WTF Fun Fact 13134 – Brussels sprouts bitter no longer

Have you ever wondered why today’s Brussels sprouts don’t taste as gross as they might have while you were growing up? It’s not just your palate that’s changed, but the sprouts themselves. Thanks to some genetic tinkering, Dutch scientists have made Brussels sprouts bitter no longer.

Brussels sprouts get a makeover

Brussels sprouts simply don’t taste the same way they did a few decades ago. If you hated them as a kid, there’s at least some chance you might like them now.

According to NPR (cited below): “This all started to change in the 1990s, and it began in the Netherlands, where Brussels sprouts have a simpler name: spruitjes. A Dutch scientist named Hans van Doorn, who worked at the seed and chemical company Novartis (the seed part is now called Syngenta), figured out exactly which chemical compounds in spruitjes made them bitter.”

The next step was to consult the seed archives (libraries of seeds for different types of Brussels sprouts). Companies then planted them all and began selecting for the ones with the least bitterness.

Making a better Brussels sprout

Once scientists chose the best candidates for less bitter sprouts, “They cross-pollinated these old varieties with modern, high-yielding ones, trying to combine the best traits of old and new spruitjes. It took many years. But it worked.” Then word spread in the professional culinary scene. It took off mainly in the United States, not in Europe.

Once word got out about everyone’s least favorite vegetable from childhood tasting a bit different, big-name chefs (like David Chang at Momofuku in New York) got on board and started selling them again. People were delighted to have a new vegetable to enjoy and the “new” Brussels sprouts took off without people knowing the bitterness chemical had actually been bred out of them.

Most of us who like Brussels sprouts now assume we just have more mature palates. But we actually have the Dutch to thank for getting our greens with less suffering.  WTF fun facts

Source: “From Culinary Dud To Stud: How Dutch Plant Breeders Built Our Brussels Sprouts Boom” — NPR

WTF Fun Fact 13117 – The Flavors of Kit Kat in Japan

Since the first Kit Kat was launched, the brand has produced over 300 limited edition flavors in Japan. The first specialty flavor was green tea.

Kit Kat in Japan

Much of the variety of Japanese Kit Kats comes from chef Yasumasa Takagi. He opened a Kit Kat Chocolatory in Japan and started experimenting with flavors. The company has jumped on board with producing and selling them. They’ve opened up 7 other Cholatories in the country.

What kind of flavors are we talking about here? Well, there are high-end orange-chocolate rum, sweet potato, and cheesecake flavors. But there are also regional flavors made from locally sourced ingredients. You have almost no chance of being able to buy those if you live in another country.

According to the website Japan Based (cited below):

“For instance, in southwestern Japan, you’ll often find Ocean Salt Kit Kats made with sea salt taken directly from the Seto Inland sea. Alternately, on the Japanese island of Kyushu, you’re more likely to find Purple Sweet Potato Kit Kats locally produced on the island itself.”

Manufacturing funky flavors

Nestlé produces some limited-edition flavors for sale to slightly larger audiences. “Any excess product is usually saved and sold in gift bags called ‘fukubukuro,’ a Japanese New Year tradition where merchants sell grab bags of confections at discounted prices.”

While some of these are pretty strange, it’s all quite a creative endeavor.

Would you try an Azuki (red bean) Kit Kat? How about Brown sugar syrup? Hot Japanese chili? Saké?

We’d be happy to try a Cherry blossom or Caramel macchiato Kit Kat. But we’d be more hesitant about a Soy sauce-flavored Kit Kat.

But it looks like we’re alone on that. In 2010, soy sauce was the best-selling Kit Kat flavor.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Craziest Kit Kat Flavors in Japan” — Japan Based

WTF Fun Fact 13109 – The First PB&J

In the last WTF Fun Fact, we told you about the invention of sliced bread. Now, we’re here to tell you about something so delicious it actually pre-dated automatic slicers – the first PB&J, or peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Inventing sandwiches

Whether it was the Earl of Sandwich or someone else who decided to first put things between bread, some would have you believe that the PB&J is an integral part of history. (cited below) says “After English speakers adopted the word “sandwich,” they began coming up with new words and phrases to describe different types, from meaty Sloppy Joes to the layered club sandwich.”

We understand that desire to put meat and vegetables into a sandwich, but we’re still stumped on what made someone decide to create a sandwich out of what are largely considered to be two condiments.

“The first known recipe for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich appeared in 1901 in ​​The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science & Domestic Economics. During the 1920s, companies began to mass-manufacture peanut butter in the United States, and targeted children as potential new consumers. This helped make the PB&J a common school lunch.”

Standardized in Home Ec and rose to fame via school lunches? Ok, we could have guessed that.

How the PB&J came to be

So we can date the formal sandwich itself back to 1901, but did it exist in some form before that? Well, the answer is we’re not sure, but it’s unlikely.

Smithsonian Magazine has the answer to how the PB&J came to be, and if you guess “because of vegetarians,” you are correct!

Around the late-19th century, ladies’ luncheons were popular, and tiny tea sandwiches were often served. Alongside the cucumber and cheese option was one that contained no animal products at all. In addition, “health food advocates like John Harvey Kellogg started promoting peanut products as a replacement for animal-based foods (butter included). So for a vegetarian option at these luncheons, peanut butter simply replaced regular butter.”

Peanut butter wasn’t created for mass manufacture until the 1920s. And at that point, it was marketed specifically to target children.

Smithsonian also reports that it was cookbook author Julia Davis Chandler who wrote, “some day try making little sandwiches, or bread fingers, of three very thin layers of bread and two of filling, one of peanut paste, whatever brand you prefer, and currant or crabapple jelly for the other. The combination is delicious, and so far as I know original.”

Ladies took the sandwich idea from the garden party to their children’s lunch boxes in the 1920s when they could finally get mass produced peanut butter (with hydrogenated vegetable oil and sugar to make it tasty).

And no one was happier than Skippy, the first brand to target children “as a potential new audience, and thus the association with school lunches was forged.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “Who Invented the Sandwich?” —

WTF Fun Fact 13108 – The Invention of Sliced Bread

Have you heard the expression “It’s the best invention since sliced bread”? Well, that only goes back to the 20th century. The invention of sliced bread occurred in 1828.

Inventing sliced bread in Missouri

Humans have been baking bread for millennia (around 30,000 years, we estimate). But pre-slicing it is another matter. And we have to admit that while bread baking has reinvented itself to make bread slices seem passé, it’s convenient to have!

According to (cited below), “The first automatically sliced commercial loaves were produced on July 6, 1928, in Chillicothe, Missouri, using the machine invented by Otto Rohwedder, an Iowa-born, Missouri-based jeweler.”

Rohwedder had long tried to make a machine to slice bread but was thwarted for over a decade when a 1917 fire destroyed his factory, blueprints, and prototype.

But he persevered, and “in 1928, Rohwedder’s rebuilt “power-driven, multi-bladed” bread slicer was put into service at his friend Frank Bench’s Chillicothe Baking Company.”

The reaction to slicing

People seemed to know immediately what pre-sliced bread meant for convenience in the home. As the website recalls, “an enthusiastic report in the July 6, 1928, edition of the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune…noted that while some people might find sliced bread ‘startling,’ the typical housewife could expect ‘a thrill of pleasure when she first sees a loaf of this bread with each slice the exact counterpart of its fellows. So neat and precise are the slices, and so definitely better than anyone could possibly slice by hand with a bread knife that one realizes instantly that here is a refinement that will receive a hearty and permanent welcome.'”

We’re only surprised that “some people” may have found sliced bread “startling.” But we know there will always be folks startled by new technology – in fact, we’ve been there. It’s hard when things change, but the convenience of sliced bread remains (as do beautiful artisan loaves without a knick in them).  WTF fun facts

Source: “Who Invented Sliced Bread?” —

WTF Fun Fact 13105 – The Banana Curve

Have you ever looked at the way a specific food grows and been totally surprised? We’ve certainly felt that way – especially about asparagus and pineapples. Now the banana curve is blowing our minds (with how little we know about our food).

How the banana gets its curve

The reason bananas don’t grow straight and instead have a curve is so that they can retrieve sunlight. It makes sense, we just couldn’t quite picture it at first.

According to Chiquita, “Bananas go through a process called ‘negative geotropism’…What it means is that bananas grow away from the ground, instead of growing towards it, hence the ‘negative’ geotropism.”

Despite bananas being ubiquitous on grocery store shelves, they come from the rainforest (or at least places that can simulate that environment). In a place with so much foliage, bananas had to find a way to claim some sunlight for themselves since they hang downward.

