You’d Never Guess These Classic Recipes Were Invented by Marketers
Some foods are so beloved they seem like they've been around forever. But some of your favorite recipes were actually invented to sell products. Here's the surprising history behind a few brand-invented recipes.
Banana bread is such a simple baked good, it’s funny to think that it was invented somewhere. But it was probably invented by Pillsbury to promote flour and baking soda; an early recipe appeared in the brand’s 1933 cookbook, Balanced Recipes. The recipe became popular in the 1950s, when Chiquita included it in a collection of banana recipes. Chiquita advertised aggressively to consumers, one of the first produce companies to do so, and they were successful: today bananas are as ordinary as apples, even though they’re grown across the world.
Green Bean Casserole
Another mid-century invention, green bean casserole was invented by Campbell’s to sell Cream of Mushroom soup. Dorcas Reilly led the home economics team who perfected the early recipe, which combined two 1950s pantry staples: green beans and mushroom soup. The result is a Thanksgiving standard that deserves to grace your tabletop more than once a year.
Red Velvet Cake
This decadent, boldly tinted dessert has two brands fighting for the credit. The Adams extract company claims to have invented the cake to promote food coloring in the 1920s. (They still sell cake mix in vintage packaging.) The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York, however, counters that they invented the cake in the 1950s, when it was a popular item on their menu. No matter who invented it, here’s how to achieve a velvety texture in your red velvet cake.
Rice Krispies Treats
OK, this one is not so secret! Malitta Jensen and Mildred Day, two cooks in the Kellogg company’s home economics department, invented Rice Krispy treats in 1939. They intended the dessert for a Campfire Girls fundraiser; little did they know, the sticky bars would become a standby snack for decades to come. We love these variations, too.
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
So-called upside-down cakes—fruit and sugar spread at the base of a pan, covered in batter and baked—have existed since the Middle Ages, though the term “upside-down” wasn’t in use until the 1800s. In 1911, the Dole company made a machine to cut pineapple into rings. It was only natural to invent an upside-down cake that combined the novelty rings with maraschino cherries.
We love artichoke dip: as a dip, as a sandwich, as a pizza (these are recipes for people who really love artichoke dip). The recipe became popular in the 1950s, a heydey for dips, as people were beginning to eat around the TV. It may not have been invented by a company, exactly, but brands like Lay’s, Hellman’s and Lipton promoted dips widely, wanting to sell chips or mayonnaise or soup mixes. The artichoke dip, a somewhat exotic ingredient for the midcentury, may have been inspired by returning WWII soldiers, who had tasted European ingredients like garlic and artichokes.
Popularly a holiday cookie but delicious enough to eat every day of the year, peanut butter blossoms combine two of the most delicious foods ever: chocolate and peanut butter. The recipe was invented during the 1957 Pillsbury bake-off—and it wasn’t even a grand prize winner!
Okay, so energy bars are store-bought more than homemade, but their origin story remains fascinating. Pillsbury invented them in the 1960s, dubbing them “Space Food Sticks”—lab-created nutrition that could be stored at room temperature. By the 1970s, the brand was marketing space bars to ordinary consumers as a nutritionally-balanced snack. The energy bar industry has exploded since, with aisles full of options, and you can even make them at home. You may like these other high-energy snacks, too.
German Chocolate Cake
German chocolate cake isn’t actually German. It’s named for chocolate-maker Samuel German, who invented a dark chocolate for Baker’s Chocolate Company in 1852. A few years later, a home baker published a recipe for “German’s Chocolate Cake,” which called for standard baking chocolate. General Foods, the owner of Baker’s Chocolate, spotted the recipe and re-promoted it, this time using the dark chocolate. Sales of German chocolate took off, and the bitter, rich cake remains a chocolate lover’s dream. These are our best German chocolate recipes.