Feeding Frenzy: Fun Facts About Food and Binges.

Death by … Hetvägg?

By the time Adolf Frederick [wiki] came to occupy the throne of Sweden in 1751, a long period of monarchy-weakening reforms called the Age of Freedom left him with very little power.

But his appetite didn’t seem to suffer. In fact, the old Swede died in 1771 at the age of 61 from digestive problems caused by a giant meal (the dinner table being the only place left to him to indulge his power).

His final feast? Smoked herring, lobster, caviar, sour cabbage soup, and a heapin’ helpin’ of a dessert called Hetvägg, a bun filled with marzipan served in a bowl of milk.

It’s no wonder the hapless monarch went down in history with an unfortunate (but accurate) epithet: “the King Who Ate Himself to Death.” Maybe it’s not always that good to be the king.

Mardi Gras’ Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Granddad

Mardi Gras Photo from bcostin [Flickr]

Just as the pagan Saturnalia was co-opted by Christmas and the Celtic Samhain got translated to All Hallow’s Eve/Halloween, the pre-Lent binge of Mardi Gras [wiki] has its origins in a pagan festival. On March 15, the ancient Romans celebrated the Lupercalia [wiki], a festival commemorating the founding of Rome and the suckling of the infants Romulus and remus in a cave (the Lupercal) on the Palatine Hill.

While the festival had a solemn religious aspect to it – you know, the standard blood and animal sacrifice – the celebration was marked by much drinking, revelry, and a general buffoonery. Boys clad in loincloths and smeared with blood would run through the city, as boys tend to do, lashing bystanders with strips of skin from sacrificed goats. After all, the lashings were said to promote fertility and easy childbirth, so young wives were particularly eager to meet the lash.

When Rome became Christianized, the Lupercalia was replaced by Carnivale (literally “Good-bye to the Flesh”), the day before the beginning of the solemn season of Lent. In fact, the day before Ash Wednesday saw so much drinking and feasting that the medieval French dubbed it Mardi gras, or “Fat Tuesday.”

The Sumo Diet

Sumo heavyweights gather in a circle around the Gyoji (referee) in
the dohyo-iri (ring-entering ceremony)

Like nearly every aspect of sumo life, the famed Japanese wrestlers’ diet is based in centuries of tradition. So, what exactly makes up this traditional food? Sumo wrestlers [wiki] put on their enormous weight – 700 pounds and more – mostly by consuming a simple diet of chankonabe, a thick boiled stew containing tofu, carrots, cabbages, leeks, potatoes, lotus roots, daikon radishes, shitake mushrooms, and giant burdock in chicken broth. Some recipes call for shrimp, noodles, raw eggs, or beer (interesting note: since falling to all fours in a match means a loss, many sumo wrestlers superstitiously avoid eating any four-legged animals. So there’s no beef or pork in their chonkanobe).

Doesn’t sound particularly fattening, does it? By itself, it isn’t, even with the side of rice. In fact, chankonable is actually quite healthy, high in both protein and vitamins. But three factors play into the whole weight-gaining aspect of it for sumo wrestlers: (1) They ate a lot of it – an awful lot of it; (2) they traditionally skip breakfast, consuming most of their calories at an enormous midday meal, after which (3) they immediately take a three- or four-hour nap. As most nutritionists will tell you, skipping breakfast and then sleeping immediately after a meal is a guaranteed way to pack on the pounds.

The Babe’s Bad Day at the Plate

Home wasn’t the only plate at which George Herman “Babe” Ruth [wiki] was a dominator. This guy had a big appetite for everything – food, drink, women, you name it.

In fact, “The Sultan of Swat’s” favorite breakfast was said to include a porterhouse steak, six fried eggs, and potatoes, all washed down with a quart mixture of bourbon whiskey and ginger ale.

The Babe also had a certain fondness for hot dogs, downing between 12 and 18 one day in April 1925. Shortly thereafter, he blacked out on a train and was hospitalized for an intestinal abscess (recent historians have attributed his hospital stay to gonorrhea, not a tummy ache).

Disgustingly enough, one of the Babe’s partially eaten hot dogs (now black and shriveled and nasty) is still on display at the Baseball Reliquary in Monrovia, California.

And although Ruth became pretty hefty in the last few years of his career, the rumor that the Yankees adopted their famous pinstripes to make him look smaller is false. The pinstripes first appeared in 1912, when the Yanks were still the New York Highlanders.

From mental_floss' book Forbidden Knowledge: A Wickedly Smart Guide to History's Naughtiest Bits, published in Neatorama with permission.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog!

Newest 4
Newest 4 Comments

Sumo wrestlers don't weigh anything like 700 pounds - usually less than half that. The current heaviest wrestler weighs around 400 pounds and the rest weigh about 300-350 pounds. Pretty much the heaviest wrestler in modern times was Konishiki who weighed about 600 pounds.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Actually Erkan, it IS callet "hetvägg", it's dates back a few hundred years and the word comes from the German word (and dish) "heisse wecken". "Semla" is the modern wording of pretty much the same thing, and its etymology goes back to the latin word "simila".

However, the mention of marzipan being in the perticular hetvägg that Adolf Frederick ate before death is highly debatable. The first time that marzipan is mentioned as an ingredient is back in 1833, almost 60 years later.

Yay for useless knowledge.
Abusive comment hidden. (Show it anyway.)
Login to comment.

Email This Post to a Friend
"Feeding Frenzy: Fun Facts About Food and Binges."

Separate multiple emails with a comma. Limit 5.


Success! Your email has been sent!

close window

This website uses cookies.

This website uses cookies to improve user experience. By using this website you consent to all cookies in accordance with our Privacy Policy.

I agree
Learn More