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 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.

WTF Fun Fact 13044 – The History of Pink Lemonade

The history of lemonade is far older than we would have imagined. The same goes for the history of pink lemonade – which has its origins in the circus of all places.

The origins of lemonade

The first lemonade dates back to 1630s France and was made from sparkling water, lemons, and honey (yum!). In the U.S., that means lemonade goes back to the first immigrants in the 17th century.

The trend of harvesting ice in the 19th century made drinks like lemonade even more popular. And it makes sense that – since traveling circuses date back to around that time – it would be associated with community events.

Where does pink lemonade come from?

According to Smithsonian Magazine (cited below), “The earliest known mention of pink lemonade comes from an 1879 article in West Virginia’s Wheeling Register, explicitly linking the two.”

As for it’s precise origin, we can’t be sure. But it likely started at the circus.

In How the Hot Dog Got its Bun: Accidental Discoveries And Unexpected Inspirations That Shape What We Eat And Drink, author Josh Chetwynd says there are two stories that vie for the the best pink lemonade origin story.

“The first, he says, is a 1912 New York Times obituary for Henry E. Allott , a Chicago native who ran away to the circus in his early teens. Allott is believed to have ‘invented’ pink lemonade after accidentally dropping red-colored cinnamon candies in a vat of traditional lemonade. Adhering to the old circus adage ‘the show must go on,’ Allott simply sold the pink-hued beverage as is.”

That would be nice, but there’s an earlier origin story for the history of pink lemonade that isn’t so sweet. It was recounted by lion tamer George Conklin who “claims his brother Pete Conklin came up with pink lemonade in 1857 while selling lemonade at the circus. Conklin ran out of water and thinking on the fly, grabbed a tub of dirty water in which a performer had just finished wringing out her pink-colored tights. In true circus form, Conklin didn’t miss a beat. He marketed the drink as his new ‘strawberry lemonade,’ and a star was born.”  WTF fun facts

Source: “The Unusual Origins of Pink Lemonade” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12968 – Edible Burrito Tape

Do you love burritos but hate the mess they make when they’re not expertly rolled into a magical self-sealing pocket? Well, edible burrito tape could be the weirdest invention you never knew you needed.

What’s the deal with edible burrito tape?

Leave it to college students to solve this age-old conundrum.

It turns out that a group of Engineering majors at Johns Hopkins taking a product design course have found a way to make your burritos delicious and more convenient.

According to TODAY (cited below), “The all-female team of Tyler Guarino, Rachel Nie, Marie Eric and Erin Walsh came together and decided to solve one of life’s most frustrating problems: preventing a burrito from unraveling and making a mess. Their solution: an edible tape that keeps all the delicious ingredients inside the tortilla instead of on your plate or lap.”

The first step was to investigate what made tape, in general, work well (turns out the answer is twofold – a backbone and an adhesive compound). The next step was to make those components edible.

“Tastee” Tape

Student Tyler Guarino told TODAY: “We tried tons of different combinations, and formulations and really did a lot of trial and error until we were able to get a product that was clear in color, tasteless, didn’t have a noticeable texture, but was still strong enough to hold a big fat burrito together.”

It took the women a few months of trial and error to figure out how to make a cookable, edible burrito tape. After that, they set about making it pleasant to eat (not just edible). That meant playing around with the taste and texture.

They decided on a final product that carried little to none of it’s own taste or texture so people could just enjoy their burritos. The product is known as Tastee Tape.

“You simply just peel the piece off of the sheet,” Guarino said. “You wet it to activate it, and then you apply it to your tortilla.” 

The students aren’t keen to share their recipe, however. They’re looking to patent it.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Johns Hopkins students develop edible tape to make burritos easier to eat” — TODAY

WTF Fun Fact 12886 – Forks Used To Be Seen As Sacrilegious

Who knew a fork could be seen as offensive (unless you’re using it to poke someone)? But it turns out that while forks are ancient tools, using forks used to be seen as sacrilegious by the Church.

Ancient forks

Forks have been around for millennia, but they weren’t used as dining utensils until the Middle Ages. Then, only wealthy families owned such tools.

For much of human history, people have eaten with their fingers. Depending on the time period and part of the world you were in, it was appropriate to eat with all five fingers (spoons existed and were totally acceptable for soup lovers). Later on, it was seen as polite to eat with three fingers.

Touching your food was touching God’s creation (they didn’t have Twinkies back then, which are most decidedly not God’s creation). By using a technically unnecessary utensil, it was seen as blasphemous not to touch the food you were about to ingest.

Smithsonian Magazine (cited below) found old references to the inappropriateness of forks in the Middle Ages. For example:

“In 1004, the Greek niece of the Byzantine emperor used a golden fork at her wedding feast in Venice, where she married the doge’s son. At the time most Europeans still ate with their fingers and knives, so the Greek bride’s newfangled implement was seen as sinfully decadent by local clergy. ‘God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks—his fingers,” one of the disdainful Venetians said. “Therefore it is an insult to him to substitute artificial metal forks for them when eating.’ When the bride died of the plague a few years later, Saint Peter Damian opined that it was God’s punishment for her hateful vanity.”


From blasphemous to ridiculous

Eventually, forks became less of a religious matter and simply socially unacceptable. Royalty and nobility – particularly in Italy – often had forks. but their use of the utensils was often used to mock them.

At this time, people were still using two-pronged forks. It would take at least a hundred more years for the third and fourth prongs to be added.

It wasn’t until the early 18th century that forks became acceptable and available in England (and a few decades after that in America).

As one 1887 book of manners noted, “The fork has now become the favorite and fashionable utensil for conveying food to the mouth. First it crowded out the knife, and now in its pride it has invaded the domain of the once powerful spoon. The spoon is now pretty well subdued also, and the fork, insolent and triumphant, has become a sumptuary tyrant. The true devotee of fashion does not dare to use a spoon except to stir his tea or to eat his soup with, and meekly eats his ice-cream with a fork and pretends to like it.”

Who knew forks had such a long and sordid history?!  WTF fun facts

Source: “A History of Western Eating Utensils, From the Scandalous Fork to the Incredible Spork” — Smithsonian Magazine

WTF Fun Fact 12675 – How We Prefer Our Potatoes

At first, it seems unsurprising that Americans prefer their potatoes as french fries. Until you remember just how great mashed potatoes are. Then you really have to start thinking about it. But either way, we love our potatoes and we prefer them in their most convenient form (for eating, at least).

The details come from a YouGov survey of 20,000 Americans, and they even broke down the results between region, political affiliation, genders, age, and income. (However, if you’re a 50-something woman from the West who doesn’t bother with political affiliations, you come pretty close to preferring a baked potato – but french fries still win in every category.)

Here’s how it breaks down:

–  WTF fun fact

Source: “Which, if any, of the following ways to eat potatoes is your favorite?” — YouGov

WTF Fun Fact 12614 – The Fear of Cooking

Plenty of people don’t like to cook. Or maybe you might enjoy it if it weren’t such a chore. After all, for most of us, cooking is something we have to do day in and day out, mostly for other people who may not even appreciate the effort (parents, we’re looking at you).

But there are a group of people who are genuinely afraid of cooking. So much so that it gives them severe anxiety (and we all know the kind of health problems stress and anxiety can cause). These people are known as mageirocophobics.

Mageirocophobia is the extreme fear of having to cook, and it’s typically classified as a social anxiety disorder because it can have a lot to do with a fear of judgment.

According to the Cleveland Clinic: “Mageirocophobia occurs when you’re fearful of cooking or the idea of cooking. You may experience intense anxiety or go out of your way to avoid cooking. For many people, this phobia stems from not wanting to make mistakes.”

Mageirocophobics may have other mental health issues, such as OCD, but not always. Sometimes, the fear results from extreme perfectionism and concern about the consequences of doing things wrong. (And to be fair, a lot can go wrong in the kitchen, from a lousy casserole to a missing finger or a kitchen fire.)

People who fear cooking may also suffer from PTSD after a bad kitchen or cooking incident. It can be a singular incident that caused them (or someone else) harm or even years of being criticized for their cooking.

