Company outside Chicago, where he noticed the factory’s strawberry shortcake-making equipment sat idle once strawberry season ended. Dewar used the pans to bake small cakes injected with cream fillings, naming his invention Twinkies after seeing a billboard for Twinkle Toe Shoes.

All apples are descended from a single wild ancestor

All varieties of the domestic apples we know and cherish stem from a single wild ancestor, Malus sieversii. Though the apple was originally found in the foothills of the Tien Shan mountains of Central Asia, its seeds may have spread from its native region via birds and bears. Sometime after the fruit's domesticationmore than 4,000 years ago, apples made their way to Europe and beyond by way of pre-Silk Road trading routes. In the early 20th century, Russian biologist Nikolai Vavilov traced the modern apple's origins to the forests outside Almaty, Kazakhstan. Today, the town still celebrates its status as the birthplace of this botanic marvel.

Girl Scouts Cookies originally were homemade

It may be hard to fathom today, given the sheer breadth of the current cookie operation, but Girl Scout Cookies were originally homemade. A troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma, baked and sold the first cookies in a school cafeteria in 1917, and other troops soon followed suit. A few years later in 1922, a Chicago-based magazine called The American Girl published a recipe to be used by Girl Scouts all over the country. It was just a simple sugar cookie containing butter, sugar, milk, eggs, vanilla, flour, and baking powder, but it was a hit with consumers.

Throughout the 1920s, Girl Scout Cookies were baked by troop members with help from their parents and members of the local community. The treats were subsequently packaged in wax paper, sealed with a sticker, and sold for 25 to 35 cents per dozen. It wasn’t until 1934 that the Girl Scouts of Greater Philadelphia Council became the first council to sell commercially baked cookies; within two years, the national organization began licensing the cookie-making process to commercial bakeries.

Oysters can change their sex

It may be hard to fathom today, given the sheer breadth of the current cookie operation, but Girl Scout Cookies were originally homemade. A troop in Muskogee, Oklahoma, baked and sold the first cookies in a school cafeteria in 1917, and other troops soon followed suit. A few years later in 1922, a Chicago-based magazine called The American Girl published a recipe to be used by Girl Scouts all over the country. It was just a simple sugar cookie containing butter, sugar, milk, eggs, vanilla, flour, and baking powder, but it was a hit with consumers.

Throughout the 1920s, Girl Scout Cookies were baked by troop members with help from their parents and members of the local community. The treats were subsequently packaged in wax paper, sealed with a sticker, and sold for 25 to 35 cents per dozen. It wasn’t until 1934 that the Girl Scouts of Greater Philadelphia Council became the first council to sell commercially baked cookies; within two years, the national organization began licensing the cookie-making process to commercial bakeries.

Jelly beans have been to space

What do Neil Armstrong, tortoises, and jelly beans have in common? Why, they’ve all been to space, of course. President Ronald Reagan was known for being a connoisseur of the chewy candy, so much so that he provided the astronauts aboard the Challenger shuttle with a bag full of them in 1983 — a gift that resulted in charming footage of them tossing the jelly beans in zero gravity before happily eating them. Reagan was also known to break the ice at high-level meetings by passing around jelly beans, even commenting that “you can tell a lot about a fella’s character by whether he picks out all of one color or just grabs a handful.”

Grapefruit can interfere with medications

Grapefruits are packed with vitamins and fiber that support heart and gut health, though people who rely on some medications are often warned away from consuming the fruits. That’s because grapefruit juice can affect how medications work. Some drugs, like those for cholesterol and high blood pressure, are metabolized in the body by the

CYP3A4 enzyme found in the small intestine. Grapefruit juice can block that enzyme, which stops the medication from breaking down and causes too much to enter the bloodstream. Other drugs, like fexofenadine (Allegra) for allergies, use proteins called transporters to enter cells in the body; grapefruit juice can block this process and cause too little of the drug to circulate, rendering it ineffective.

One chocolate-making brand created two iconic candies

Chocolate bars are today a candy aisle standard, and a far departure from the earliest chocolate blocks. While bitter and naturally oily chocolate was commonly shaped into bricksduring the 18th and 19th centuries, it was sold as an ingredient meant for cooking, not as a stand-alone confection. J. S. Fry & Sons, a British chocolate maker, is credited with molding the world’s first chocolate bar meant for eating in 1847, sweetening the confection with sugar. Nearly three decades later, the Fry brand released the first known hollow chocolate Easter eggs.

Tater Tots were invented to reduce waste

If Tater Tots are your favorite fast-food side, you have the ingenuity of two brothers — Golden and Francis Nephi Grigg — to thank. However, when the pair invented the crispy potato composites in the 1950s, they didn’t set out to change snack food history. Instead, their potato creation came from a quest to reduce the amount of food waste produced at their frozen foods plant.

Before becoming successful spud salesmen, Golden and Francis sold frozen corn. Around 1949, they decided to diversify into other fruits and vegetables, and converted a factory in Ontario, Oregon (on the border with Idaho), into a potato-processing plant they were later able to purchase. In 1952, the Griggs launched the Ore-Ida brand, which became popular for its frozen french fries.

The downside to booming french fry sales, however, was the waste left behind. Initially, the Griggs sold vegetable byproducts to farmers as livestock feed, but they soon looked for a way to nourish humans instead. They began experimenting with chopping up the potato scraps, mixing them with flour and spices, then shaping the result into a rectangle with the help of a homemade plywood mold. The first Tater Tots — named, by one account, after an employee won a contest by suggesting “tater” for potato and “tot” for small — debuted in 1956.

Apple Pie actually is from England

This quintessentially American dish actually hails from England, with one of the first known recipes appearing in the late-14th-century manuscript The Forme of Cury. Arriving in the New World with European settlers, the dessert was well known within the borders of the nascent United States by the late 1700s, as evidenced by the presence of two recipes in the 1796 cookbook American Cookery. By the mid-1900s, the combination of advertising and war-fueled patriotism had embedded the "American as apple pie" concept in popular culture.

Some breakfast cereal is magnetic

It’s incredibly common for cereal to be fortified with extra vitamins and minerals, including iron. Just like any other iron — whether it’s in a skillet or a fence — the iron added to breakfast cereal is magnetic. Cereals with a lot of iron in them (like fortified cornflakes) even react to magnets when they’re floating in liquid. While the iron in some whole cereal is enough to be magnetic on its own, for a more in-depth, science fair-style experiment, you could try crushing up cereal and seeing how much pure iron you can pull out of it.

Most of the world’s chocolate comes from two African nations

While cacao trees are native to parts of South America, most of the world’s commercial crop is grown in Africa. Most farms are located within 10 degrees north and south of the equator, where the finicky trees have access to rainforest-like conditions for consistent temperatures, high humidity, and regular rainfall. Côte d'Ivoire and Ghana are the world’s leading cacao producers; farmers there grow more than half of the world’s chocolate supply, all of which must be harvested by hand.

Sailors once believed that bananas were bad luck

Transporting bruisable, temperature-sensitive bananas by boat was no easy feat hundreds of years ago, which could be how sailors became wary of bringing the fruit aboard. Many fishermen and sailors believed that having bananas on a ship invited bad luck, leading to accidents, broken equipment, and a reduction in the number of fish caught. While the origin of the superstition is unclear, some believe it could have started after crew members got sick from eating spoiled bananas or skidded on the slippery peels.

Some popular nuts are not nuts

Botanically speaking, a nut is a fruit with a hard shell containing a single seed. The true nuts you might encounter in the produce aisle include hazelnuts and chestnuts. Many of the products sold as “culinary nuts” belong to other botanical classifications. Cashews, almonds, and pistachios are drupes, a type of fruit with thin skin and a pit containing the seed. (Peaches, mangos, cherries, and olives are also drupes.) And the jury is still out on whether walnuts and pecans fall into the nut or drupe category, since they have characteristics of both. Some botanists call them drupaceous nuts.

Jell-O used to be food for the elite

The moldable treat we’re familiar with today wasn’t always affordable fare for the masses. At one time, its key ingredient — gelatin — was difficult to come by, making any gelatin-rich dish a symbol of wealth and social standing. What’s more, the earliest gelatin dishes weren’t post-dinner treats; in medieval Europe, cooks used gelatin to preserve meats in aspics, making savory jellies similar to modern head cheeses. Extracting gelatin back then was time-intensive: Cooks spent days boiling animal bones and byproducts, then straining the liquid before letting it set into its gelatinous state. This lengthy, involved process meant that gelatin dishes were rarely served at the dinner tables of everyday folks who didn’t employ kitchen staff.

Gelatin’s status as a high-class delicacy would only last a few centuries. Peter Cooper, an inventor who also designed the first American steam locomotive, created a “portable gelatin” in 1845 that was easily reconstituted with hot water. But Cooper was uninterested in marketing his invention, and his gelatin was largely ignored. His creation was eventually sold to a New York cough syrup manufacturer, who added fruit flavors and branded it with its Jell-O name in 1897. By the early 20th century, Jell-O ads promoted the dessert as a low-cost, high-society wonder, and the Great Depression and World War II solidified Jell-O’s versatility as a budget- and rations stretcher — a reputation that has carried on for more than 100 years.

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