10 Weird-but-true Food Facts

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.

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • Allen, Vanessa. "'Pilchards' and 'Slimehead' Fish Renamed to Boost Popularity." The Daily Mail. Sept. 24, 2007. (April 7, 2015) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-483457/Pilchards-slimehead-fish-renamed-boost-popularity.html#ixzz3WegxPySX
  • BBC. "Stop Eating Cats and Dogs Say Animal Rights Campaigners in Switzerland." Nov. 26, 2014. (April 6, 2015) http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/30205410
  • Borrell, Brendan. "The Great Canadian Maple Syrup Heist." Bloomberg. Jan. 2, 2013. (April 24, 2015) http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2013-01-02/the-great-canadian-maple-syrup-heist
  • CNN. "Doctors Untangle the Strange Case of the Giant Hairball." Nov. 22, 2007. (April 6, 2015) http://www.cnn.com/2007/HEALTH/11/21/hairball.case/index.html?iref=24hours
  • Coleman, Korva. "Burning Cheese Closes Norwegian Road for Days." NPR. Jan. 23, 2013. (April 6, 2016) http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/01/23/170057690/burning-cheese-closes-norwegian-road-for-days
  • Fabricant, Florence. "Chilean Sea Bass: More Than an Identity Problem." The New York Times. May 29, 2002. (April 7, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2002/05/29/dining/chilean-sea-bass-more-than-an-identity-problem.html
  • Gowda, Mahesh et al. "An Unusual Case of Xylophagia (Paper-Eating)." Industrial Psychiatry Journal. Vol. 23, no. 1. Page 65. Jan-Jun 2014. (April 7, 2015) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4261218/
  • Grant, Jon E. and Brian L. Odlaug. "Clinical Characteristics of Trichotillomania with Trichophagia." Comprehensive Psychiatry. Vol. 49, no. 6. Page 579. (April 7, 2015) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2605948/
  • Heater, Brian. "From Ballistic Gelatin to Mummy Confection: The Grossest Recipes of Mary Roach." Wired. April 2, 2013. (April 24, 2015) http://www.wired.com/2013/04/recipes-mary-roach/
  • History Group of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage (Ministry for Culture and Heritage). "Chinese Gooseberry Becomes Kiwifruit: 15 June 1959." Sept. 2, 2014. (April 7, 2015) http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/the-chinese-gooseberry-becomes-the-kiwifruit
  • Horrible Histories. "Mellified Man." (April 6, 2015) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hwJ9BozZnE
  • Jacquet, Jennifer L. and Daniel Pauly. "Trade Secrets: Renaming and Mislabeling of Seafood." Marine Policy. Vol. 32. Page 309. 2008. (April 7, 2015) http://www.seattlecentral.edu/faculty/kgagnon/OCE100/TRADE%20SECRETS%20Marine%20food%20mislabel-%20Daniel.pdf
  • Lee, Bill. "Hydrodyne Exploding Meat Tenderness." AgResearch Magazine. U.S. Department of Agriculture. June 1998. (April 6, 2015) http://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/1998/jun/hydr/
  • Levin, David. "Tour the Tongue." NOVA ScienceNOW. June 6, 2009. (April 7, 2015) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/tongue-taste.html
  • Manejwala, Omar. "What Really Causes Pregnancy Cravings?" Psychology Today. June 11, 2013. (April 6, 2015) https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/craving/201306/what-really-causes-pregnancy-cravings
  • Marano, Daniel A. "When It Comes to Taste, Your Nose Knows More Than Your Tongue." Dec. 26, 2012. (April 7, 2015) http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/2012-12-26/health/fl-jjps-taste-1226-20121226_1_flavors-taste-buds-smell
  • Migliaccio, Alessandra and Flavia Rotondi. "In Italy, Parmesan is as Good as Money." Bloomberg. Aug. 16, 2009. (April 6, 2015) http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2009/08/16/in_italy_parmesan_is_as_good_as_money/
  • Mikkelson, Barbara. "Oil of OlĂ©." Snopes.com. Aug. 26, 2103. (April 7, 2015) http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/canola.asp
  • Miller, Greg. "The Crazy, Ingenious Plan to Bring Hippopotamus Ranching to America." Wired. Dec. 20, 2013. (April 6, 2015) http://www.wired.com/2013/12/hippopotamus-ranching/
  • North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission. "What is The Difference Between a Sweet Potato and a Yam?" (April 7, 2015) http://www.ncsweetpotatoes.com/sweet-potatoes-101/difference-between-yam-and-sweet-potato/
  • Oldfield, Molly and John Mitchinson. "QI: Some Quite Interesting Facts About Cheese." The Telegraph (UK). Oct. 17, 2012. (April 6, 2015) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/qi/9615739/QI-Some-quite-interesting-facts-about-cheese.html
  • Reuters. "Christmas Customs Different in Many Lands." Chicago Daily Tribune. Dec. 25, 1957. (April 6, 2015) http://archives.chicagotribune.com/1957/12/25/page/14/article/christmas-customs-different-in-many-lands
  • Roach, Mary. "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers." Norton. 2004.
  • Schworm, Peter. "Nearly a Century Later, Structural Flaw in Molasses Tank Revealed." The Boston Globe. Jan. 14, 2015. (April 24, 2015) http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/01/14/nearly-century-later-new-insight-into-cause-great-molasses-flood/CNqLYc0T58kNo3MxP872iM/story.html
  • Sirletti, Sonia and Francesca Cinelli. "Credito Emiliano Falls on Estimate for Higher Costs." Bloomberg. April 11, 2014. (April 6, 2015) http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-04-11/credem-chief-targets-higher-2014-revenue-on-fee-income-increase
  • T. E. C. Jr. "The Origin of the Word Pica." Pediatrics. Vol. 44, no. 4. Page 548. Oct. 1, 1969. (April 6, 2015) http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/44/4/548.abstract#
  • This, Herve. "Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor." Columbia University Press. 2013.
  • Travis-Henikoff, Carole A. "Dinner with a Cannibal: The Complete History of Mankind's Oldest Taboo." Santa Monica Press. 2008.
  • U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. "Patent No. U.S. 3,492,688 A: Apparatus for Tenderizing Food." Feb. 3, 1970. (April 6, 2015) http://www.google.com/patents/US3492688
  • WebMD. "Mental Health and Pica." July 23, 2012. (April 6, 2015) http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-pica


10 'Healthy' Foods That Really Aren't

10 'Healthy' Foods That Really Aren't

HowStuffWorks targets 10 foods marketed as healthy that often aren't, like sweet potato fries, protein bars and low-fat salad dressings.