Preparing food is an art, and like all arts it requires room for experimentation. What follows are five everyday edibles that were made (or discovered) purely by accident.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Despite the wide popularity of the treat, the origins of the chocolate chip cookie aren't exactly known. There's two stories, one widely accepted, and both rely on a happy accident.
The first story (the one most reproduced) comes from 1930. In the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts, Ruth Wakefield set about making a standard chocolate cookie but had run out of baking chocolate. Unsure of exactly what to do (like, you know, buying more baking chocolate) she instead got creative, smashing a bar of semi-sweet chocolate into smaller chips and dumping them in the dough. Her thinking was that the chips would melt enough in the dough and mix into the batter. This, of course, isn't how that works, and the chocolate chip cookie was born, becoming popular almost instantly.
The second story is a little different. George Boucher, head cook at the inn, had enough faith in his employer to know that she would understand the properties of melting chocolate and knew she wouldn't get the desired effect. Instead, he alleged that a large electric mixer knocked chocolate bars off of a shelf and into sugar cookie dough being mixed, breaking it into the chips. Wakefield wanted to simply throw it away, but Boucher wanted to give it a shot. Ta-da, the cookie was delicious and he kept his job.
Another staple of the snack food world, potato chips have evolved from “spiteful dish” to “cutthroat industry” very quickly, making up a huge portion of the snack market in the English-speaking word.
The story goes that potato chips came about in 1853 in Saratoga Springs, New York, when a hard-to-please customer complained that the fried potatoes were too thick and bland. The chef, George Crum, made the dish several times over, but to no avail. Finally, a frustrated Crum made a final effort strictly to piss his customer off: he cut the potatoes to thin, deep-fried them and covered them with salt, presumably in an attempt to kill the patron. This backfired, and the chip was born.
While this may very well have been the introduction of the chip to the United States, it's not the de-facto invention of the chip. An English collection of recipes mentioning potato shavings had been published in 1832. How wide spread it was can't be said for certain, though it would seem that Crum himself didn't want to take credit for it (a biography he commissioned didn't mention the incident even though the dish helped to popularize him as a chef and the profits were used to open his own restaurant). Some debate continues as to where the chip came from, with some saying Crum developed his eventual chip alongside his sister.
Has one food item benefited so much from both intense summer heat and the adult film industry as much as the Popsicle?
The birth of the erotic frozen delicacy took place in 1905 in San Francisco. Eleven-year old Frank Epperson was mixing powdered flavoring for soda with water on his porch. Deciding to say “screw this,” Epperson went back inside and left his stick in the mixture. That night, record lows froze the treat to the stick. He discovered this the next morning and, feeling adventurous, decided to try tasting his abomination on a stick.
He decided to keep his creation a secret (thinking perhaps that it would be a deadly weapon if it fell into the wrong hands) and wouldn't introduce it to the public until some eighteen years later, selling fruit-flavored Popsicles at a California amusement park. Success followed as he patented the idea and later sold the rights, which eventually found their way to the Good Humor company.
Brandy, also known as “the breakfast of champions,” takes us back a bit farther than our previous entries, landing us in the 12th century and tying itself with the onset of distillation.
Wine was originally distilled as a means of preservation, but also served a dual purpose: evading taxes. Since wine was taxed by volume the idea was to add the water back shortly before being consumed, but it was discovered that storing the concoction in wooden casks tasted better than the bizarre Frankenwine, and thus brandy was born. It's unknown who can rightfully take credit for the invention but they were probably too wasted to care about that anyway.
Brandy originally required several distillations, so a few tests were developed to shorten the process. One required gunpowder at the bottom of the spirit. If it could be ignited after consumption then the brandy was deemed “pure.” Another, slightly more bizarre method saw ignition of the brandy. Then, if the entire drink could be consumed without leaving any impurities behind, you had yourself a fine beverage.
Saccharin is the original artificial sweetener, which means it or one of its many followers are most likely in something you eat on a regular basis, like it or not.
Constantin Fahlberg first produced the substance in 1878 while working on coal tar derivatives in Ira Remsten's laboratory at John Hopkin's University. One night he noticed a sweet taste on his hands and after putting two and two together connected it with the compound he was working with, implying that he didn't bother washing his hands after working with chemicals all day.
Later in 1884, Fahlberg began working alone and filing patents for saccharin in several countries, making him a fortune and causing a rift between him and Remsten, who didn't understand why he didn't get credit for something invented in his laboratory. While it had become a popular commercial product, it wasn't until World War I brought about sugar shortages that saccharin boomed. It would also go on to be marketed as a dieting aid because it contained zero calories.
It also has a long history of possibly being a poison. In the Seventies the Food and Drug Administration ruled that any product containing chemicals known to cause cancer in humans or animals required a warning label. Coincidentally, test rodents were known to develop bladder cancer from saccharin, and every food item containing it had a label. This lasted until 2000 when scientists discovered that the bladders of rodents contained higher levels of protein and high pH in comparison to a human's.