Weird History
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The Most Historically Important Foodstuffs

Updated January 25, 2021 7.8k votes 1.1k voters 90.4k views18 items

List RulesVote up the foodstuffs you think had the biggest historical impact when they were introduced.

Human history is built on food. Just about any social occasion or backroom deal, no matter how small, has had some kind of food present. Armies need it to fight, people need it to live, and economies need it to function. The most historically important foodstuffs are more than consumable quantities... they've tipped balances of power in the world.

The foods that changed history come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors - from sweet to salty to savory. However, they always managed to fill a specific need at a specific time. Whether it be a new way of persevering crops, a delicacy for the nobility, or a way to feed the masses, food has been the cornerstone of humanity's foundation.

But what foodstuffs were the most influential of all time? You'd think that would depend on the time and place, but most of the big discoveries still have relevance in today's world.

  • Grain (and by extension bread) feeds the world, and has fed it for almost as long as recorded history. Ancient Egypt's chief export was grain, which made it an incredibly important part of the Roman Empire. It also led to the discovery of beer, which you can bet millions are incredibly thankful for.

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  • Photo: Metaweb (FB) / Public domain

    Salt Was Money

    The original spice, salt was not only loved but needed in a daily diet, as a preservative, and as an antiseptic. It was so sought after that it's actually been used as a currency. The word "salary" actually comes from a time when workers were paid in salt. It has also set up many areas as economic powers, such as areas of France and the city of Venice, which had access to a great deal of salt they could sell.

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  • Photo: Chiot's Run / Flickr

    Bread was everything to the common Frenchman's diet in 18th century Paris. It was so important that bakers were considered public servants and the police controlled bread production. So when there was a massive bread shortage that led to a famine, you better believe everyone was eager to overthrow the government. What followed was known as the French Revolution.

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  • Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

    Potatoes are a versatile and filling vegetable. It was easy to grow in Ireland, to the point where most of the population depended on the crop for their diet. In the mid 1800s, however, a blight wiped out the crop which led to over a million people dying of starvation. It's become a lesson in crop diversification ever since.

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