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Food History



Did you know?.....that the Spanish carried pineapples on long sea voyages to avoid scurvy, a disease caused by deficiency of vitamin C. They were said to be introduced to the Caribbean when washed ashore form the wrecks of Spanish ships. When Christopher Columbus made his second trip to the Caribbean in 1493, he called the pineapple the "pine of the Indies", as it resembled a pine cone. The "apple" part was added to the name when it was introduced to England, to make the association with that particularly popular fruit.


Did you know?.....that although asparagus has always grown wild on the seashores and river banks of Southern Europe, it was first cultivated by the Romans. It has always been considered an aphrodisiac, probably due to its shape and the way it is eaten, indeed Louis XV's mistress Madame de Pompadour only ate asparagus tips and egg yolks (with the occasional dish of truffles, celery leaves and vanilla), for that very reason. You may notice a strong smell in your urine after eating asparagus; everybody produces the chemical methyl mercaptan in response, some just can't smell it!


Did you know?.....that the humble pea was first grown for food in prehistory and probably in India as its name is Sanskrit. In the fifth century BC, the Greeks were making "pease porridge, beautiful and brown" and peas became a staple part of the everyday diet as a cheap and nutritious ingredient for the poor. They had an image change in the seventeenth century French court of Louis XIV and it was written at the time "this subject of peas continues to absorb all others. The anxiety to eat them, the pleasure of having eaten them and the desire to eat them again, are the three great matters that have been discussed by our princes for four days. Some the risk of suffering digestion will again eat peas before going to bed. It is both a fashion and a madness." Maybe that explains why they are the only greens some people will eat.


Did you know?.....that there is a historical reason why the pepper that we grind up and season dishes with has the same name as a seemingly unrelated green, red or yellow vegetable of the capsicum family. Peppercorns come from a very different plant, a vine that can grow up to 9 metres high. When Columbus was anchored in what is now Haiti, he was convinced that he had found the Spice Islands off the coast of India, so any fiery vegetable used as a seasoning was assumed to be pepper and he brought them back, claiming them to be another variety to that previously used. He also found them in Mexico and when Cortes and his Spanish army arrived they named them after the Spanish word for pepper pimiento. This word was now applied to the whole of the capsicum family, except the one that had caused the confusion in the first place which was given its Aztec name; chilli.


Did you know?.....that carrots as we know them are only a relatively recent addition to our diets? The orange variety is actually the yellow crossed with the purple and it is very debatable when this occurred, maybe even as late as the 14th century. Until then, the carrot's small, pale and tough ancestor was small and bumpy and described in c.694 BC as "bitter", hardly like our present carrot with its very sweet taste. Popularity of the cultivated form spread as the feathery tops of the vegetable were used as decoration on hats and clothes in the Elizabethan court. The English still regarded this purple version as a medicinal aid and herb though, and it was the Dutch who bred the sweet, orange variety. In fact the high sugar content that makes them so popular with the modern, sweet palette was the last inclusion, as in a 1824 cookbook, blanching was recommended "to take off the tart taste".


Did you know?.....the name avocado comes from the Aztec word ahuacatl, or "testicle tree"! They are actually a fruit and have always had a reputation as an aphrodisiac, though whether this is just related to their name remains a mystery. Columbus discovered them and centuries later were being called "midshipman's butter" and being given to junior officers aboard ships. They took a long time to become popular in Europe, mainly through difficulty in growing from seed in a cold climate. In his book Vegetables, Colin Spencer says that he ate his first after reading that James Bond ate one in Casino Royale. They were still considered very exotic in the fifties in Britain, only being seen in upmarket grocers in the 1930s.Today, Israel exports almost 100,000 and there are trees in Mexico that are over 150 years old.


Did you know?.....that garlic is one of the oldest flavourings that man has used. It was one of the most commonly used relishes with bread, much like the Spanish still serve on bruschetta, and helped to sustain the workers who built the Egyptian pyramids. They would have eaten purple heads with about 45 cloves, we know this because some have been found in tombs. Hippocrates and Aristotle recommended for medicinal purposes, even back as far as 460 BC. Garlic had magical properties for the Greeks and warriors took before battle for strength, but the elite Greeks and Romans looked down on those who ate and smelt of it. It permeates the world as an ingredient and cooking would be unthinkable without.


