From burnt eggs to brown cheese: Five more terrible foods -- and how we got stuck with them
Like everyone else who eats and drinks, I have a list of certain grubs and sips that are so foul that I won't go near them, and it is a constant source of curiosity for me that other people would -- to the point that some of the grossest edibles are actually quite popular.
Here are five more terrible foods and drinks -- and how we got stuck with them.
These Italian-style egg dishes are sorta like omelets, sorta like quiche -- and sorta disgusting. I have never had a slice of frittata either in a restaurant or at someone's house that wasn't a messy mashup of half-cooked vegetables; tough, salty meats and overcooked eggs. Most omelets I've had are at least cooked quickly enough to prevent the eggs from burning, and quiches have the benefit of crusts to keep the innards from searing, but frittatas have crackly, brown bottoms that taste bitter and sulfuric -- and the smell of burnt eggs is stanky up there with canned dog food and tunafish farts.
We got stuck with frittatas when the American dining public became interested to the point of mad obsession with rustic Italian favorites sometime in the 1950s. The preparation is rustic, too: They are made by dumping veggies, meat and cheese into beaten raw eggs, the mixture is then slopped into a frying pan, flipped, and duly scorched.
4. Graham cracker crusts
I like graham crackers -- who doesn't? They are crispy, sweet rectangles that are good to dip in things, melt chocolate and well-charred marshmallows on, or just eat by themselves. But for some reason when you crush them up with melted butter and stuff them into pie pans, they become something sinister, they become...useless, annoying filler that takes away from dessert fillings like cheesecake. It's frustrating to cut a slice of cheesecake or Key Lime pie and get a couple inches of the good stuff -- and double the amount of dry, crummy graham cracker crust.
We got stuck with graham crackers when Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham invented "Graham bread" in 1829. He wanted something snackable for his vegetarian diet, and at the time commercially produced baked goods were chock-full of nasty additives to get the whitest of white flour appearances possible, and brown breads made with whole-grain flours were considered fit for poor people (my, how times have changed). Graham believed his product was more nutritious, and a cure for alcoholism and sexual urges -- he got the first part right, but the jury is still out on the last two.
3. Water with a hint of flavor
Whoever dreamed up making bottled water with just enough flavor to make you want more flavor should be drowned in a giant barrel of Kool-Aid. I get the benefits of bottled water, and I agree with the merits of tasty fruit drinks in bottles as well, but water with just a drop of some sort of fruit flavoring is maddening. Either make it water or make it something else..
How we got stuck with this: I actually tried to discover who invented "hint of" bottled water by searching the magical Internet, and could not find a name (if I had, I would have also sent a strongly worded e-mail message to that person, expressing my displeasure). But I did learn that the history of bottled water is much older than I'd thought. In the U.S., commercial bottled water can be traced back to the 1700s, and it got popular in the early nineteenth century when glass bottles were mass-produced and affordable. The 1800s saw bottles of spring water selling as a more healthy alternative to water from other sources, like wells -- and there was probably some truth to that -- but even in the olden days Americans enjoyed being trendy and drinking bottled water as a status thing. Some things don't change.
2. Geitost cheese
People complain about Limburger cheese being nasty (it's actually a rather delicious, savory, washed-rind cheese that has a sharp, acidic aroma but a creamy consistency and meaty flavor). And they wax poetic about geitost -- a creepy, brown cheese that is a breakfast favorite in Norway. And here's where the yuck comes in: This cheese is sweet. Not just sweet, but cloyingly so, and its waxy consistency and sugary, scalded milk taste easily makes it the absolute grossest cheese in existence. It doesn't melt worth a crap, doesn't pair well with anything, and it's a serious disappointment coming from the same wonderful country that also produces Snofrisk -- a delectable goat's milk cream cheese that goes well with everything.
How we got stuck with this: This particular cheese was being produced way back in the day, in a spreadable form, when a Norwegian milkmaid named Anne Haav hit on the idea of adding cream to the cheese to boost the fat and make it sliceable. I read that geitost is nutritionally comparable to milk chocolate, but the chocolate tastes far better.
1. White sandwich bread
Yeah, I know that sliced white sandwich bread is supposed to be one of the hallowed hallmarks of traditional American cuisine and all, but I have never liked it because wheat bread is better. Wheat bread -- especially the whole-grain variety -- is superior to white in every way possible. Wheat bread is more dense, tastes nutty, has less offensive crusts, makes better toast, and beats out its white counterpart in the real test: It makes better grilled cheese sandwiches. White bread is dryer, almost flavorless, and is way too spongy.
How did we get stuck with this? White bread has been around longer than Wonder Bread, but Wonder Bread is what propelled it to the level of American cultural icon when, in 1921, it was introduced amidst clever marketing fanfare, and became the best thing since...well, whatever there was before sliced bread. Wonder Bread was also a historical trendsetter as the first commercial bread to be enriched with vitamins and minerals, use open dating and nutritional information on the packaging. In 1986 the company introduced whole grain white, made from albino wheat -- but I don't trust it because it's not brown.
Wonder Bread was recently bought by Flowers Foods -- owner of Mrs. Freshley's and Tastykake -- when Hostess went belly-up, so sliced white Wonder Bread will probably still be around when our grandchildren shove us all into cut-rate nursing homes. That's when I'll be proudly gumming my whole wheat bread because it will still be better.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.