The Shocking Truth Behind Trendy Eats

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Thanks to the ever-changing trends in today's food-driven culture, we know how fast something can go from ordinary to hip and vice-versa. Exo is a startup trying to transform the way America views crickets by introducing protein bars made with cricket flour. Despite the fact that other cultures can't get enough of the sustainable food source, the U.S. has yet to really warm up to the idea.

When founders Greg Sewitz and Gabi Lewis came to Refinery29 to give a presentation, we were amazed to discover how many of the foods we consume on a regular basis had to undergo major marketing shifts before they were accepted. The real reasons behind our love for some of the big-ticket, luxury, or even everyday foods we indulge in today can be seriously surprising. In fact, many old-world underdogs of the industry went through a transformation from reviled to revered.

So, we asked Exo to roundup some of their favorite examples of this fascinating phenomenon. Ahead, check out the secret histories behind some of our favorite foods and find out why some of today's most popular eats didn't exactly start out that way.
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Sushi
Americans weren't exactly jazzed about eating raw fish or seaweed until pretty recently. A sushi chef in Vancouver changed everything in the 1960s when he created a riff on the Japanese staple that would be appealing to American palates. Chef Hidekazu Tojo decided to hide the seaweed by putting it inside the roll and added avocado as a fatty, textural equivalent to raw tuna — thus creating the California Roll. Sure enough, his plan worked and today people are willing to shell out the big bucks for a fancy omakase dinner.
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Chicken Wings
While we now consider chicken wings to be a staple of Americana, not so long ago the very same cut of meat was considered a largely inedible scrap. As the story goes, it was buffalo wings that changed America's mind about the boney pieces. It all started at Anchor Bar in 1964 where a delivery mishap led Teressa Bellissimo to come up with the appetizer that would change game day grub forever.
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Oysters
People tend to want what they can't have and that's exactly what took oysters from a common street food to a high-end menu item. In the 1900s Americans could get oysters on the cheap or even for free at street stalls or bars. However as oyster populations began to dwindle, demand increased dramatically. Fast-forward to today and the shellfish are practically considered a delicacy.
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Lobster
Everyone's favorite fancy crustacean definitely didn't start out that way. Native Americans used the now high-end item as a fertilizer. And in the 1700s lobsters were so plentiful people could simply gather them along the beach. The ease with which you could obtain the odd-looking food even led to them being fed to prisoners on such a regular basis that there's still a law in Maine stating inmates can't be fed lobster more than twice a week.

Everything changed in the 1880s, however. Fisherman started fishing for the crustaceans instead of grabbing them off the shore and they were brought to cities such as New York and Boston where more discerning eaters caused prices to increase.
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Caviar
Now one of the most expensive foods out there, caviar had a very ordinary start back in the 1200s in Russia. Orthodox Christians originally ate fish eggs as a cheap way to abide by religious fasting rules. When caviar made it out of Russia, European royalty originally found it off-putting.

It was the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s that changed everything. Thanks in large part to refrigeration and steamships, caviar was able to travel to Western countries in much better shape, although at a higher price due to the new equipment. Instead of rejecting the now-expensive strange food, people took to the high prices and it quickly became a luxury item.
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Tomatoes
It's a wonder tomatoes are considered such a popular staple today because they had the misfortune of being dubbed "poison apples" for hundreds of years. It all started in Europe in the 1700s when the rich would eat the fruit off of lead-containing plates. The acidity of the tomatoes would absorb the lead often causing illness or death. Sadly it was the tomatoes that got blamed, not the plates. And later the fruit was classified as a poisonous nightshade plant, not really helping its already tainted reputation. What turned things around? The invention of pizza, of course.
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Tuna
Fatty cuts of fish, like tuna were originally considered to be largely inedible in Japan. If someone had to eat it, they often fermented it in the ground in an attempt to dramatically change the flavor. The fish was even used as a cat food before it became a the popular sushi and seared-rare entree that it is today.

The transformation to popularity all started after World War II in Japan where a shift towards Westernization led to the consumption of fatty red meat, opening the door for — you guessed it — fatty red tuna. Now bluefin toro is one of the most coveted fishes in the sea.
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Kombucha
Fermentation has been around for thousands of years as a method of preserving food, but it didn't become hip in America until recently. After it was said to help digestion, a rather gross-sounding drink called Kombucha (a mix of tea, sugar, and a bacteria and yeast culture) started to become trendy cities like Los Angeles and Brooklyn. People started making it in their homes, but once demand increased, artisanal businesses began to take off and Whole Foods got involved, growing the beverage on a national scale. Between 2013 and today sales of the drink skyrocketed to the hundreds of millions.
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Chilean Sea Bass
Ever heard the phrase, "it's all in the name?" Well, it's especially true when it comes to Chilean Sea Bass. Next time you order the fish as part of a fancy entree remember that no one wanted to eat it before 1977. That was the year a fisherman changed its name from Patagonian Toothfish so Americans would buy it.
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Crickets
Insects are in the process of a huge re-branding from young startups hoping to introduce bugs into the unfamiliar Western palate by changing the form in which they're served. Protein bars, baked goods, and flour made from insects are all slowly beginning to build momentum as a popular food source.

Editor's Note: Exo, is one of the startups trying to introduce crickets into the American diet through protein bars made of cricket flour, a non-intimidating form of ground-up crickets. They make their products with all natural ingredients (including blueberries, apple, nuts, and honey) to create bars that aren't reminiscent at all of the insect they came from.
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