Five Foods First Eaten Out of Desperation

Certain foods are obviously tasty just from the look; ripe strawberries, rice and rabbits all look delicious. Certain foods don't look delicious, but are close enough to delicious-looking food to understand how humankind got started eating it; bitter melon, cow's milk and Seville oranges fall into this category.

Then there are foods that just plain look poisonous, or require so much processing that it's hard to figure out how they became part of our diet. It had to be desperation; necessity is the mother of invention, and starvation is a powerful motivator to get creative.

Read on for five things in this category.

Five Foods First Eaten Out of DesperationEXPAND
Dave Lieberman


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A bud with thorns on a plant often bigger than humans with irritating hairs on the stem, with a bristly choke inside that can asphyxiate humans foolish enough to try to consume it. Undercook it and your throat will burn; overcook it and your eyes will burn. You have to scrape the flesh off the leaves in order to finish eating it, and three quarters of the original mass of the food is still there when you've eaten all you can. Sounds like dinner, right? There are all sorts of warning signs not to eat this giant thistle, yet somehow the people of the Mediterranean managed to figure out not only how to eat artichokes, but how to distill in them into Cynar, the frat house prank of liqueurs.


Five Foods First Eaten Out of Desperation
funadium @ CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Ever tasted an olive right off the tree? It's a joke that gets played on newcomers to California (and other olive-growing places in the world). Someone picks a ripe olive off a tree, hands it to the patsy, and hilarity ensues as the poor guy's mouth tries to tie itself in knots. Olives are as bitter as gall. How someone figured out that these little alum bombs become not only edible but damn tasty after being soaked in salt (or salt solution) for a while speaks volumes either about humankind's ingenuity or our sheer bloodymindedness. Remember, though, without olives there would be no martinis; we'd all be drinking gibsons and fussing about the correct size of our cocktail onions.

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