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Ten True Food Facts That Are Tough to Believe

by Selme Angulo
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

The food business is a beast. Worldwide, food production and distribution occur on a scale that is difficult for us to fathom. The idea of a local farmer bringing his wares to a market in town and selling them to his neighbors is, at this point, practically an ancient memory. In its place, an incredible industry has arisen to produce and sell food to billions upon billions of people. And the random little facts and tidbits that come out of that world are sometimes very hard to believe!

In this list, we’ll take a look at ten random food facts that seem like they couldn’t possibly be true—but they are. From “fresh” apples being packaged in wax for a year before being sold to the real story behind why PEZ candy was invented, this list runs the gamut. By the time you read down to the end of it, we can guarantee two things: you’ll be shocked at the things you’ve learned, and you’ll be sufficiently hungry and ready for dinner!

Related: Ten Strange Ingredients in Everyday Foods & Products

10 Old Apples!

Apples: From Farm to Table

Not all the produce that you buy at the grocery store is fresh. In fact, most of it isn’t fresh—not fresh like we would consider it to be natural, at least. Take apples, for instance. Most of the apples that you painstakingly check for bruises and then drop into your grocery cart at the supermarket are not days or weeks old. Most of them are actually up to a year old!

Fresh apples are most often picked during harvesting season, which comes at some point between August and November, depending on the kind of apple. But they don’t just sell apples in the grocery store between those months. Heck, we just bought a few delicious Granny Smith apples in early May! So, were those apples picked in August and held back for sale until May? Well… yes!

Food packaging companies will pack apples in wax, dry the newly packed items under hot air, and then send them to cold storage for months on end. Then, when the grocery store orders a shipment six months or a year later, bam! Apples! Old apples, but apples all the same.[1]

9 McSpaghetti Lives!

McDonald’s McSpaghetti Taste Test

McDonald’s introduced spaghetti to their menu way back in 1986 in a bid to diversify their offerings. The Italian food trend didn’t really catch on at McD’s, though, and they scrapped in the United States not too long after that. They didn’t scrap it in the Philippines, though! If you are craving spaghetti and just absolutely won’t eat it anywhere else besides McDonald’s—which is a little bit weird, but we won’t judge—you’ll have to fly to Manila to get it!

Over in the Philippines, McSpaghetti is a very common and much-loved part of the fast food giant’s menu. There’s a catch to it, too: It is technically Filipino spaghetti and not Italian spaghetti. Filipino spaghetti originated back in the 17th century when American ships introduced canned goods to the Southeast Asian island nation.

Filipinos began experimenting with cans of tomato paste and ketchup. In the end, they combined it with hot dog bites over a bed of pasta to make their spaghetti. And voila! Now it’s at McDonald’s. In Manila, you can even order it with a “McDo,” which is a piece of fried chicken. Think of it a little like chicken parmesan… but Philippines style![2]

8 3 (Actual) Musketeers

Why They’re Called 3 Musketeers

The 3 Musketeers bar got its name because it actually used to come in three different flavors, and not just one like it is today. Back in the 1930s, the original 3 Musketeers bars were sold in a three-pack of flavors. The nougat bars packaged up together at the time consisted of one vanilla snack, one chocolate offering, and one strawberry option. And yes, as you might expect, the candy’s originators were inspired by the title of Alexandre Dumas’s 1844 novel The Three Musketeers in naming their candy.

But the three flavor options didn’t last very long! After the 1930s ended and World War II fell upon the United States in the early 1940s, wartime rationing meant that it was much more difficult to source the ingredients needed to make all three flavors. Seeing that it was getting complicated to produce a trio of tastes in one package, the folks behind the 3 Musketeers bars dropped vanilla and strawberry to focus on producing simpler chocolate bars. And those are still the same ones we know and love today![3]

7 Corn Cob Clean-Up

What Was Used Before Toilet Paper?