Did you know?.....that the domestic chicken, one of our main sources of lean, complete protein came into existence between about 3000 and 2000BC; before then its more aggressive ancestor roamed South Asia. Chickens were firstly used for religious sacrifice, cock fighting and as alarm clocks, with only one of these remaining as common practice now! Is it thought to be the Egyptians who first mass-produced them for meat and eggs to feed their hungry work forces. The Greeks revered them as symbols of love, desire, productivity, wisdom and warfare for various gods and so avoided eating the actual bird. Since Roman Times the meat has become popular universal nourishment and the birds bred for their appearance; Queen Victoria even banned cock fighting as a keen chicken-breeding enthusiast.


Did you know?.....that parsley is the most commonly used herb on the planet and a close friend of garlic, often because of its calmative and odour-removing properties. It was often the main bordering plant in Greek gardens; Hercules was said to have crowned himself with it after choking a lion to death and it was fed to the horses of Greek soldiers in battle and wreaths of parsley adorned tombs. The Romans used five types of parsley, but these were probably different to the five types we use today. The most common, curly-leafed or moss-curled, has long been used as a medicinal aid to digestion and is better suited to our colder, wetter climate in the UK. Neopolitan parsley did not leave Italy until the late nineteenth century as it prefers warm climes, but there is little difference in taste between the different varieties and they are interchangeable in recipes.


Did you know?..... the first English reference to tofu was in 1704. It was first eaten in China 2,000 years ago and the oldest written reference was made in a poem in 1,500 AD by Su Ping called "Ode to Tofu". A mural in the period between AD 25-220 showed a kitchen scene, inscribed on a stone slab, where soy milk and tofu were being used. It was introduced to Japan in the 8th century AD and then became popular with the Samurai class long before filtering down to the ordinary people. It is soya curd, made by curdling soya milk, much like cheese is made from milk. There are three types, firm, soft and silken; its bland flavour puts off many people, but the beauty of this is that it soaks up all flavours introduced. It is a staple food for many vegetarian cultures; if you haven't tried it, taste it first in a good Thai, Japanese or Chinese restaurant where they know how to cook it well - you may be surprised.


Did you know?.....that cheese was invented when man stopped hunter-gathering, became farmers and noticed that milk could solidify and then produce a different taste. The first cheese was produced in Mesopotamia or modern Iraq 5,000 years ago when herdsman would store their milk in dried calves' stomachs in the morning; by evening the milk would have been subjected to an enzyme in the stomachs called lab and by the evening whey had formed in a liquid. The refining of the cheese-making process then began; the Greeks used it for food and sacrifice, the Romans used goat's and sheep's cheese as a staple for the people and the European ripening technique were perfected by monks in abbeys in France. The French word fromage was first formage, hailed from the Latin slang "Formaticus", or "made in a mold" and was first used in 1180, by 1550 there were more than 50 varieties of cheese, many taking the names of the monasteries where they were invented. If you can tolerate lactose, some cheese in moderation is certainly delicious; goat's and sheep's cheeses contain less of the milk sugar - a small amount of a stronger-flavoured cheese lowers your saturated fat intake, but not the taste.


Did you know?.....bread has been an essential part of the human diet for centuries, in every part of the world except South-East Asia where the staple carbohydrate is rice. It is eaten in one form or another by nearly every person on earth, but unfortunately once the source of most of our necessary nutrients has been somewhat ruined by technology and "progress". Breads were typically made from the wholegrain of glutinous grains such as wheat, oats, barley and rye or millet and corn. It was found that storage of the milled flour from these grains was difficult and by removing the nutritious kernel part from the hull to make white flour, then weevils were much less likely to eat it. The expensive milling process meant that white bread became a luxury item, with the poor living on the healthier natural version. In the 1800s mechanised milling made white flour accessible to all and this is believed by many to be one of the major historical events that lead to the rise of deficiency-related diseases. Ironically white bread, once the reserve of the rich is more recently associated with budget shopping with more traditional wholegrain varieties seen as more exotic.