Bananas evolved not to grow straight up but rather to curve in order to get around the foliage and soak up some rays.

More about banana growth

You might think that if it’s looking for the sun, a banana would evolve to grow upwards. But they’re simply too heavy to do that. Because gravity pulls them down, they develop a slight curve rather than a new growth pattern.

Not only is banana growth a fun new fact for us, but we also didn’t know they were considered a berry. Bananas may have actually been one of the first fruits. They date back about 10,000 years, although they taste much different now.

And it turns out the world loves them – we consume about 100 billion bananas globally every year.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Bananas. Not only one of the healthiest fruits but most recognizable!” — Chiquita

WTF Fun Fact 13085 – Horatio Magellan Crunch

You think you know someone. All this time, we assumed that Cap’n Crunch was an uncomplicated cartoon cereal mascot. But there’s more to Horatio Magellan Crunch than meets the eye.

Finding Cap’n Crunch

In 2013, the Wall Street Journal turned the cereal world on its head by revealing that an investigation into the origins of Cap’n Crunch had revealed his real name and rank.

Food & Wine Magazine (cited below) noted that the normally serious newspaper revealed a dark secret. That year, the paper wrote that “the legendary cereal icon’s status as a captain has come under fire… Cap’n Crunch only wears the bars of a Navy commander, not those of a captain. In the U.S. Navy, captains wear four bars on their uniforms, while commanders — one rank below captain – have three bars.”

Way to blow our minds.

You can’t handle the truth about Horatio Magellan Crunch

After the controversy broke, Cap’n Crunch went on Twitter to address the allegations.

All hearsay and misunderstandings!,” @realcapncrunch wrote.”I captain the S.S. Guppy with my crew – which makes an official Cap’n in any book!”

He also insisted that “It’s the Crunch – not the clothes – that make a man.” The Navy would beg to differ.

In a tongue-in-cheek reply, Lt. Commander Chris Servello, director of the U.S. Navy’s news desk at the Pentagon revealed: “We have no Cap’n Crunch in the personnel records – and we checked. We have notified NCIS and we’re looking into whether or not he’s impersonating a naval officer – and that’s a serious offense.”

Then again, the so-called “Cap’n” wears a Napoleonic-era hat. Could he be French?!

He first debuted as a Quaker Oats Co. character in 1963, so it’s a little late to be fighting that battle. His official biography only tells us he was born on Crunch Island, in the Sea of Milk. We’re not sure which flag they fly there.

We do know that he commanded the S.S. Guppy and spent time near Mt. Crunchmore, but that raises more questions than it answers.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Cap’n Crunch’s Real Name Isn’t Cap’n Crunch and Everything You Know Is a Lie” — Food & Wine

WTF Fun Fact 13069 – Enoteca Maria’s Nonnas of the World

A restaurant on Staten Island has two kitchens – and both are run by grandmothers with cooking skills. Enoteca Maria’s Nonnas of the World program provides customers with a rotating series of international grandmothers who offer their own menu each night based on their homeland’s regional cuisine. The main kitchen is always staffed by an Italian nonna.

Nonnas in the kitchen

According to the restaurant website: “Our two kitchens at Enoteca Maria will continue to serve regional Italian cuisine from the nonne of Italy, while offering a second menu of a different nonna every night from any and every country in the world.” Start following the online book that is being generated at

The restaurant’s unique angle was born out of tragedy. According to Atlas Obscura (cited below): “The project came about after owner Joe Scaravella lost his mother in the early 2000s. When he opened Enoteca Maria two years later, Scaravella staffed his kitchen with Italian grandmothers (“nonnas”) to create a feeling of homey comfort in his restaurant.”

Enoteca Maria’s nonnas go international

Once the restaurant was up and running, Scaravella tried an experiment. In 2015, he invited a Pakistani grandmother to cook for a night. It was such a success that he opened up a second kitchen in the restaurant with its own rotating menu of international cuisine. Patrons can choose from the Italian nonna or the international nonna menu.

While the nonnas are all skilled in regional cuisine, these days they live in and around Brooklyn. Atlas Obscura notes that “To date, Nonnas of the World has featured cooks from Japan, Syria, France, Bangladesh, Venezuela, Poland, Greece, Turkey, Liberia, Kazakhstan, the Dominican Republic, Czechia, Belarus, Pakistan, and of course, Italy, just to name a few.”