Before toilet paper became a thing, most Americans used corn cobs to wipe their rear ends after they, um, did their business. Corn cobs were pretty convenient for insertion into the, uh, crack. Plus, they were very soft when they were dried. When all the edible kernels were removed, they were made for pretty resilient and efficient sheets with which one could wipe up any fecal matter that may have been left after using the facilities. It sounds crazy, but it worked remarkably well for both Native Americans centuries ago and American settlers and colonists once they arrived in the New World.

But again, just make sure to remove all the kernels first. Or else you’re going to get a very unwanted surprise sliding along one of your most sensitive areas! Corn cobs weren’t the only thing used as early toilet paper, though.

A few centuries ago, people also tended to use periodicals like the Old Farmers Almanac to clean up after going to the bathroom. They would read a few sheets, then tear off what they’d already read and wipe up with it. Then, they’d leave the periodical in the outhouse for future reading… and wiping. The Old Farmers Almanac even notoriously came printed with a hole punched through the paper so that it could hang on a hook in outhouses for future use![4]

6 Time for Tea… Tank Tea

The Insatiable British Thirst for Tea Became a Risk During WWII ☕🫖 Inside The Factory | Smithsonian

Every British military tank and armored vehicle is equipped to make tea. How frightfully English, we say! Pip pip, cheerio! Okay, so it’s not quite as goofy as it sounds, even if the idea of British soldiers sitting down for tea in the cramped confines of their tank does conjure up a funny image. Basically, every British armored military vehicle is equipped with something called a “boiling vessel.”

That vessel is a water heating system that allows soldiers to cook food by drawing power from the vehicle’s electrical supply. That’s critically important in case the British are in battle, and a crew is trapped inside their tank with no respite while waiting out an enemy, and they need to eat to survive. Seems practical, right? It’s just funny because the boiling vessel can also be used to make tea—and so that has become a widespread joke among British military members.

The history of the boiling vessel began back at the very end of World War II when the Centurion tank was produced with the water heating device fitted inside the turret. Having a water heating unit on board cuts down on the time taken for breaks. It allowed British soldiers to eat (and, yes, drink tea) very safely and efficiently while remaining inside the tank.

The design has changed and been improved ever since, and today, the boiling vessel is found on nearly every major type of military vehicle used by British soldiers and infantrymen. Some have even called the tea-making tool the most important piece of equipment in an armored vehicle. When it’s time for tea, who can argue with that?[5]

5 Quit with PEZ!

The Candy that CURED SMOKERS in America – Life in America

We may know PEZ today as that goofy candy that can be doled out through a little plastic cartoon character dispenser. Still, back in the day, it was thought of very differently. When it was first invented in 1927, PEZ candy was made with the express purpose of helping cigarette smokers quit their habit. Yes, it was that era’s version of nicotine patches or nicotine gum.

Its inventor was a man named Eduard Haas III, who was hoping to replace smokers’ habits of having a cigarette in their mouths with his candy instead. When they were first introduced and spread across Austria and Germany through the late 1920s, they were round mints sold in round tins rather than the cartoon character dispensers that made them famous in the modern era.

Haas called his candy “PEZ” after the German word for peppermint, which is “pfefferminz.” He capitalized three letters in the word, styling it as “PfeffErminZ,” and pulled the letters out to brand his candy. Its popularity as an anti-smoking helper was mixed, but reviews were strong as far as it being a tasty candy. So in 1952, the company expanded to the United States.

Ever since, it’s been popular with generations of kids who are as obsessed with the goofy dispensers as they are with the candy itself. Oh, yeah, then there’s that infamous episode of Seinfeld involving the PEZ dispenser. Thus, now it’s a pop culture phenomenon. But it started as a tool to help smokers give up their habit![6]

4 Oreos Are Vegan

Are Oreos Really Vegan: Myth or Fact?

You may not have realized it while you bite into your 100th Oreo of the day (seriously, who eats anything less than a full sleeve of the cookies once they open the bag?!), but Oreos are actually vegan! They have been called “milk’s favorite cookie,” but if you choose not to dip them in milk (or dip them in almond or oat milk as an alternative), they are entirely vegan. They are also what is known in the food world as “accidentally vegan.”

