By and large, most people have curious minds. Most of us love a mystery. Maybe not a full on Sherlock Holmesian mystery, but we like to understand why things happen and where they came from. Language can often help with this by giving clues about the origins of things. But language and common knowledge, and even not-so-common knowledge, can sometimes lead us astray. Sometimes the things we think we know about, including where they come from, are completely wrong.
10. Mongolian Beef is Taiwanese
In a normal world if you name a thing after a place then that has to be where it comes from. Canadian bacon is from Canada. German shepherds are from Germany. Mongolian beef is from Mongolia. Except the world is often built on deception and misdirection and you can’t really trust a name these days. For instance, that popular dish is not Mongolian at all.
Made with flank steak and coated in a sweet ginger, soy sauce and garlic marinade, Mongolian beef is a staple at most Chinese restaurants. It’s actually a dish from Taiwan, and not from Mongolia at all. So why the perplexing name?
The dish gets its name not from where it came from but what it’s cooked in. In this case, a Mongolian chafing dish. Mongolian barbecue is popular in Taiwan and that is where the dish was first created, cooking in the chafing dishes and then growing in popularity from there.
9. German Chocolate Cake Isn’t German
Chocolate cake is popular, and with good reason: it’s delicious! Five percent of people in one survey said it’s the only cake they ever eat, while 84% of people overall liked it and only 6% were not fans. Of course, there are many different kinds of chocolate cakes, from lava cake to fudge cake to chocolate truffle and so on. And then there’s German chocolate cake. It’s a layered cake with a pecan and coconut frosting, making it quite a bit different from a standard, plain chocolate cake.
In another case of tricky words not really indicating where something comes from, German chocolate cake is 100% not German. It’s an American creation. Pecans and coconut are not particularly German as far as ingredients go, so maybe that’s no surprise. Why the name then? Thank the inventor of the sweet chocolate that inspired it, Sam German.
German invented a new kind of baking chocolate in 1852. For a long time it was called German’s chocolate. In 1957, a woman in Texas unleashed her homemade cake recipe, which used German’s chocolate, in a Dallas newspaper and suddenly the chocolate became famous, as did the cake made from it.
In reprinting the recipe over the years it changed from German’s to German, and the rest is tasty history.
8. Wet Dog Smell Doesn’t Come from Dogs Themselves
They don’t call dogs man’s best friend for nothing. The human and dog bond stretches back thousands of years. From big, burly St. Bernards to tiny chihuahuas, dogs are great, right? Well, except for the ones that bark a lot. And cleaning up their mess isn’t funny. And wet dog smell, that’s awful too, right? Not so fast! That last one isn’t the dog’s fault because wet dog smell doesn’t technically come from dogs.
As any dog owner can attest, a wet dog smells much more pungent than a dry one. It’s literally its own brand of stink and easily recognizable. Because it happens to dogs, we assume the dog itself is the cause but it’s actually a stanky stew of the yeast and bacteria found in dog fur that causes it. More specifically, the waste matter left behind by those tiny organisms. They poop in your dog’s hair; the hair gets wet and re-hydrates the poop, the poop stinks.
Because bacteria and yeast are the sources of the stink, some dog breeds are actually worse than others when it comes to smell. If you have a wrinkly dog like a pug or a shar-pei, it’s going to house more smell than a sleeker, smoother dog, so keep that in mind.
7. Angora Wool Comes from Rabbits
If you want to get a nice sweater, you might look into one made from angora wool. It’s a little pricier than normal wool but it’s very warm and luxurious and well worth the price if you want a nice garment.
Most wool comes from sheep and there is a species of angora goat that is bred specifically to harvest its wool so this all seems remarkably cut and dry. In truth, it’s not so simple, however. Angora goats produce mohair, not angora wool. Angora wool actually comes from angora rabbits.
Unlike sheep, goats or even alpacas which can all be raised for their wool, shorn, and then shorn again later while they live relatively happy lives, things are not so pleasant for the rabbits. If you’re the kind of person who wants ethically sourced and cruelty-free clothing, you’ll probably want to avoid angora wool entirely since as much as 90% of it comes from Chinese farms where the animals are often treated very cruelly.
6. Oil and Gas Don’t Really Come From Dinosaurs
In recent years fossil fuels have been a serious subject of debate. Our reliance on them has led to increased pollution and climate change and the world is in desperate need of a solution. And there have been plenty of ideas proposed, solar is obviously a big one, but fossil fuels like coal and oil don’t seem to be going anywhere, even though we’re on track to run out by 2052 or so. And it’s not like we can make more because it all comes from dinosaurs, right? Well, not really.
Natural gas, coal and petroleum do come from dead bio-matter, but that dead stuff is by no means a herd of velociraptors. Instead, it comes from things like phytoplankton and other aquatic microorganisms that died long, long ago. Many millions of years before the dinosaurs even existed. Even coal predates dinosaurs by about 75 million years.
Most of the fossil fuels we rely on were formed between 419.2 million and 358.9 million years ago. That’s well before any giant lizards were stomping around. You may have a little bit of dinosaur soft tissue remains mixed in there, but not much.
5. English Muffins Aren’t English, They’re American
An English muffin relies on two words to describe to you the nature of what it is. It’s a muffin, and it comes from England. Somehow it’s neither of those things in real life. They’re the foundation of the insanely popular Egg McMuffin and people have enjoyed them for breakfast for years though they seem quite a bit closer in nature to a biscuit than what most people would consider a muffin. But that aside, it’s the English part that’s entirely false.
The closest English muffins get to Britain is Samuel Bath Thomas, their inventor. He was British, but he was living in America and invented them in America as well. His original bakery was in New York and actually still exists today.
4. Pork Butt is a Pig’s Shoulder
Sometimes we’ll change the name of a thing just to make it sound more appealing. Like how Chilean Sea Bass became known as the more popular name for Patagonian Toothfish, because Patagonian Toothfish does not sound very appetizing.
Somehow the exact opposite thing has happened to pork butt. It’s from a pig so the pork part makes sense. But it’s not the butt. And even though butt has other, less immature meanings in the English language, it’s still the first thing most people are going to think of. But fear not. If you like pork butt, you are not eating the rear end of a pig.The butt of the pig is actually its shoulder.
Why call it butt when it’s shoulder? It’s that pesky language thing again. Butt is a word used to refer to the thicker end of something. It’s how it came to be related to the rear end of a living thing, but it’s the same reason a gun has a butt, or anything else that has a thick and girthy portion to it. So the thick shoulders of a pig came to be known as the butt.
3. Himalayan Salt Comes from Pakistan
Salt has been a hot commodity for centuries. It’s much easier to get and less of a status symbol today than it was long ago, but it’s the one seasoning no chef in the world would be without. And it has developed its own sort of snooty, artisanal subculture in recent years. It’s not enough to have just plain salt. You can get sea salt, of course, but then also gourmet salts. Red sea salts from Hawaii, pink Peruvian salts, alder wood smoked salt and sulfurous black salt. The most popular is arguably Himalayan salt. You can head down to Walmart and buy a shaker of it right now.
You’ll notice something interesting if you do buy your Himalayan salt from Walmart and that’s where it comes from. It’s sourced from Pakistan. And to be fair, the Himalayan Mountains run through Pakistan but, for whatever reason, the two are rarely associated with one another when it comes to the world of salt. And the salt is not mined anywhere near those mountains. Instead, it comes from different mountains, ancient seabeds really, in a place called Khewra.
2. Diamonds Do Not Come From Coal
We all know Superman is the strongest hero in DC Comics (except for when he isn’t) and to show just how tough he is, the Man of Steel can even crush coal into a diamond in his bare hand. He did it in a movie, even. This makes sense to us in the audience because we know that diamonds are created when carbon is subject to extreme pressure that forces it into a perfect diamond out of that mostly unimpressive black coal it used to be.
The downside to this scenario is that diamonds do not come from coal at all. They never have. It’s true that diamonds and coal are both made of carbon, but then a lot of things are made from carbon.
Coal comes from bio-matter. Plants and animals that died millions of years ago, buried and compressed for millions of years, become coal. But diamonds are older than most of the life on earth and formed well before most coal ever did.
Diamonds are formed in the Earth’s mantle, subject to incredibly hot volcanic temperatures and pressures then forced up closer to the surface over time. So while coal and diamonds are cousins, that’s about as far as the relationship goes.
1. Most Vodka Does Not Come From Potatoes
You can ferment almost anything in the world to make alcohol. Fruits and grains are obviously the most popular choices but the sky’s the limit if you want to get creative. And when it comes to vodka, there’s a strong and popular belief that the humble potato is the foodstuff of choice for making it.
This belief doesn’t come from nowhere. There’s evidence to suggest that potatoes, which didn’t come to Europe until the 1500s, were not well regarded for many years. As a result, when the governments of certain nations began cracking down on alcohol production, potatoes became a reliable option for making new stuff because they were cheap and no one really wanted them.
But vodka was being produced before potatoes and it’s still being made now and very little of it actually uses potatoes. Vodka can be made from rice, corn, wheat, sorghum, molasses, beets and almost anything else that grows. Potato vodka is actually much harder to come by and only around 3% of all vodka is sourced from potatoes.