Food History


If you have a genuine interest in food then this section is both fun and informative. Here we take a light-hearted look at little-known stories behind some of the popular foods of today. Enjoy!


Did you know?…..that the Spanish carried pineapples on long sea voyages to avoid scurvy, a disease caused by deficiency of vitamin C. They were said to be introduced to the Caribbean when washed ashore form the wrecks of Spanish ships. When Christopher Columbus made his second trip to the Caribbean in 1493, he called the pineapple the “pine of the Indies”, as it resembled a pine cone. The “apple” part was added to the name when it was introduced to England, to make the association with that particularly popular fruit.


Did you know?…..that although asparagus has always grown wild on the seashores and river banks of Southern Europe, it was first cultivated by the Romans. It has always been considered an aphrodisiac, probably due to its shape and the way it is eaten, indeed Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour only ate asparagus tips and egg yolks (with the occasional dish of truffles, celery leaves and vanilla), for that very reason. You may notice a strong smell in your urine after eating asparagus; everybody produces the chemical methyl mercaptan in response, some just can’t smell it!o England, to make the association with that particularly popular fruit.


Did you know?…..that the humble pea was first grown for food in prehistory and probably in India as its name is Sanskrit. In the fifth century BC, the Greeks were making “pease porridge, beautiful and brown” and peas became a staple part of the everyday diet as a cheap and nutritious ingredient for the poor. They had an image change in the seventeenth century French court of Louis XIV and it was written at the time “this subject of peas continues to absorb all others. The anxiety to eat them, the pleasure of having eaten them and the desire to eat them again, are the three great matters that have been discussed by our princes for four days. Some the risk of suffering digestion will again eat peas before going to bed. It is both a fashion and a madness.” Maybe that explains why they are the only greens some people will eat.


Did you know?…..that there is a historical reason why the pepper that we grind up and season dishes with has the same name as a seemingly unrelated green, red or yellow vegetable of the capsicum family. Peppercorns come from a very different plant, a vine that can grow up to 9 metres high. When Columbus was anchored in what is now Haiti, he was convinced that he had found the Spice Islands off the coast of India, so any fiery vegetable used as a seasoning was assumed to be pepper and he brought them back, claiming them to be another variety to that previously used. He also found them in Mexico and when Cortes and his Spanish army arrived they named them after the Spanish word for pepper pimiento. This word was now applied to the whole of the capsicum family, except the one that had caused the confusion in the first place which was given its Aztec name; chilli.


Did you know?…..that carrots as we know them are only a relatively recent addition to our diets? The orange variety is actually the yellow crossed with the purple and it is very debatable when this occurred, maybe even as late as the 14th century. Until then, the carrot’s small, pale and tough ancestor was small and bumpy and described in c.694 BC as “bitter”, hardly like our present carrot with its very sweet taste. Popularity of the cultivated form spread as the feathery tops of the vegetable were used as decoration on hats and clothes in the Elizabethan court. The English still regarded this purple version as a medicinal aid and herb though, and it was the Dutch who bred the sweet, orange variety. In fact the high sugar content that makes them so popular with the modern, sweet palette was the last inclusion, as in a 1824 cookbook, blanching was recommended “to take off the tart taste”.


Did you know?…..the name avocado comes from the Aztec word ahuacatl, or “testicle tree”! They are actually a fruit and have always had a reputation as an aphrodisiac, though whether this is just related to their name remains a mystery. Columbus discovered them and centuries later were being called “midshipman’s butter” and being given to junior officers aboard ships. They took a long time to become popular in Europe, mainly through difficulty in growing from seed in a cold climate. In his book Vegetables, Colin Spencer says that he ate his first after reading that James Bond ate one in Casino Royale. They were still considered very exotic in the fifties in Britain, only being seen in upmarket grocers in the 1930s.Today, Israel exports almost 100,000 and there are trees in Mexico that are over 150 years old.