How does it work?

“Two nonnas work in the kitchen at any given time, one as the head chef, the other as her sous chef. This means a South American nonna and a Middle Eastern nonna could be working side by side in the kitchen, learning from each other’s recipes. Cooking classes are offered as well—for women only, many of whom are grandmothers themselves—and get booked months in advance. It’s another opportunity for cross-cultural recipe sharing, as well as a chance to eat food made with love.”

 WTF fun facts

Source: “Nonnas of the World” — Atlas Obscura

WTF Fun Fact 13055 – The Original Thanksgiving

America celebrates Thanksgiving each year on the 4th Thursday of November. And while most of us learn a similar origin story for the holiday in elementary school, that version was largely manufactured for children. The original Thanksgiving in America was a religious holy day. And Puritan immigrants commemorated it by fasting rather than feasting.

The story of the original Thanksgiving

Here’s the gist of what many (but not all) Americans learn as children regarding Thanksgiving: The Pilgrims were persecuted in England and sailed to America to find religious freedom. They were sick and hungry when they landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. The local Native American Wampanoag tribe helped the Pilgrims plant corn and hunt turkey. To celebrate a successful harvest, they shared a communal meal.

Thanksgiving is also considered a secular holiday in America. While the Pilgrims immigrated for religious reasons, those aren’t really part of the Thanksgiving story (other than the occasional mention that they all said a prayer before their meal).

The real story of Thanksgiving

For some more context into Thanksgiving, it’s important to know that the Pilgrims were a splinter group of Puritans. They were called Separatists and followed the teachings of John Calvin. Calvin taught that Scripture was the only guide to life. The Separatists first tried to go to Holland after leaving England but eventually decided to leave Europe altogether and set out for what Europeans called “the New World.”

On the way to their ship from Holland, the Separatists stopped in Plymouth, England, for supplies. The Mayflower carried them to the shores of North America, where they did struggle to survive on what they called Plimoth Plantation.

There were multiple small groups of Separatist immigrants, and each established its own church with its own pastor. Only one church has records of any harvest-time feast in 1636. We don’t have any other records from these early immigrants, so the story of Thanksgiving is entirely concocted from later stories.

Even 100 years later, there are some vague references to harvest-time feasts to celebrate American military battles. But none that refer to Native Americans.

A religious holiday of fasting and repentance

The Puritans would practice “public days” in response to things like droughts or other meaningful events. But these days involved reading Scripture, attending church services, and fasting to repent for their sins.

If there were formal 17th-century “Thanksgiving” celebrations, they would have originated from these public days and would not have involved feasting. Public atonement would have been highly religious in nature as well, not a secular holiday.

The Boston Globe (cited below) describes one such public day. In the archives was a record of a January 1697 public day of atonement for the Salem Witch Trials and the execution of innocent women.

If Thanksgiving stemmed from an early Puritan settler tradition, it was likely days like these.

The Boston Globe states, “It may be hard to see a connection between such earnest supplications and our modern Thanksgiving, but it was that Colonial holiday that America’s founders had in mind when they declared national days of thanksgiving.”

The first – but not original – Thanksgiving

In 1777, the Continental Congress announced the first national day of thanksgiving (not yet a formal holiday, so with a lowercase “t”). They instructed the public to give thanks and offer “penitent Confession of their manifold Sins.” It had nothing to do with a meal.

President George Washington declared a national day of thanksgiving on November 26 in honor of the Constitution to thank God “for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.” His instructions for Americans were to “unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions.” Again, no turkey.

Later, “President John Adams called for national fast days in 1798 and 1799. His proclamation announcing the first ‘day of fasting & humiliation’ was ‘a loud call to repentance and reformation’ in the face of possible war with France. President Madison called for two thanksgiving days, but by 1815 the custom of public days in America had died out.”

Abraham Lincoln created the enduring legend of the Native Americans and Pilgrims during the Civil War. He created what we now celebrate as Thanksgiving in 1863, declaring it a federal holiday. He also linked the day to the harvest, shifting the focus to food as a means of celebrating national unity.  WTF fun facts

Source: “The opposite of Thanksgiving” — The Boston Globe
* Note: While containing factual info, this was printed in the opinion section. A scholarly article on the same topic is available in the journal Gastronomica but is partly behind a paywall.