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The Odd Beginnings of the Hot Dog Bun

The Odd Beginnings of the Hot Dog Bun

Did you know that the iconic Hershey’s Kiss got its romantic name largely because the machine that manufactured these chocolate droppings emitted a kiss-like sound as they were being made? And did you know that commercially sold pistachios used to be red, largely because the shells, when picked in the hot fields, would become discolored by the sweat and dirt on the workers hands, so a red dye was used to make these shelled nuts look uniform and flawless. OK, that last one is largely myth, but I repeated it to prove the point that many common foods carry with them a rich lore and a complicated myth that would surprise most people if they knew.

Writer Josh Chetwynd devotes an entire book to the subject of food lore in his upcoming book, How the Hot Dog Found Its Bun: Accidental Discoveries and Unexpected Inspirations That Shape What We Eat and Drink. This is a book, while whimsical in nature, is actually a well-researched and factual collection of 75 short essays that trace the history of popular food and dispel common misconceptions.

As the title would suggest, the hot dog bun factors into the “meat” of this book. Chetwynd says there are many competing stories for the origin of the hot dog bun, but he claims (in an interview on NPR) that the best one was “a story [that] comes out of St. Louis in the 1880s, and there was a street vendor who was selling [hot dogs]. At the time they weren’t called hot dogs, they were called either red hots or frankfurters. And while selling them, he would give out white gloves, because when someone would buy the red hot they wouldn’t want to get their hands scalded or wouldn’t want to get too greasy. The problem was that a lot of the patrons were running off with the gloves, and this was really hurting his bottom line. What he ended up doing was going to a brother-in-law of his and saying, look I have this problem, and he was lucky enough that his brother-in-law was a baker and suggested the soft roll.”

The book also takes a look at the wholesome treat the Graham Cracker, a product created by social puritan Sylvester Graham, and how its creator believed the humble cracker would be a deterrent for people’s sex lives. “He lived at a time where foods were becoming processed, and thought that part of processed food and rich foods led to what he called ‘venereal excess’ and led people to being a little too focused on their libido.” No word on what Graham would make of the most popular usage of his titular cracker – the messy and indulgent s’more.

Do you have any good stories, myths or lore about popular food items?

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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9:29AM PDT on Oct 13, 2012


7:40PM PDT on Jun 24, 2012


6:02PM PDT on Jun 5, 2012

Very nice, thanks

10:26AM PDT on May 29, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

2:04AM PDT on May 23, 2012

Well, speaking of food and stories... Many Americans think raw fish when they hear "sushi". It's not the raw fish, it's the rice, which is seasoned with a touch of sugar and some vinegar. So even if one is afraid of the raw fish, and don't like plain rice, they may like the sushi rice, especially with fun items on top like a scrambled egg, seasoned mushrooms, snow pea pods and Japanese pickles...

for those brave enough for the sashimi, which is raw fish, I recommend the "maguro", which is the red tuna, or the "sake" - salmon.

6:44AM PDT on May 21, 2012

Good trivia for kids at the next BBQ

11:50AM PDT on May 13, 2012


5:59AM PDT on May 7, 2012


11:43PM PDT on May 6, 2012

Makes perfect sense to me! It's just another variant on the sandwich/pita/tortilla... if you wrap something in bread, you can keep it all together in your hands (and, yes, less greasy).

2:59PM PDT on May 6, 2012

haha thanks :)

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