Did you know?..... Man's first taste of bread was in a crude form of flatbread, made from just flour and water. In the Stone Age, people made solid bread 'cakes' from stone-crushed barley and wheat, a millstone for corn-grinding has been found that is thought to be 7,500 years old and it is the cultivation of cereals, which is thought to be a motivating factor in man's settling in communities, rather than wandering nomadically. Most cultures still use similar flatbreads (such as tortillas, chapattis and pittas), but it was believed to be the Ancient Egyptians who first baked the raised or leavened bread, which we mostly eat today. They started fermenting a flour and water mixture with wild yeast present in the air in around 3,000 BC, in fact Jews eat unleavened bread to commemorate the Israelites' departure from Egypt, as it was so hurried that they didn't have time to allow their bread to rise. Since wheat is the only grain with sufficient gluten content to make a raised or leavened loaf of bread, wheat quickly became favoured over other grains grown at the time, such as oats, millet, rice, and barley. The workers who built the pyramids in Egypt were paid in bread.


Did you know?.....the word pasta simply means paste and as recently as 1918, was still being used in England. Italian pasta is just a form of noodle, a foodstuff made from a paste of flour and water, sometimes egg and other ingredients to add flavour and colour such as spinach or even squid ink, an interesting dark purple colour. One theory is that Marco Polo introduced pasta after his travels in Asia, where noodle making had been perfected centuries before. Another is much more romantic and tells of the Italian sailor who asked his Chinese mistress to teach him to make noodles - he rolled the balls of dough wider and flatter and the Italian version was born. It was only originally eaten by the poor until the invention of the fork, when the more privileged felt able to eat it. Pasta bowls are designed to help turn the fork and your method of eating is seen as an important judgement on your character - and no, alphabetti spaghetti does not count.....


Did you know?.....sushi has become the food that we most associate with Japanese culture, but rather than always being the shapes and forms we eat now, it was traditionally a way of preserving fish, where it was sandwiched between rice and salt with a large stone for several weeks. This form was eaten for thousands of years until the 18th century when a chef called Yosei abandoned this process and invented the "new" sushi in the form we eat today. In Osaka there is still an elaborate tradition of sushi pressed with rice in wooden boxes. This type of sushi is called hako-zushi. The sushi most commonly known among Westerners comes from Edo, the old name for Tokyo, and consists of hand-rolled sushi specifically called nigiri sushi. The use of the seaweed, called nori, provides an intensely nourishing food.


Did you know?..... Garbanzo Beans or chickpeas are the most commonly eaten legume in the world. Originating in the Middle East, they have a firm texture and taste somewhere between chestnuts and walnuts. They are usually a pale brown, but in India there are also red, black, and brown versions. Cicero is the Italian for chickpea and the famous orator, lawyer, politician, and philosopher of the same name (whose life coincided with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire) was so named because he had an ancestor with a chickpea-shaped wart at the end of his nose. Chickpeas are perhaps most commonly known in the popular Middle Eastern dip houmus, traditionally made from pureed chickpeas, garlic, and sesame oil or sesame paste (tahini), although sometimes olive oil and lemon juice are used today as well.

Indian food in the UK

Did you know?..... How authentic is the Indian food that we eat in the UK? Well for a start, the first 'Indian' restaurant was opened in England by Bangladeshi immigrants needing to make a living; Bangladesh was a little known country and so 'Indian' was a much easier description for the English to swallow. In 1780 the first commercial curry powder appeared in England and in1861 Mrs Beeton continued the trend of Anglicising Asian dishes with no less than 14 recipes in her 'Book of Household Management', including Dr Kitchener's Recipe for India Curry Powder. According to Camellia Panjabi "Ninety nine per cent of Indians do not have a tandoor and so neither Tandoori Chicken nor Naan are part of India's middle class cuisine. This is even so in the Punjab, although some villages have communal tandoors where rotis can be baked. Ninety five per cent of Indians don't know what a vindaloo, jhal farezi or, for that matter, a Madras curry is".


Did you know?..... Everybody knows that the favourite English food is a "curry", but less know the origins of the word itself. In Britain the term 'curry' has come to mean almost any Indian dish, whilst in India itself it is not a word used, but covers the description of a meat, vegetable or fish dish with spicy sauce and rice or bread. There is controversy as to the exact origin of the name; some say it comes from the Tamil word 'kari', 'kaar'i or 'kaaree' meaning spiced sauce; a gravy dish is called a 'khadi' in the north where the English first landed in 1608; 'karahi or karai(Hindi)' from the wok-shaped cooking dish and even a Portuguese cookery book from the seventeenth century using a chilli-based curry powder called 'caril'. It was agreed however that the word comes from India and was adopted by the British Raj, but recently evidence has shown that in Richard I's reign cooks were regularly using ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, galingale, cubebs, coriander, cumin, cardamom and aniseed, to make spiced food similar to Indian. Then in the late fourteenth century Richard II commissioned the first real English cookery book 'The Forme of Cury'. 'Cury' was the Old English word for cooking derived from the French 'cuire' - to cook, boil, grill - hence cuisine.

