Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Ten facts about snack foods from around the world

Did you know that in the United States, February is National Snack Food month? In 1989 a need was seen to increase the sales of snack food in the usually slow month of February, and so National Snack Food month was born.

But is snacking good for us? Eating and mealtimes are (inherently) the result of physiological needs. It takes about four hours after eating for the glucose levels in our brains to dwindle, at which point the brain starts to use glycogen, which is stored in body tissues and reprocessed by the liver. That’s when our appetite kicks in, telling us to start eating again.

In times and places when food supplies might be unreliable, it is better for us to eat one or two big meals a day. This is because these will increase the fatty deposits in our bodies, and so improve our chances of survival (as you don’t know when your next meal will come). However, where the food supply is certain our bodies can much better survive on fewer, smaller, but more regular meals. Therefore, the modern trend of snacking frequently throughout the day is seen as “nutritionally rational”.

Like anything, though, it depends on what snack food you are eating to determine how healthy this really is! We’ve collected together 10 surprising facts about snack foods from around the world, all taken from The Oxford Companion to Food.

  1. Elevenses’ is a colloquial expression which entered the English language in the late 18th century, meaning a light refreshment taken at about 11 o’clock in the morning. In the Mediterranean this is called merenda (or merienda), in various German-speaking regions it’s called the zweite Frühstück (second breakfast), and in Chile there are salas de onces.
  2. The pretzel, a snack food often found on American sidewalks, has arguably gathered more culinary mythology about its origins than any other foodstuff: from praying hands in a 7th-century Italian monastery, to a Frankish king in Alsace, to rewards for children learning their catechism.
    'Inside of pacay fruit' by J Bradley Snyder. CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr
    ‘Inside of pacay fruit’ by J Bradley Snyder. CC BY-ND 2.0 via Flickr
  3. Lupin seeds are bitter and toxic when fresh, but they can be soaked in salted water or boiled to make them edible. Toasted and salted seeds are served as a snack food, or appetizer, today.
  4. Okari nuts, which taste like an almond, principally grow in Papua New Guinea, can be as large as a tennis ball, and look like mini cabbages.
  5. Pacay pods have been popular since the times of the Incas, and are still eaten as a snack among rural populations in the Andes today. They are sometimes called an ‘ice-cream bean’ because the pulp is sweet, perfumed, and white, just like ice cream.
  6. A common snack food in Sulawesi (an Indonesian island) is nutmeg fruit. This is peeled and split into two, with the mace and nutmeg removed, leaving the fruit halves. These are then spread out, sprinkled with palm sugar, and left for three or four days in the sun until translucent, pale brown, and slightly fermented. This is called manisan pala or pala manis.
  7. Pakora are batter-fried vegetables or fish which are usually eaten as an appetizer or snack in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. They are also known as bhajis or bhajias.
  8. The Indian version of a samosa is the best known of an entire family of stuffed pastries or dumplings popular as a snack food from Egypt and Zanzibar to Central Asia and Western China.
  9. A very popular street food in Canada is poutine, described by Cynthia Wine as ‘an amazing concoction of French fries, cheese and gravy’. This is not to be confused with another type of poutine – the name used in Provence for both the sardine and the anchovy in their larval state.
  10. Popcorn as a snack has been around for a while. Archaeologists in New Mexico uncovered corn cobs and kernels, including some (dating from early in the 1st millennium BC) that were popped. Some of these ancient unpopped kernels, placed in hot oil, proved still capable of popping!

Featured image credit: ‘Rouga snack food’, by junierwong. CC0 Public Domain, via Pixabay.

Recent Comments

  1. Pepe

    Merienda actually means “tea” and it’s at tea time

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *