Fruitcake and 4 Other Foods with a Bad Reputation

How does a food item get a bad reputation? Does it cut class to smoke with trans-fats in the parking lot? Sleep around with carbohydrates? Often it's an association with a particular era in history or social class that gets a food placed on the shit list. Other times it's popular, yet outdated, practices of preparation that have outlived their necessity. And then there's always the packaging. Deserved or not, the following items have all managed a negative connotation in the popular American psyche.

5. FRUITCAKE Public Perception: The fruitcake is the culinary equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. No one has actually tried one, but they know it's out there, being gifted and re-gifted in homes all across the country. Legend has it there was actually only one fruit cake ever made, and that single, stale, ancient pastry has been passed around from family to family for generations. Explanation: While fruitcake dates back to ancient Rome, the reputation for being rock-hard and booze-soaked most likely originated in 18th-century Europe. Fruitcakes were made with nuts from the harvest of the current year, but not eaten until the harvest of the following year for good luck. It's likely that alcohol was incorporated into the recipe around this time for its preservation capabilities, and the recipe passed into modernity unchanged. Reality: Someone is eating them. When it's made well (lots of butter, easy on the liquor), and eaten in a timely manner, Fruitcake is delicious.

4. BRUSSELS SPROUTS Public Perception: Looks like an adorable mini head of lettuce - tastes like evil. Explanation: Overcooking releases a compound known as glucosinate sinigrin resulting in the foul, sulfurous odor and taste many people associate with the vegetable. Reality: Brussels sprouts have a high content of sulforaphane, a chemical believed to have cancer-preventing properties as well as indole-3-carbinol, a compound that boosts DNA repair in cells. Prepared correctly, they can be tasty. Check out this recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts from the Food Network

3. GEFILTE FISH Public Perception: Rich in tradition, low on charm. Explanation: Terrible. Packaging (shudder). The milky white lumps, suspended in a jar of cloudy liquid, seem more at home in a science lab than on your plate. Reality: While many feel the food is more about tradition than flavor, fans of the dish suggest a return to the traditional methods of preparation, which involve stuffing fresh, ground pike back into the skin of the fish, and serving in slices.

2. SPAM Public Perception: An acronym for "Something Posing As Meat", Spam is only consumed by those who can't afford meat that doesn't come out of a can. Explanation: Created by Hormel Foods in 1937, Spam (an abbreviation of "Spiced Ham") didn't gain mainstream popularity until World War II. Low cost, long shelf life, and easy portability made the product an ideal candidate for combat troops, and mass quantities were shipped to troops and allied nations across the globe. While it is low in cost, foods associated with periods of struggle and economic hardship generally don't fare well in the court of public opinion. And it's meat, covered in a thin, gelatinous layer, that's shaped like the can it came out of. The fact that "Spam" became the term used to describe unwanted internet correspondence doesn't help much either. Reality: Americans eat 3.8 cans of Spam every second. It is most popular in Hawaii and Guam, both of which had large military populations in the 1940s. In these areas Spam, nicknamed "Hawaiian Steak," can be found on menus from McDonald's and Burger King to swanky hotel restaurants.

1. ANCHOVIES Public Perception: We've heard the phrase countless times, "I like anything except anchovies," but have yet to see (or taste) an actual, anchovy-topped pizza. Explanation: The popularity of canned tuna aside, whole fish in a can tends be nausea-inducing for many people. The preparation process of being salted and brined, then salted again and canned with oil, gives the tiny fish a distinct and powerful flavor that some find overwhelming. Reality: Millions of Americans unknowingly eat anchovies every day in Worcestershire sauce or certain variations of Caesar Salad dressing. An oily fish naturally high in Omega-3 fatty acids, anchovies are also high in uric acid, a leading cause of gout.

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Lauren Marmaduke
Contact: Lauren Marmaduke