How 10 of your favorite foods likely got their names

Your favorite foods have some interesting name origins.

Your favorite foods have some interesting name origins.
Roman Samborskyi/Shutterstock
  • Food names can be very simple, but others need a bit more explaining.
  • There are interesting historical backstories of some of your most-loved foods and their names.
  • INSIDER found out the stories behind the names of 10 of your favorite foods.

What’s in a name? For some foods, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Pancakes and oranges need no clarification, but other fare might require some sort of backstory. Whether accidental or on purpose, some of your favorite food items got their names from interesting origins.

Here are the stories behind some of your favorite foods.

To this day, American east and west coast rivalries differ on the history of the Cobb salad.

The origins of a Cobb salad are heavily disputed.
danielfela / iStock

This beloved salad was likely invented on the west coast and is named for either its inventor or its inspiration.

As one legend goes, back in 1937, Bob Cobb, owner of The Brown Derby, was looking around at the restaurant’s North Vine location for something to eat around midnight for himself and Sid Grauman of Grauman’s Theater, when he tossed together a salad with the ingredients he found in his fridge: a head of lettuce, an avocado, some romaine, watercress, tomatoes, cold chicken breast, a hard-boiled egg, chives, cheese, and some old-fashioned French dressing.

The next day, Grauman apparently asked for a “Cobb salad” and the name stuck.

Another theory is that Cobb asked for a snack and that the Derby’s chef Paul J. Postiactually threw the ingredients together.

Either way, from there, the Cobb salad took a permanent spot on the menu not only at The Brown Derby, but thousands of restaurants across the country.

Many thank members of the Amish community for whoopie pies, but others say the origin lies in Maine.

They’re called “gobs” in Pennsylvania.

Notably called “gobs” in Pennsylvania, the rest of the United States often refer to these pillowy, cream-filled snacks as “whoopie pies.” According to Mental Floss, these confections were created to make use of leftover cake batter, but it’s unclear where exactly they originated.

One theory lies with the Amish community in Pennsylvania. According to legend, when children and workers alike would open their lunchboxes to find them tucked inside, they would exclaim, “Whoopie!”

But Labadie’s Bakery in Maine claim to have made the first whoopie pies, though there is no documented proof. Mainers claim that the name actually comes from the Gus Kahn song “Makin’ Whoopee.”

No matter where the name originated, they are usually made as chocolate cakes with vanilla cream inside, but seasonal versions have also been known to make an appearance.

French toast, ironically like its lost origin, translates to “pain perdu” in its native tongue.

French toast is usually made with stale bread.
ralph and jenny/Flickr

French toast or “pain perdu” is made with day-old or stale bread, which is why the translation of the breakfast staple is “lost bread.”

There are many likely stories as to where the dish got its name, with the earliest dating back to a fourth-century Roman cookbook, according to The original recipe instructed the chef to “break fine white bread, crust removed, into rather large pieces which soak in milk and beaten egg, fry in oil, cover with honey and serve.”

Interestingly enough, while the dish appears to have humble roots, it was likely eaten by members of upper-class status, due to its pricey ingredients such as white bread, sugar, and assortment of spices.

No one can agree where exactly a club sandwich originated, but it was probably a club.

It was likely some time in the late 1800s.
Wikimedia Commons

No, despite what you’ve heard, a club sandwich is not an acronym for “chicken, lettuce under bacon.” According to The Kitchn, the origins of the sandwich’s name are somehow more simple and more complicated than that.

To make a long history short, several different places have claimed to have invented the iconic “club” sandwich, and they’re all – you guessed it; clubs.

The Saratoga Club House and The Union Club in New York have both claimed to have invented the sandwich in the later 1800s and it has appeared in several cookbooks under the name “Club-House Sandwich.” No matter where the actual sandwich originated, it’s clear how the name originated: the name of the establishment in which it was served.

French fries were apparently named by American soldiers, though they originated in Belgium.

Despite the name, these frites didn’t actually originate in France. As many know, frites originated in Belgium and have possibly been made there as early as 1600, according to Wonderopolis.

But when American soldiers were stationed in the country during World War I, they apparently referred to them as “french fries” because of the official language of Belgian army – French – and the method of cooking the potatoes – frying them.