That’s because when Oreos were first created, they were not made specifically to be a vegan alternative to other chocolate cookies or treats. But that’s just how they ended up! Oreos don’t contain any milk products, eggs, or any other animal products. They have enriched flour, palm oil, sugar, and either soybean or canola oil, depending on the batch and time of manufacture. But they have no milk or animal products!

As such, they technically qualify as a vegan snack. Sure, when we think “vegan,” we think healthier stuff. Fruits and vegetables come to mind—specifically the meme-worthy kale. But Oreos fit the bill, too. However, hardcore vegans are on the fence about them since the cookie didn’t intend to be a vegan treat and doesn’t try to be a health food. But technically correct is still correct, and Oreos are technically vegan.

Now, you can use that little tidbit the next time you sit down for a meal with that one very vocal vegan friend. Pull out a sleeve of Oreos, start chomping away, and tell him that you’re vegan, too![7]

3 Glowing in the Dark

Peanut Butter Glows in the Dark

Peanut butter actually glows in the dark! We think of peanut butter as quite a healthy and worthwhile food to eat. It can help lower your cholesterol, aid in weight loss, provide healthy protein to your diet, and even prevent type 2 diabetes as a low-carb food that sustains you and eliminates hunger.

Of course, many kinds of peanut butter also contain extra ingredients like sugar and flavorings including things like honey and chocolate, so it’s not entirely healthy. But as a snack on its own, peanut butter is a seriously great food choice. And if you flip off the overhead light in the kitchen and turn on an intense light right above the jar in your pantry, you’ll see it glow!

The mechanism behind this centers on the phenolic compounds found in peanut butter. Those phenolic agents are found in many plant-based foods and are used as a protective cover for peanut butter’s oils. When subjected to laser light, those phenolic compounds display a short “afterglow” that is unmistakable in the dark.

The phenolic agents absorb the light from the ultraviolet spectrum and take in the energy from the laser pointer’s beam. Then, the peanut butter emits a visible green color through fluorescence. And other plant-based oils experience that same brief flash of fluorescence, too![8]

2 Paste in Space

What Did Early Astronauts Eat | Food for Space Travelers | NASA Documentary | 1966

The first meal ever eaten in space was beef and liver paste squeezed out of a tube. The date was April 12, 1961, and the occasion was Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin traveling up into space as the first man who ever left the earth’s atmosphere. He orbited around the planet for a while on Vostok 1 and became a pioneer in the far reaches of what we knew was possible at the time. But he also got hungry! And when a man gets hungry, it’s best if he eats. Even if he’s in space and can’t possibly cook for himself up there in a tiny and primitive spaceship.

So Russian space officials sent Gagarin up to space with a tube of beef and liver paste. He had to squeeze it out to eat it in a manner similar to how you might push out toothpaste. And after he was done with the beef and liver paste, he rounded things out by enjoying some chocolate sauce for dessert. Yes, that part of the meal was also squeezed out of a tube. It doesn’t sound very appetizing, but it did the job![9]

1 Peanut Problems

Food Theory: The Hidden DANGERS of Peanut Butter!

Dynamite is (technically) made out of peanuts. Basically, there is an oil in peanuts that can make glycerol. In turn, glycerol can be processed to make nitroglycerin. And that last compound is, of course, a key component of dynamite. So you can take peanuts, extract the oil from them, produce glycerol from that, and boom! You’ve got a way to make an incredibly powerful explosive.

Obviously, the process is quite a bit more technical than that. The number of steps and the complicated processes it takes to extract the oil from peanuts and convert it into a dynamite-ready substance make the whole thing not really worth it. So dynamite is produced with glycerol, turning into nitroglycerin with far more efficient means, and the proud peanut is left out of the equation. But if you needed to make something go boom and you absolutely HAD to MacGyver it with some peanuts… it’s possible.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen