The INSIDER Summary:
- Trends come and go — even food trends.
- We spoke with food historian and author of "Food in America," Andrew F. Smith to identify some of the most iconic foods throughout the last 11 decades.
- Examples include Cracker Jack, congealed salads and casseroles, frozen orange juice, TV dinners, beef Wellington, smoothies, Jell-O Pudding Pops, Lunchables, cupcakes, and kale.
It's hard to believe that there was time when gelatin-based salads were a popular meal, but it's true.
Plenty of foods we now consider weird were once mainstays in the American diet.
Keep scrolling to see some of the foods that defined the past 100 years.
1910s: Cracker Jack
According to Smith, Cracker Jack was the first commercial snack food. The caramel-coated popcorn and peanut mix launched in 1896, and by 1916 it was the largest-selling snack food in the world.
1920s: Candy bars
The 1920s brought on Prohibition, but it also brought on the advent of Mars Company, according to Smith. The company was founded in 1922, and created Milky Way in 1923. It went on to create Snickers — which has since remained the most popular candy bar in the US — and Three Musketeers in the early 1930s.
Other candy bars invented during the '20s include Butterfinger, Mounds, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Mr. Goodbar, and Babe Ruth.
1930s: Congealed salads and casseroles
The Great Depression changed the way that women cooked. Because many women had jobs during this time period, efficiency became a main priority in the kitchen. Casseroles — like green bean and tuna noodle — were easy to prepare and served as a creative way to repurpose all kinds of leftovers into a new meal.
Gelatin became a popular foundation of many meals during the 30s thanks to the fact that it was a good, but inexpensive, source of protein. According to the "The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America," close to one third of all cookbook recipes from this time period were gelatin based. Meals often consisted of rings of gelatin surrounding a smattering of random fruits, vegetables, eggs, olives, and more.
1940s: Frozen orange juice
Smith says that frozen food took off after World War II ended. Before this time period, refrigerators didn't have freezers that were large enough to store much of anything.
In 1946, a man named Jack Fox created the company Minute Maid, according to Smith. Minute Maid manufactured the first-ever frozen orange juice concentrate. This canned alternative was cheap, lasted a long time, and with the addition of of just water, consumers could have orange juice in minutes.
1950s: TV dinners
C.A. Swanson Co starting making TV dinners in 1950. The frozen meals featured turkey, and later chicken and beef, that only required a short amount of oven time before it was ready to eat. The dinners caught on quick. According to Smith, in 1956, Swanson sold a total of 13 million TV dinners.
Smith says the meals were modeled after airline meals, which were served in aluminum trays, allowing them to be heated up and served quickly. The meals also coincided with TV's rise in popularity, hence their name.
1960s: Beef Wellington
According to Smith, this extravagant dish of beef covered in foie gras or mushrooms and baked in a puff pastry became popular party fare in the '60s. It served as evidence that the hostess who was serving it was high class.
Despite the fact that many people think the dish is named after an English Duke, the recipe was far more popular in America than in England. It was even featured in the "White House Cookbook" in 1968.
Although smoothies were invented during the 1930s (when the blender first came out), Smith says that smoothies only really gained significant popularity in the '70s. Vegetarians had caught onto the trend earlier, in the '60s, but the fruity, blended beverage didn't gain mass appeal until it hit malls in the '70s. Smoothies then had a comeback in the early 2000s.
1980s: Jell-O Pudding Pops
Along with the popularization of the term "comfort food," the '80s saw a rise in sweet snacks like Jell-O Pudding Pops. The pops were advertised as "frozen pudding on a stick" that was made with 60% skim milk.
Bill Cosby was the face and voice behind this frozen snack, which, to the dismay of countless people, was discontinued in the '90s (although Popsicle brought them back in 2004). Another sweet snack that marked the '80s were Fruit Roll Ups.
Every school kid's dream lunch, Lunchables were DIY lunch kits that allowed you to build your own pizza or simply enjoy some crackers and cheese. The packages included ingredients from popular brands like shredded Kraft cheese (Lunchables were manufactured by Kraft Heinz) and Ritz crackers.
Aside from the fact that they consisted largely of heavily-processed food, Lunchables gave busy parents a way around having to pack their child a brown bag lunch.
Cupcakes have been around for a while, but it wasn't until the first decade of the 2000s that the dessert experienced a true boom in popularity. Sprinkles, one of the first cupcake bakeries, opened in Beverly Hills in 2005. Four years later, Baked By Melissa started selling the tasty, bite-sized cupcakes they're now known for. That same year, the first episode of "Cupcake Wars" aired, a baking competition reality show in which contestants competed to make the best cupcake.
The past several years have been marked by a number of health food trends, including a shift towards salads and grain based bowls. This shift, as well as an increase in popularity in farmers' markets and the fresh produce found there, has led to kale's reign as the health food of the moment. Kale Caesar salads have become commonplace on many a restaurant menu, and people have taken to wearing shirts emblazoned with "Kale" or "eat more kale."
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