S’mores were apparently first introduced by the Girl Scouts in the 1920’s.

S’mores are essential camping food.
Ina Garten Facebook

Nothing says the perfect finish to a campfire dinner or a fall bonfire quite like a s’more. Gooey marshmallow sandwiched between two crunchy graham cracker cookies, a s’more just screams outdoor memories.

While its past remains a bit of a mystery, a recipe for the dessert first appeared in a 1927 book published by the Girl Scouts titled “Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts,” details National Geographic. In the book, they were formally named “some more,” due to the reaction consumers had after eating one. You wanted some “s’more,” after all.

Mickey Mouse has been around longer than nachos.

Nachos have their own national day.
Herson Rodriguez/Unsplash

They have their own national day of celebration (October 21, for those who don’t already have the holiday marked), yet the dish has a rather short tale of existence.

Nachos apparently first appeared in 1943 in Piedras Negras, a small Mexican city close to the United States military base Fort Duncan in Texas, according to Time magazine. A group of military wives whose husbands were stationed at the base had just finished a long day of shopping at Eagle Pass. Hungry for dinner, they found that all the restaurants were closed.

Ignacio Anaya, a maître d’ at the old Victory Club in Piedras Negras, apparently felt sorry for the group and opted to concoct a dish out of whatever remained in the kitchen. He sliced and fried some tortilla chips, doused them with shredded cheddar and sliced jalapeños, and placed the dish in the oven for a couple of minutes.

He then served the improvised dinner to the groups, aptly naming it after himself – Ignacio, or rather the nickname Nacho. Here we have, “Nachos Especiales.”

The name “hot dog” likely came from Germany.

There are a few different origins.

Though it’s known by several names, many Americans refer to this summer treat as a “hot dog.” The way the food got its name as several different theories.

People in Germany often referred to this meat as a “dachshund” or “little-dog” sausage, according to National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, as a type of joke referring to the smooth, thin dogs they often walked. This was likely the start of the connection.

One theory is that Tad Dorgan of the New York Journal saw a hot dog vendor in the city named Harry Stevens selling “hot dachshund sausages” during a polo match and penned a cartoon with a dog nestled inside of a bun. Because he couldn’t spell “dachshund” he simply wrote “hot dog.” No such copy of the cartoon appears to exist, but people claimed to see it in 1901.

But other historians trace the name back to the 1890s at Yale when people referred to the sausages as “hot dogs” as a joke, referring to where the meat may have originated from.

Fettuccine Alfredo was a hit in America after it was useful in Italy.

This easy meal soon became a Hollywood favorite.

According to HuffPost, in 1914, Alfredo di Lelio’s wife repeatedly lost her appetite throughout her second pregnancy, and desperately needed to gain weight. Di Leilo, an Italian native who co-owned a restaurant in Rome, created an easy meal of fresh pasta, Parmigiano cheese, butter, and heavy cream in order to settle her stomach and give her an easy meal. His wife loved it, so he decided to add it to the restaurant’s menu.

Soon enough, Hollywood actors visiting the Eternal City soon became enthralled with the carbohydrate-heavy dish and brought it to America. It became a hit in America and was named after the original creator.

California rolls helped popularize sushi in the United States.

California rolls changed the way Americans approach raw fish.
Sydney Kramer

While regarded as the more basic roll on most sushi menus, the California roll may have revolutionized how Americans approach raw fish. A recipe consisting of sushi rice, dried seaweed, a chunk avocado, a healthy dose of crab, and sometimes a few slices of cucumber or radish.

The dish has a few origins. Some claim the dish was first popularized in the 1960s by chef Ichiro Mashita at Tokyo Kaikan, an eatery in the Little Tokyo region of Los Angeles.

Because tuna was scarce in the summer months, Mashita opted for avocado, and added crab to give it a seafood taste, according to Gourmet. The dish was apparently named for its birthplace – California.

Another origin story claims a restaurant group vice chairman asked the chefs at Tokyo Kaikan to make “sushi for the Caucasians” and the California roll is what Mashita produced.

But Vancouver chef Hidekazu Tojo also claims to have invented the dish to try and appeal to a Western palette. He later told The Globe and Mail that so many people from California loved the roll, that he named it for the state.

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