While you might think inventors and chefs intentionally developed some of your favorite foods, that may not be the truth. Some of Americans’ favorite breakfast foods, snack foods, desserts, drinks, and other ingredients were invented (or became a sensation) essentially by accident. From Popsicles to potato chips, sandwiches to champagne, some of the most ubiquitous and seemingly important foods came about thanks to a little ingenuity, maybe a little sass, and quite a bit of luck. Here’s a little bit more about these famous foods that were invented by chance.
The Popsicle invention story is an interesting one. One night, in San Francisco in 1905, 11-year-old Frank Epperson stuck a stick in a glass of soda, which he then left out on his porch overnight, according to The New York Times. When he returned to the glass the next morning, the mixture was frozen to the stick and he had invented the Popsicle, which he introduced to the American public in 1922 and then patented the “Epsicle” in 1924, which he sold to Popsicle sometime after 1929. So each summer, when you quickly eat up a Popsicle to cool yourself down, that’s thanks to Epperson’s happy accident.
According to the History Channel, beer was invented by agrarian communities about 12,000 years ago, as these communities developed the infrastructure for cultivating cereal grains. The fermentation of these grains, which resulted in beer, was likely a happy accident, with some historians arguing that the Neolithic Revolution was tied to humans’ desire to better produce alcohol.
Beer was especially well-loved by the Egyptians, where workers were partially paid in beers flavored with olive oil, dates, and other seemingly exotic ingredients for beer. Beer as you know it know started to emerge in the Middle Ages when monks and other started experimenting with the addition of hops. Next time you drink a cold beer, just remember that what you’re drinking was basically 12,000 years in the making. Pretty cool.
Chances are, if you’ve ever traveled to St. Louis, you’ve eaten toasted ravioli. The famed St. Louis snack food is a staple in many area restaurants, but it has a bit of a contentious origin story. According to St. Louis Magazine, really the only thing known for sure about the beginnings of what locals call “T-ravs” is that they were invented on The Hill, a St. Louis neighborhood with a significant Italian population. Beyond that, three different restaurants on The Hill claim to have served it first: Oldani’s (now Mama’s), Angelo’s (owned by an unrelated Oldani and now Charlie Gitto’s), and Lombardo’s. According to the stories, a German cook was cooking up scaloppini and drinking red wine when he tipsily dropped some ravioli in the deep fryer. They were topped with a dusting of Parmesan and sent out to the bar in an effort to make due. Patrons loved them and the rest, as they say, is history.
While potato chips weren’t exactly invented accidentally, them becoming the perennially popular snack food they are today was. According to The Christian Science Monitor, potato chips were invented by a hotel chef in upstate New York after a customer complained about his fried potatoes being too thick, soggy, and bland. The chef, George Crum, offended by the comment and subsequent request, made ultra-thin chips out of slices of potatoes, over-cooked them, and added too much salt to take care of the “bland” comment. They were served out of spite, but the very particular customer quite liked them and soon word started to spread. Without Crum’s annoyance and willingness to fight back, your favorite sandwich accompaniment may never have been invented at all.
Chimichangas, those deep-fried concoctions that grace many Mexican-American restaurants, were also invented by accident. According to Phoenix Magazine, the first chimichanga served in Arizona was created at El Charro Café by the original chef and owner, Monica Flin, after she accidentally dropped a burrito into a deep fryer while frying tacos. She started to curse in Spanish, then finished with the Spanish version of “thingamajig,” giving her creation a name that’s stuck.
An iconic American breakfast cereal also came about due to a bit of a happy accident. Corn flakes were invented by brothers William and John Kellogg in the late 19th century, according to The Christian Science Monitor. The two worked at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a Seventh Day Adventist sanitarium where vegetarianism and healthy nutrition were key principles. Looking for a substitute for bread for their patients in the sanitarium, the Kellogg brothers boiled wheat, however they boiled it too long and when they rolled it out it fell apart into flakes, which they then baked. The brothers and patients alike both thought them tasty, and William had the idea to develop the recipe with corn instead of wheat, leading to the cereal you know of today (and leading to Bran Flakes and Rice Krispies, yet more iconic breakfast cereals).
According to The Telegraph, French waiter named Henri Charpentier said he was the one who created the crêpe suzette in Monte Carlo. Charpentier said after unintentionally burning the sauce he was making for crêpes for a group of important and influential restaurant patrons. One of those diners, the Prince of Wales (later to be known as Britain’s King Edward VII) enjoyed it so much that he requested that it be named after the woman he was with and her name was, you guessed it, Suzette. Today crêpe suzette might be considered a little fussy or formal for many restaurants, but the fancy dessert still will forever have a place in culinary lore.
You have a gambling issue to thank for the accidental invention of sandwiches, which are perhaps America’s favorite lunch food. According to the History Channel, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, was perched at the gambling table and unwilling to leave it to eat. He requested something that could be eaten tableside, so he could continue playing cards. His cook brought him meat sandwiched between two pieces of bread. The Earl was a fan and the dish became increasingly popular, eventually being named after the town where its original eater was from. Nowadays, of course, sandwiches come in every shape and style, their versatility and ease of creation one of the things people most love about them.
Icees and Slurpees
According to Mental Floss, Icees are yet another snack food invented by accident. Omar Knedlik owned an old Dairy Queen in Kansas City in the late-1950s, and the machinery wasn’t exactly as reliable. One time, when the soda fountain wasn’t working, he put some bottles in the freezer to keep them cold. He must have left them in there too long, however, because when he opened them to serve, they were slushy rather than liquid. Customers liked the slushy consistency, though, and he began to receive requests for them. Now the gas station and movie theater staples make for the sweetest of sweet treats, perfect for when summer temperatures soar.
Nashville hot chicken
Nashville hot chicken is currently having a food darling moment, but it was originally a very localized dish. According to First We Feast, Nashville hot chicken was invented accidentally-on-purpose at Nashville’s famed Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack by current owner Andre Jeffries’ great-uncle Thornton Prince’s lover. She suspected he might be cheating on her, so to get back at him, she served him a plate of extremely hot chicken. As with the potato chips story, Prince loved the dish and began to serve it at the restaurant. And now, all those years later, it’s become a total sensation.
The most celebratory of drinks almost wasn’t created at all. According to First We Feast, champagne was created by accident in the 1490s when a changing climate in the Champagne region shortened the growing season and caused bottles to undergo a second fermentation when it warmed up in the spring, making stoppers pop. What was once seen as a disaster eventually became something to celebrate in its own right.
Worcestershire sauce is difficult to pronounce, but it’s an essential ingredient in many of your favorite recipes. According to HuffPost, it was first invented by iconic Worcestershire sauce brand, Lea & Perrins. After a nobleman returned to England from a trip to India, he hired John Lea and William Perrins to recreate something he’d tasted while abroad. The first attempt was unsuccessful, but the two co-inventors kept it around in storage anyway. After tasting it again, they realized that aging it had worked wonders and they’d created something unique. It was first bottled in Worcester at the Lea & Perrins pharmacy, giving it its name.