What’s more American than apple pie? A lot of things, actually. While apple pie has become the unofficial food mascot of the United States, this classic, crowd-pleasing dessert is actually not American in origin. Apples originated in Asia and were eventually brought to North America by European colonizers. The first recorded recipe for apple pie was written in England in 1381. Of course, there are plenty of foods that did originate here and also represent the American ethos, perhaps even more than apple pie does.
I’d like to nominate the following distinctly American foods as our new edible mascot:
- Kale Chips
It might seem like kale originated in a hipster’s rooftop garden in Brooklyn in the early 2000s, but the now-trendy cruciferous vegetable has been around since at least 2,000 BC. But who decided to take this green “superfood” and try and make it taste like a Dorito (emphasis on try)? For that, we can thank New York-based chef Herbert Rindfleisch, who is credited with inventing the first kale chips in 2005. This bougie, expensive, health-conscious snack has been pleasing a select few while eliciting eye rolls from others for nearly two decades. Here’s to many more!
There is a cornucopia of American-made highly processed, flavor-saturated, sodium-packed snack foods. But while many processed snack foods originated here, none represent the spirit of the U.S.A. quite like Cheetos. These legendary neon-colored puffs were invented in 1948 by Charles Elmer Doolin, who also created the Frito Lay company in his mom’s kitchen in San Antonio, Texas. Cheetos may not have nutritional value, but they’re iconic, enticing, and you can’t stop eating them. Is there anything more American than that?
Another classically American packaged food is Hostess’ tubular yellow sponge cake filled with white cream frosting. The Twinkie was invented by one Mr. James Dewar in Schiller Park, Illinois, in 1930 and has become known for its long shelf life, earning it a reputation as the “cockroach of snacks.” Personally, I prefer to think of twinkies as survivors. You may remember this snack went off the shelves for a bit in 2011 when Hostess filed for bankruptcy. But a few months later, they made a comeback, and we all resumed our lives as if nothing bad had ever happened. It’s the American way!
S’mores are a great concept that, in execution, often goes quite badly. Ain’t that American! Marshmallows as a snack food were actually created by the French, and chocolate originated several millennia ago in South America, but graham crackers were born in the U.S.A. They were actually invented by a Presbytarian minister with the intent to curb sex drive (because of how dry and bland they are), so adjust your campfire plans accordingly. It’s believed that this iconic trio first came together to create the S’more in the U.S. about a century ago. The idea of roasting marshmallows can be traced back to New Jersey in the late 1800s, and the first known “s’more” recipe appeared in the 1927 Girl Scouts handbook.
- Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate didn’t originate in the U.S., and neither did cookies. But the combination of the two is attributed to Ruth Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn (yes, that Toll House), in the 1930s in Massachusetts. The chocolate chip cookie actually happened by accident, when Ruth added pieces of a chopped up Nestle chocolate bar to her butter cookies, thinking they would make solid chocolate cookies. Instead, something much better was born. I think I speak for everyone when I say, Ms. Wakefield, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for messing up in the kitchen that day.
- Corn Dogs
Hot dogs probably originated in Germany, and deep frying has been around since ancient Egypt. But the decision to deep fry a hot dog? Unsurprisingly, that happened on U.S. soil. In fact, the corn dog is such a uniquely American invention that it’s hard to say who exactly invented it. It popped up in various parts of the country in the 1930s and ‘40s at several state fairs, with many different people vying for credit as the original corn dog creators. The only thing more American than ego-driven competitiveness is deep-frying a hot dog, which is why this popular street food is about as American as it gets.
- Candy Corn
Candy corn might be the most polarizing candy. Whether you vehemently hate it or you believe it should be eaten during every single holiday and not just Halloween, these sweet, waxy little orange traffic cones have made a mark on American culture. Originally called “chicken feed” (yum!), it’s believed that candy corn was invented by an employee at a candy company in Philadelphia in the 1880s. And here’s a fact that won’t please the pro-candy corn people: One of the main ingredients, cutely dubbed “confectioner’s glaze,” is Lac-resin, a secretion made by bugs. Bugs! Divisive, unhealthy, and harboring a disturbing secret? Siri, play “Ain’t that America”!