The kitchen can be stressful for many people, even those who once found it relaxing. Sometimes it depends on your most recent experiences. For example, a chef who gets a bad burn in a kitchen fire might suddenly become mageirocophobic.

This particular phobia may not get in the way of everyday life (as long as sufferers can find a way to eat). In that case, it may not ever be treated. Treatment for the phobia is typically reserved for those who need to get over the fear because it keeps them from enjoying life or eating properly (or caring for those they have a responsibility to feed, like children).

There can even be more mild mageirocophobia. In this case, you won’t enjoy cooking, but severe anxiety arises when trying a new recipe, cooking for others, or needing to use a new kitchen tool.

Of course, more severe cases result in a person being unable to think much about food or developing a fear of watching other people cook.

It’s common to experience a little anxiety when trying new things, but a phobia is a whole different category of fear. Luckily, some treatments can help reduce the effects of mageirocophobia. – WTF fun facts

Source: “Mageirocophobia (Fear of Cooking)” – The Cleveland Clinic

WTF Fun Fact 12575 – American Bologna

The Italians may have brought bologna to America, but there’s little resemblance to the mortadella meat of Italy. The meat became a household staple for just about everyone during the Great Depression since it was cheap. It continued to reign supreme on shelves after that because it was easy to make into lunch sandwiches.

When Americans think of bologna, we tend to think of those yellow packages and round slices. And that’s because of a German immigrant who began his career beginning at age 14 when he apprenticed with a Chicago butcher.

Oskar Ferdinand Meyer spent six years in Chicago meatpacking until he could afford to lease his own marketspace and put his skills to use. He had learned traditional European sausage-making techniques over the years.

That’s how what we now know as Oscar Meyer bologna began, and success came early because of a growing German-American immigrant population in Chicago. His company later created the technology for vacuum packing sliced meats to make lunch making much more effortless.

So while the Italians brought proto-bologna to America in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was young Oskar who took steps to make it mainstream. – WTF fun facts

Source: “How Lunch Became a Pile of Bologna” — Eater

WTF Fun Fact 12562 – Aging Apples

In general, the food industry does its best to keep the amount of time between harvesting food and putting it on grocery stores shelves to a minimum. But a few years back, a story went around claiming that if you bought apples out of season, you could be eating something more than a year old because apples are preserved in wax and refrigerated after harvest.

While that story isn’t 100% true, it’s pretty darn close.

Apple harvests begin in July in the U.S. and are over by mid-December, depending on location and how early the apple variety ripens. So how old is the apple you buy in May?

Well, it very well could be months old. While the apple industry and FDA have fought back against this “myth,” they still largely have to admit that there can be quite a bit of time between harvest and purchase.

AllRecipes tried to debunk the myth, but a quote by Mark Seetin, Director of Regulatory & Industry Affairs at USApple in defense of the apple industry reads:

“According to data gathered by USApple, roughly 40 percent of each year’s apple crop is marketed by December 1 of the harvest year — most of which goes from harvest to store shelf without being placed in storage. The remaining 60 percent of the crop is moved to the market over the next roughly 8 months.”

Ok, so it’s not a year, but it’s a lot longer than we thought. Most of us probably assume that our out-of-season apples come from somewhere outside the U.S. where they are in season. And that may be the case at times, but it’s also the case that most apples are sold out-of-season and come out of temperature-controlled, low-humidity storage. A well-preserved apple can last up to 10 months in storage.

“To slow the proverbial sands of time, some fruit distributors treat their apple bins with a gaseous compound, 1-methylcyclopropene,” TODAY quoted the USDA as stating. “It extends the fruits’ post-storage quality by blocking ethylene, a colorless gas that naturally regulates ripening and aging.”


What’s most important here is that while it might seem disturbing at first, it’s really not a problem, health-wise. However, the nutrient content of the apple is likely to diminish over time. So we can’t guarantee that it’ll still keep the doctor away.

Want a fresh apple? Buy local and in-season. – WTF fun facts 

Source: “That apple you just bought might be a year old – but does it matter?” — TODAY