12 Things We Didn't Know About The History Of Fried Foods

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Over 200 Ranker voters have come together to rank this list of 12 Things We Didn't Know About The History Of Fried Foods
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Vote up all the tastiest trivia about fried foods.

People worldwide have enjoyed various fried foods for centuries. Deep-frying is thought to date back to ancient Egyptian times; the process was meant to help preserve foods. And the invention of the frying pan has been credited to ancient Mesopotamians.

The origin of many fried foods might come as a surprise. For example, tempura is recognized as Japanese, but it was actually introduced by Portuguese missionaries. The Italian fried rice balls known as arancini were invented in Sicily thanks to influential Arabs. And despite its name, the origin of the Scotch egg does not have a connection to Scotland. 

These are just a few facts about fried foods' origins you'll discover in this list. Vote up the most surprising ones!


  • 1
    192 VOTES

    The First Known Mention Of Onion Rings Came In A Newspaper Ad For Crisco In The 1930s

    Like many other items in this list, the exact origin of onion rings is unclear. However, the first documented mention of the crispy fried snack was in an ad for Crisco in a New York Times magazine in 1933. It included a recipe that said to slice onions into rings, dip them in milk, dredge them in flour, and then deep-fry them. 

    Regardless of who came up with the idea, the treat has always been popular; reportedly the average American eats 20 pounds of onions per year, with onion rings helping that number quite a bit.

    192 votes
  • 2
    149 VOTES

    The Churro Was Introduced To Latin America During The Spanish Inquisition

    This fried treat is made by piping a batter of flour, water, and salt through a star-tipped utensil known as a churrera into hot oil until it's crispy. Churros have a distinct ridged design and are generally dusted with cinnamon and sugar, although other flavors such as chocolate and caramel have become popular in recent years. The pastries are associated primarily with Spain, Portugal and Latin America; in the US, their popularity has been widely credited to Disneyland, as churros have been sold at the theme park since the 1980s.

    The exact origin of the churro is unclear. One story claims that Portuguese sailors discovered a salty fried food in the shape of a stick in Northern China called Youtiao; the sailors brought the frying technique home with them but turned the food from a salty treat to a sweet one. When the Spanish heard of it, they put a twist on the recipe by pushing the dough through a star-shaped tip before frying it.

    Another story says that churros were invented by nomadic Spanish shepherds in the Middle Ages, who cooked the treats over an open fire. Their breed of sheep, the Churra, had horns that supposedly resembled churros.

    No matter the exact origin, what is known is that the pastries have been around for centuries, as they were introduced to South America during the Spanish Inquisition.

    149 votes
  • 3
    129 VOTES

    The Origin Of Beignets May Date Back To Ancient Rome

    Beignets are often associated with New Orleans, LA, but the powdered sugar-coated doughnut-like treat wasn't born there. Classified as choux pastries - which refers to the high-moisture dough that creates steam during the cooking process (the steam gives the finished pastry its rise) - beignets are made with a yeasted, sweetened dough. After it rises, the dough is cut into squares, fried, and dusted with powdered sugar.

    Beignet means “fritter” in French, although the origin of the word can be traced back to the Celtic word “bigne,” which means “to raise.”

    The origin of the treat is unclear. Some people believe beignets can be traced back to ancient Rome, as the Romans made a dessert called scriblita out of a high-moisture dough fried in animal fat. There may also be a connection to the Andalusian region of Spain and its sopapilla, which is also a fried pillowy pastry. From Spain, the recipe allegedly then made its way to France and later to French Canada.

    French Canadian settlers supposedly brought the recipe for beignets to New Orleans in the 18th century. There's even a legend that the recipe used by the famous Café du Monde came to the US courtesy of the Ursuline nuns.

    129 votes
  • 4
    184 VOTES

    In The US, Fried Chicken Became Symbolic Of Economic Empowerment During The Era Of Segregation

    Fried chicken is one of those dishes people tend to associate with the US - specifically, with the southern part of the country. In fact, for centuries many people felt that only Black Americans - a throwback to enslaved times - could make “authentic” fried chicken. 