baked beans

Did you know?..... the style of baked beans we know and love the best is actually the New England style, featuring Navy or White beans and molasses. There is also a Boston style with the South-West influenced black bean and indeed although Boston is often considered to be the birthplace of the dish as early as pilgrim times, the Narragansett, Penobscot, and Iroquois natives created the first baked bean recipes. After an Iroquois chief threw his axe into a tree, left it there and discovered the sweet sap, the cooking habit of boiling meat in the sap and releasing the maple taste became popular. The Native Americans then created a dish with beans, sap and bear fat which the pilgrims then changed to include molasses and pork fat instead. As religious beliefs stopped the pilgrims cooking on Sundays, the beans could be "baked" overnight and still be warm in the morning. The association with Boston comes from the slave trade there, which created a surplus of sugar that was converted into molasses and had to be used up. Boston even had the nickname "Beantown", but ironically has no links with the multimillion-dollar industry today.


Did you know?..... muesli was devised by a Swiss doctor - Dr Maximilian Bircher-Benner in the 1890's, when he ran a sanatorium in Zurich and decreed it the most complete possible breakfast and a preventative for many ilnesses; the Swiss name is still 'BirchermŁesli'. The original recipe, still eaten by many today involves soaking rolled oats overnight in water, then over and adding grated apple, chopped nuts and plain yoghurt or cream to serve in the morning. It was subsequently produced exclusively in his hospital, and as the recipe was never licensed, the idea spread quickly. Modern muesli has little in common with the oiginal version, although the association with health remains, despite some commercial brands having up to 25% added sugar and fat and sugar levels similar to sweet biscuits. Traditionally muesli is made of oats and there is some irony that eating this cereal has increased dramatically in richer countries when oats were previously considered a peasant food and traditionally the staple food for horses!


Did you know?..... The story of tea starts with a legend from over 5,000 years ago in China. The story goes that a popular Emperor, Shen Nung was provided with all his water boiled first as a precaution. Whilst drinking outside one day, leaves from a nearby bush fell into his water and created a brown liquid that he drank and found to be refreshing. Tea drinking became central to Chinese society and the importance of tea in Chinese culture was solidified by the creation of the tea ceremony - first devised around 800AD by a former Buddhist monk, Lu Ya, who during a five year seclusion, catalogued all aspects of tea cultivation and preparation. His work culminated in relating the making of tea in a ritualistic form that reflected the Zen Buddhism that he was taught as a child. This form was later introduced to Imperialist Japan where it remained associated with Zen Buddhism and was elevated to the Japanese Tea Ceremony Cha-no-yu, which involved years of training by the Geisha hostesses.

The British Cuppa

Did you know?..... The Portuguese priest Gaspar de Cruz was the first European to describe the drinking of tea happening in the East. That was around 1560 and it then shortly arrived in Lisbon. Tea was first commercially exported by Dutch sailors in 1610 and porcelain teapots from China then became very popular in the seventeenth century. It only become fashionable in "society" to drink tea in England in the second half of the seventeenth century, eventually also becoming the beverage of the workforces during the Industrial Revolution. By the nineteenth century the British love of tea had caused an imbalance of trade with China, and the East India Company began to pay for its tea with opium grown in India and smuggled to China in 'clipper' sailing ships. After the Opium Wars, it was discovered that Assam tea had been growing wild in India, which could be harvested for a longer period than in China. The British soon got used to the more "malty" Indian flavour which we still favour today.


Did you know?..... vinegar is a natural biproduct of any alcohol-making process. Any alcoholic liquid containing less than 18% total alcohol will turn to vinegar as the airborne bacteria acetobacter aceti converts the alcohol into acetic acid, which gives the characteristic sour taste. Ancient civilisations as far back as the Sumarians used vinegar as we still do today; as a condiment, flavouring, cleaning agent, medicine, preservative and antibacterial. The discovery of vinegar happened all over the world independently and traditional methods used to make it usually involved just leaving a vat of alcohol such as wine, sherry or beer, open to just complete the process itself. The French discovered a way to make this process sophisticated, by leaving wine in wooden casks for two to six months, letting it slowly turn to vinegar and then filtering it into other casks and leaving to mature for a period of months or years - in fact the word vinegar literally means 'sour wine' in French.


