10 Food Lies We've All Been Fed

Recently, we learned on Neatorama that as spaghetti and meatballs are actually not true Italian food, which got us thinking about what other things we've accepted as truths are actually damned lies. Well, here's what we found out:

LIE #1: Baby Carrots Are Lil' Infant Carrots

They're not. They're not babies at all, in fact. They're grown up carrots.

In 1986, California farmer Mike Yurosek got tired of having to throw away imperfect carrots at his packing plant. In some loads, as much as 70% of the carrots had to be thrown away because they were twisted, knobby, or otherwise deformed (he couldn't even feed them all to pigs because after a while, "their fat turned orange," he said.)

One day, Yurosek bought an industrial green-bean cutter from a frozen-food company that was going out of business, and cut the carrots into 2-inch pieces. Then he loaded them up into an industrial potato peeler to smooth down their edges. What he got was what we now know and love as baby carrots (technically, "baby-cut" carrots).

Oh, and here's the best part about the whole baby carrot business: they sell for much higher price than regular carrots, despite that they actually started as carrots destined for the trash heap.

LIE #2: Portabello is a Different Variety of Mushroom than Regular Button Ones

Image: BGSmith/Shutterstock

You pay a hefty premium for large portabello mushrooms at the grocery store, but did you know that you're actually buying mature brown crimini or button mushrooms? Yep, they're the same thing.

LIE #3: Fortune Cookies Came From China

Eat in any Chinese restaurant in America, and you'll be served with a plate of fortune cookies at the end of the meal. Fortune cookies are so quintessentially Chinese ... yet you won't find them in China.

The origin of the fortune cookies is controversial, but food researchers pointed to its origin as distinctly Japanese (the modern version of the fortune cookie was supposedly invented by Japanese bakers who immigrated to the United States).

And here's the kicker: In the early 1990s, Wonton Food, the largest fortune cookie manufacturer in the United States, attempted to introduce fortune cookies to China, but gave up because the cookies were considered "too American" by the Chinese.

LIE #4: General Tso Invented General Tso's Chicken ...

... but he did quell a few rebellions in which millions of people died!

General Tso Tsun-t'ang, the man whom General Tso's chicken was named after, was a real general* in the late Qing Dynasty, China. He didn't invent the chicken dish in question - or any Chinese food at all, for the matter.

*Unlike Colonel Sanders, for example, who wasn't a real colonel in the military. Sanders was a Kentucky Colonel, a title of honor given by the Governor of Kentucky.

LIE #5: Wasabi in Your Local Sushi Restaurant is the Real Thing

Wasabi root (Image: Chris 73/Wikipedia)

Unless you've eaten sushi in Japan, or at a very expensive sushi restaurant elsewhere, you haven't tasted real wasabi. That pungent glob of green stuff swimming in soy sauce that you think is wasabi is actually a combination of horseradish, mustard and green food dye.

Real wasabi is made from wasabi root. It is traditionally grated with a piece of sharkskin stretched over wooden paddle.

LIE #6: That Steak Comes in One Piece

If you thought pink slime in your burger was bad, wait till you hear about meat glue in your steak.

Meat glue, or an enzyme called transglutaminase, binds protein together. It is often used in the food industry to stick together scraps of meat into prime cuts of steak. After the meat is cooked, you can't tell the difference.

Granted, not all restaurants resort to this cheap trick, but the practice is probably more pervasive than you'd think.

LIE #7: The First Caesar Salad Was a Premium Salad

From its name, you'd think that Caesar salad is a salad fit for Roman emperors, but did you know that the first Caesar salad was made from scraps?

In 1924, chef Caesar Cardini (yes, the salad was named after him), ran out of food in his restaurant's kitchen, so when a customer asked for a salad, he made do. Cardini put together bits of lettuce with olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, egg, garlic, croutons and Parmesan. He then added the dramatic flair of tossing the salad "by the chef" at the table-side. The crowds loved it, and the Caesar salad was born! (Image: Wikipedia)

LIE #8: That Piece of Salmon is Naturally Pink

Wild salmon got its nice pink color from eating red-hued krill, but farmed salmon don't get a chance to eat that. Instead, they're fed ground up fish meal and oils that turn their flesh a dull gray color. So, to make up for that color deficiency, farmed salmon are fed pink pigments.