    Some culinary experts suggested that Black people in the US brought the recipe from West Africa, although the way West Africans traditionally made fried chicken wasn't the same as the traditional Southern fried chicken. The first printed recipe for the dish that was widely accepted as traditional Southern fried chicken appeared in The Virginia House-Wife Cookbook, published in 1824.

    In 1983, author John F. Mariani suggested that fried chicken didn't actually originate in the US, but rather in the UK. As he wrote in The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink:

    Almost every country has its own version [of fried chicken], from Vietnam’s Ga Xao to Italy’s pollo fritto and Austria’s Weiner Backhendl. The Scottish, who enjoyed frying their chickens rather than boiling or baking them as the English did, may have brought the method with them when they settled the [American] South.”

    This theory is supported by the fact that the British cookbook The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, originally published in 1747, included a recipe for marinating chicken very similar to the technique used in making “traditional” Southern fried chicken. And an essay on 18th-century Scottish cuisine stated that in 1773, biographer James Boswell wrote a diary entry describing a fried chicken dinner he had on the Isle of Skye. There's also the fact that thousands of Scottish and Scots-Irish people emigrated to the American South in the 1700s.

    Regardless of its origin, fried chicken became a food that fostered negative stereotypes of Blacks but also provided them with economic power in segregated America. For example, the racist 1915 film The Birth of a Nation had a scene that showed political officials acting badly as they greedily ate fried chicken, to suggest it was dangerous to have Black elected officials. On the other hand, during and after the Civil War, Black women in Gordonsville, VA, sold fried chicken (and other food) to hungry train passengers as they passed through - trains had no dining cars at the time. This gave them a form of economic empowerment after the Civil War they otherwise wouldn't have had.

    184 votes
  • When thinking about quintessential British foods, one of the first - if not the first - thing that likely pops into people's minds is fish and chips.

    Both London and Lancashire have made claims to being the meal's place of origin, which consists of breaded, fried fish and thickly cut chips (French fries), the latter often doused in salt and vinegar. It's said that around 1863, a man named Mr. Lees started selling fish and chips from a wooden hut in a market in Mossley, Lancashire. When he moved to a permanent shop, a sign in the window read, “This is the first fish and chip shop in the world.”

    However, it's unknown whether the claim made by Lees was true, as a Jewish immigrant named Joseph Malin is said to have opened a fish and chips shop in the Cleveland Way part of London at around the same time.

    In the beginning, “chip shops” were small operations, often run out of people's homes. They didn't truly expand until the Industrial Revolution. This was also when the establishments started popping up in the US.

    The fried fish part of fish and chips arrived when Spanish and Portuguese Sephardic Jews fled religious persecution in the 16th century and settled in England. The story goes that frying fish became a tradition on Fridays because the batter would keep the fish preserved and tasty through the Sabbath, when cooking was not allowed under Mosaic law.

    150 votes
  • 6
    109 VOTES

    One Hush Puppy Origin Story Says Cajuns Dipped 'Mud Puppies' In Batter & Fried Them; This Was Looked Down Upon, So People Kept It 'Hush'

    Made of thick cornmeal batter fried until it's crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, hush puppies are a side dish generally served with fried fish or shrimp. They're mainly associated with the American South, although no one seems to know where or how they were invented. 

    Several legends exist. The most common (and logical) explanation is that when fishermen would start cooking their catch, their dogs would smell it and howl for food. To “hush” their “pups,” the fisherman fed them fried bits of dough.

    The strangest origin story is a tale about how Cajuns in Louisiana would batter and fry salamanders - which they called “mud puppies” - and then eat them. But because eating the amphibians was not all that socially acceptable, people “kept hush” about the practice.

    As fanciful as that is, it's more likely hush puppies were invented by a formerly enslaved person, Romeo Govan, who was a well-known cook in the area around Bamberg, SC, in the late 19th and early 20th century. He hosted fish fries where he served, among other things, “red horse bread." Red horse is the common name of the river-dwelling fish Moxostoma carinatum, and the bread was made of cornbread batter fried in lard.

    What people called “red horse bread” in South Carolina was referred to as “hush puppies” in other places in the South. In 1934, the fried cornmeal concoction received what was likely its first real attention outside of the southern US when the author of a travel piece in the Harrisburg Sunday Courier wrote about eating - and loving - hush puppies while visiting Orlando, FL.

    109 votes