Did you know?..... spinach is believed to be of Persian origin (now Iran) and was originally known as "aspanakh". Cultivation probably began in Persia during the era of the Greek-Roman civilisation. The absence of any Sanskrit name suggests that cultivation of spinach is not ancient. It was apparently unknown to the Greeks and Romans during the time of the Roman Empire (27BC to 395AD). The earliest written record of spinach is Chinese, where it was called "herb of Persia"; the record states that it was introduced into China from Nepal in 647 AD. The Arab Moors introduced spinach into Spain in 1100 AD and then it spread throughout Europe either from Spain or from the Middle East. By the 14th century it had spread to Europe and Britain where it was popular in religious communities, particularly during Lent.


Did you know?..... the name 'coffee' probably comes from the African region of Kaffa, now called Ethiopia. When it was discovered or made into a drink is lost in the mists of time, but it is known that the beans were chewed or cooked long before it was brewed into a beverage. The first coffee houses were in Mecca and drinking the brewed beans quickly spread throughout the Arab world. The coffee trade was jealously guarded, with foreigners barred from visiting plantations or even taking the beans out of Arab countries. This didn't stop the eventual smuggling of beans or seedlings to the Dutch colonies in India and Java, from where the Dutch became the main coffee traders in Europe, out of Amsterdam. The first European coffee house was opened in Venice in the late 17th century, from where the popularity of coffee spread across Europe and eventually to the Americas - Lloyd's of London started its life as a coffee house in 1688.


Did you know?..... quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a versatile food that is enjoying a revival as a fantastic vegetarian source of protein. Often believed to be a grain, it is actually a tiny millet-like seed and was considered the "mother grain' in ancient Inca civilisation in what is now South America. Archaeologists believed that it was first dmesticated around Lake Titicaca in Bolivia as early as 5000BC and the name comes from the Quechua language spoken by the Incas. It is believed that its cultivation may have been suppressed by the invading Spanish as it has such potent religious significance for the Incas, who considered quinoa to be a sacred plant. Religious festivals included an offering of quinoa in a fountain of gold to the sun god Inti, a special gold spade was used to make the first furrow of each year's planting and in Cuzco ancient Incans worshipped entombed quinoa seeds as the founders of the city. After the Spanish replaced indigenous cros with their own and relegated quinoa to the food of "peasants", it was then only grown in small amounts in the Andes. This only changed in the 20th century when it became more popular through the Andean nations of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Chile and has been exported to Europe, North America and Asia only in the last ten years.

Gin and Tonic

Did you know?..... the Gin and Tonic was invented in British Colonial India as a (slightly) more palatable way to drink the tonic water itself, which contains quinine, a member of the opiate family, (along with heroine, cocaine and morphine) and used as a "tonic" against malaria. In fact tonic water contains less than 20 milligrams of quinine per six fluid ounces. The recommended quinine dosage for treatment of malaria is two or three 200-350 milligram tablets three times a day and if you added that to your 'G & T', malaria would be the least of your problems! Quinine was the only effective treatment for malaria for 300 years, but has been since replaced as it does not completely kill off the parasite. Tonic water was granted an English patent in 1858, but it originally comes from the bark of the cinchona tree, which grows in the rain forest on the eastern slopes of the Andes. The Spanish first heard about the medicinal properties of the bark of the "fever tree" from the natives in the early 17th century and it obtained notoriety after being used to cure a Peruvian viceroy's wife from fever. It was then shipped to Europe in 1640 and after many wars and rivalries to procure it, was said to has allowed the colonisation of the Tropics.


Did you know?..... celery has been around for thousands of years, but was only used as a foodstuff relatively recently. Its main use historically has been as a medicine and the Romans wore celery wreaths around their heads in the belief that this would protect them against a hangover in the event of typical over-indulgence! In Classical times it was presented, bouquet-style to athletic champions; a symbol of its revered properties of "purifying the blood". Wild celery was used medicinally throughout the Middle Ages, when it was used to treat anxiety, insomnia, rheumatism, gout and arthritis - this is very similar to the type we eat today. It was first used as a foodstuff in 16th century Italy, from where it spread across Europe, becoming very popular in Victorian England. Remember that the Romans dedicated the celery plant to Pluto, the god of sex and hell, so it is not as pure and worthy as you may think!