Cookbook Profile

Fascinating Historical Facts From
The Cambridge World History of Food


What was infant formula like in the Middle Ages?

In France in the 1600's, goats' milk was a common substitute for human breast milk. However, throughout history, breastfeeding has always been the most common form of infant nutrition. In many societies, it was common for a lactating woman to sell her breast milk or her services as a wet nurse while nursing her own infant (with often disastrous results for her own baby).

If Starbucks existed in the early 1800's, how might they have brewed their coffee?

In order to make their coffee more palatable, Nineteenth Century American coffee drinkers would brew their unroasted coffee beans with an egg or even add the skin of an uncooked fish to the brew.

In India, until lately, dining out has been a rarity. Why?

Traditionally, in many parts of India, it was forbidden to eat food that another person had touched. To allow a waiter at a restaurant to bring food to a customer would violate that tradition. Hence, the custom of eating out has only come into vogue there in recent times.

For centuries, alcoholism in Russia has existed in near-epidemic proportions. Why has alcoholism there become much more rampant in recent years?

Approximately ten percent of the old Soviet Union's income was provided by taxes on alcohol. In the 1960's, the Soviets attempted to maximize revenue from alcohol by keeping prices high; consumers retaliated by turning to bootleg liquor, which was frequently more powerful and far less expensive than its legal counterpart and remains very popular today. Beginning in the early 1960's, the availability of cheap sugar from Cuba also helped fuel an increase in samizdat vodka production.

What was the world's first fast food?

Fish and chips are considered to be the first takeout food to achieve wide popularity. In Britain, in the 1800's, the soap business became dominated by a few large firms who put their smaller competitors out of business. Many of the small storefront soap producers began using their coconut oil—one of the main ingredients in soap at the time—and their soap kettles for deep-frying.

Why do some nutritionists consider Korean cuisine to be the world's best?

Korean food is typically about 70% carbohydrate, 17% protein and very low in fat. By contrast, the typical Western diet is only about 40% carbohydrate and 15-20% fat, as well as 15-20% sugar.

Why is it not a good idea to consume alcohol after eating mushrooms?

Some mushrooms contain large quantities of coprine, which when combined with alcohol can result in acute intoxication.

Which popular Italian confection contains cyanide?

Marzipan contains minute traces of cyanide, which are far too small to result in poisoning.

Buy the Book!


The Cambridge World History of Food
Cambridge University Press, November 2000
Two volume hardcover set, $150
($175 after March 1, 2001)
ISBN: 0-521-40216-6
Reprinted by permission.


The Cambridge World History of Food


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This page created February 2001