Special Report

Bananas Are Radioactive and Other Surprising Food Facts

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11. Cheese is the world’s most stolen food

According to the Center for Retail Research in Norwich, England, the food most often stolen from stores is cheese. This is perhaps because it can be one of the more expensive items on sale (prices of $20 to $30 a pound are common for artisanal varieties) and can bring a quick profit on the black market. About 4% of the retail inventory of cheese gets swiped every year, says the agency. Raw meat and alcohol are runners-up.

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12. Shredded cheese contains wood pulp

Sure, shredded cheese is convenient, but what keeps it from clumping? It’s mixed with cellulose, which is a fancy name for wood pulp. The bad news is that the substance is also found in a lot of ice cream, bottled sauces, and other foods. The good news is that it’s apparently completely harmless.

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13. Salt and pepper were once used as currency

Salt and pepper appear on every table. We take them for granted. But there was a time when both were rare and valuable commodities. In fact, Roman legions received part of their pay in salt (this gave us the word “salary”), and it was so esteemed in later centuries that historians believe the scarcity of salt was one motivation for the French Revolution. Pepper was originally grown only in South Asia and was a pricey import in Europe. In medieval England and elsewhere, peppercorns were acceptable payment for rents and taxes.

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14. French fries are Belgian

Though the French tend to dispute this, there is evidence that it was Belgians along the Meuse River who first cut potatoes into batons and plunged them into hot fat — the same cooking technique they used for the small fish they caught. If this is true, the potatoes may have earned their name because it was the French scientist Antoine-Auguste Parmentier who first popularized spuds in Europe — or it might come from the Old English verb “french,” meaning to cut into long pieces.

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15. German chocolate cake isn’t German

This chocolate layer cake with a sugar frosting mixed with chopped pecans and shredded coconut isn’t named for the country whose name it seems to bear. It is called “German” because it was originally made with a kind of dark baker’s chocolate developed by an English-American chocolatier named Samuel German.

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