10 Weird-but-true Food Facts


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A Food by Any Other Name
Chinese gooseberry just doesn't have the same ring as a Kiwi kiwifruits. Neil Farrin/AWL Images/Getty Images

Foods are known by many names. Some refer to subtle distinctions, as coriander and cilantro refer to the seeds and the vegetative pieces, respectively, of the Coriandrum sativum plant. Others might reveal cases of mistaken identity, as when many Americans each Thanksgiving mislabel sweet potatoes as yams, when in fact they are two separate plants [source: North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission].

Then there are those foods that assume new monikers for marketing purposes. Canola (a portmanteau of "Canada " and "ola" for oil) is actually a specially bred rapeseed oil rebranded to avoid negative associations with the word "rape" (rape, or Brassica napus, is a plant in the mustard family) and possibly to distance it from earlier versions of rapeseed oil, which were toxic to humans [source: Mikkelson]. Kiwifruit is not from New Zealand at all -- it's a Chinese gooseberry rebranded by exporters to avoid negative associations in Cold War American markets. It's also not a gooseberry, so it's just as well that they changed its label [source: Ministry for Culture and Heritage].

The Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) was renamed "Chilean sea bass" to better whet customer appetites and was so successful that it now faces overfishing, despite not being a sea bass at all [source: Fabricant]. For similar reasons, restaurant customers now know the "slimehead" (Hoplostethus atlanticus) as the far more appealing "orange roughy" [source: Allen].

A rose is a rose is a rose, but cheap hake sells better as scarlet snapper [source: Jacquet and Pauly].

Author's Note: 10 Weird-but-True Food Facts

We live in a time of fascinating food extremes, from factory farms to local food movements. Food deserts, climate change and regional water crises, to say nothing of livestock treatment and health issues, have moved food shopping in the industrialized world into the realms of ethics and social justice.

In the past, population numbers like the ones we now know were considered impossible. Scientific advancements such as nitrogen fixing helped to stave off a looming food crisis in the early part of the 20th century, and economists today tout the power of technology to conquer hunger. Yet a planetary calorie ceiling is inevitable, and long before we reach it we might find ourselves eating far less socially palatable foods than mere maggoty cheese. Food for thought.

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