SalmoFan (Image: farmedsalmonfree/Flickr)

Salmon farmers can even choose how pink is pink enough with this nifty SalmoFan. It's just like looking at paint swatches at the hardware store!

LIE #9: Chilean Sea Bass is a Sea Bass From Chile

Chilean sea bass sounds quite nice, doesn't it? That's exactly why it's called that instead of the fish's real name: Patagonian toothfish (man, what an ugly fish!)

Patagonian toothfish AKA Chilean sea bass. Image: Wikipedia

In 1977, a fish wholesaler named Lee Lantz wanted to sell Patagonian toothfish to the American market, but realized that nobody wanted to eat a fish with such an unappetizing name. So he tried "Pacific sea bass" and "South American sea bass" before settling on "Chilean sea bass."

The clever name isn't the only problem with Chilean sea bass: according a 2011 DNA analysis by Peter Marko of Clemson University, 15% of Chilean sea bass sold with eco-labels weren't actually from approved, sustainable stock. Worse, 8% were actually different species of fish altogether!

LIE #10: There's a Big Difference Between Cheap and Expensive Wine

Image: Minerva Studio/Shutterstock

Ah, the sweet nose of lies that is wine tasting. If you ever thought that pretentious wine tasting experts are full of it, you'd be right.

Psychologist Richard Wiseman of the Hertfordshire University conducted a blind test in which he asked 578 regular people to tell the difference between a variety of wine, ranging from cheap £3 wines to expensive £30 bottles:

The study found that people correctly distinguished between cheap and expensive white wines only 53% of the time, and only 47% of the time for red wines. The overall result suggests a 50:50 chance of identifying a wine as expensive or cheap based on taste alone – the same odds as flipping a coin.

So, in other words. They guessed.

Ah, but that's regular people, oenophiles said. What about experts? Well, the results aren't much better: In 2001, Frédéric Brochet at the University of Bordeaux tested 54 wine experts to rate 2 glasses of red and 2 glasses of white wine. The experts couldn't even tell that the red wine was actually the same as the white wine, but colored by red dye.

If that's not bad enough, wait till you hear what Brochet did next. He took a middling bottle of wine and served it in two different bottles. One bottle had a fancy grand cru label and the other one had an ordinary table wine label. The experts gave the same two wines opposite descriptions: they praised the "grand cru" wine and dismissed the ordinary one as less favorable.

Do you know of any more food lies? Tell us in the comments!

In Italy, olive oil tastings are somewhat common, like wine tastings. Americans just about always choose spoiled ( rancid ) olive oil over fresh ( premium ) olive oil, because it's what we are used to tasting in America.
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A couple things:

For a long time, I've not seen any difference in price between portabello and button mushrooms for the same size. The only difference is that the portabellos come in a much larger size that cost more. So I am not sure if that the fact they different stages of the same mushroom matters much (and there are a lot of other veggies that are different variations of the same plant or species).

Meat glue never seemed like a big deal to me, as it is an enzyme that occurs already in the human body and not much is needed for typical uses. The most common uses are to maximize use of scrap material and to achieve consistency in products otherwise not possible. But there are a lot of creative uses for it, to make forms, textures, and foods not otherwise possible, like noodles that are actually made from shrimp, or combining two different meats in a way that the textures, moisture and fat components complement each other. You can get the stuff for experimenting at home, although in the past the issue was with bulk orders that would go bad way before you could use it, some specialty places now are offering it in much smaller quantities.

And there are many studies on wine, but sometimes the details can make a huge difference. A lot of them are not necessarily showing we can't tell the difference between types of wine, but that we are easily mislead by external influences. And I'm not sure if I would say people getting the expensive wines mixed up 50% of the time is the same as guess, as it may depend on if the same people are getting it right and the same ones are getting wrong multiple times, as they may just have a misconception about what is supposed to make a wine more expensive (I haven't been able to find more details with a small amount of searching for an actual paper for that one). There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical of the snobbery and costs of things related to wine, although I think some people will go way too far the other way and end up misrepresenting results that are somewhere more in the middle.
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I don't usually read articles in the list format, but when I do, it's a hack job with more incorrect and misleading 'facts' in it, than there are actual facts, let alone interesting ones. The items on this list that aren't completely false or unsubstantiated are on the same level as "did any one else no that chickens don't have nuggets, we mak them in a factoiry??!!1"
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