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15 Delicious Facts for National Nacho Day

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Today is National Nacho Day, which seems like as good a reason as any to celebrate the splendor of tortilla chips topped with cheese.

1. Nachos Aren’t a New Snack

Nachos
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While new generations of chefs are putting their own spin on nachos, the appetizer has already stood the test of time. The cheesy chips date all the way back to 1943.

2. There Was an Actual “Nacho”

Nacho is a common nickname for the Spanish name Ignacio. The heroic Nacho who is immortalized by the dish first crafted the snack almost by accident, when he was pressured to create a meal using whatever he could find in the kitchen.

3. Nachos Were Invented Right On the Border

As the dish’s origin legend goes, nachos were first crafted by Nacho when he was working as the maître d' of a restaurant in Piedras Negras, Mexico. Right before closing, a party of women came in for a bite to eat. They were the wives of officers stationed at Fort Duncan in Texas, and would cross over the border to shop. The restaurant’s cook was nowhere to be found, but the ladies did not leave disappointed. The maître d' combined the first three things he found in the kitchen: shredded Wisconsin cheddar, tortilla chips, and sliced jalapeños. When the women asked him what this new improvised creation was called, he told them “Nacho Especiales.”

4. Nachos Had Taken America by Storm by 1949

After the new food was unveiled, it started to spread throughout America. In 1949, the dish was first mentioned in English print in a cookbook that gave credit to the original creator.

5. Nachos Are in the Public Domain

The creator never sought to claim ownership of the dish, but his son contacted a lawyer in 1960 to explore the possibility. Unfortunately, too much time had passed, so the recipe was free to the public.

6. Nachos Don’t Have to Be Unhealthy

If you want to cut down on greasy food but aren’t ready to give up nachos, just make some adjustments. For a more diet-friendly snack, try baked tortilla chips, ground chicken, a small amount of cheese, and lots of vegetables.

7. Beef, Beans, and Other Tweaks Are Considered “Modern”

The authentic version of the dish is simply shredded cheese, tortilla chips, and jalapeños, just as the creator made it. Nachos with other additions are considered a spinoff of the original.

8. Tortilla Chips Are An American Invention

Although they’re known as Mexican restaurant staples, tortilla chips could carry an American culinary passport. An American tortilla factory came up with an ingenious way to get rid of their scraps—they took warped and unsellable tortillas, fried them up, and sold them for ten cents a bag. The company managed to get rid of its surplus and make money doing it.

9. “Nacho Cheese” Is Also An American Invention

Nachos were becoming popular in restaurants in Texas, but as they required an oven to melt the cheese, one man sought to make a more convenient solution. Nacho cheese is liquid goo that can be layered over chips quickly. If you’re wondering what’s in it, the recipe is a well-guarded secret.

10. The FDA Doesn’t Consider It a Real Cheese

If you turn your nose up at this liquid cheese, you’re not alone—the concoction does not meet the FDA’s standards for real cheese.

11. Stadiums Love It, Though

The liquid cheese invention did not have to be refrigerated and had a longer shelf life than regular cheese, so it was easy to serve at ballparks. The sauce hit the stands in 1976 and was an immediate hit. Nachos soon outsold popcorn, stadiums’ former bestseller.

12. Nachos Can Take on a Grand Scale

A school in Kansas holds the record for the largest plate of nachos in the world. The gigantic platter weighed a whopping 4,689 pounds, and 2,200 of those pounds were nacho cheese alone. Servings of the 80-foot creation were sold to the masses for a dollar each in an effort to raise funds for charity.

13. The Recipe Is Made to Be Tweaked

Nachos can take on many different forms, including nacho lasagna, chocolate nachos, and even spicy nacho-flavored beer. Although the original recipe is rigid, modern takes can be a lot more creative.

14. Nachos Are Delicious Enough to Carry Two Holidays

In addition to today’s National Nachos Day, Piedras Negras observes the Day of the Nacho on October 21 and has erected a bronze plaque to honor the dish’s creator.

15. Ambitious Cheese Sauce Lovers Can Make Their Own

All you need is milk, butter, flour, and your choice of cheese. There are also plenty of vegan recipes floating around that use vegetables, tofu, and beans as substitutes.

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Big Questions
Why Does Turkey Make You Tired?
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Why do people have such a hard time staying awake after Thanksgiving dinner? Most people blame tryptophan, but that's not really the main culprit. And what is tryptophan, anyway?

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body uses in the processes of making vitamin B3 and serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep. It can't be produced by our bodies, so we need to get it through our diet. From which foods, exactly? Turkey, of course, but also other meats, chocolate, bananas, mangoes, dairy products, eggs, chickpeas, peanuts, and a slew of other foods. Some of these foods, like cheddar cheese, have more tryptophan per gram than turkey. Tryptophan doesn't have much of an impact unless it's taken on an empty stomach and in an amount larger than what we're getting from our drumstick. So why does turkey get the rap as a one-way ticket to a nap?

The urge to snooze is more the fault of the average Thanksgiving meal and all the food and booze that go with it. Here are a few things that play into the nap factor:

Fats: That turkey skin is delicious, but fats take a lot of energy to digest, so the body redirects blood to the digestive system. Reduced blood flow in the rest of the body means reduced energy.

Alcohol: What Homer Simpson called the cause of—and solution to—all of life's problems is also a central nervous system depressant.

Overeating: Same deal as fats. It takes a lot of energy to digest a big feast (the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3000 calories and 229 grams of fat), so blood is sent to the digestive process system, leaving the brain a little tired.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Food
The Origins of 5 International Food Staples

Food is more than fuel. Cuisine and culture are so thoroughly intertwined that many people automatically equate tomatoes with Italy and potatoes with Ireland. Yet a thousand years ago those dietary staples were unheard of in Europe. How did they get to be so ubiquitous there—and beyond?

1. TOMATOES

For years, the wonderful fruit that’s now synonymous with Italy was mostly ignored there. Native to South America and likely cultivated in Central America, tomatoes were introduced to Italy by Spanish explorers during the 1500s. Shortly thereafter, widespread misconceptions about the newcomers took root. In part due to their watery complexion, it was inaccurately thought that eating tomatoes could cause severe digestive problems. Before the 18th century, the plants were mainly cultivated for ornamental purposes. Tomato-based sauce recipes wouldn’t start appearing in present-day Italy until 1692 (although even those recipes were more like a salsa or relish than a sauce). Over the next 150 years, tomato products slowly spread throughout the peninsula, thanks in no small part to the agreeable Mediterranean climate. By 1773, some cooks had taken to stuffing tomatoes with rice or veal. In Naples, the fruits were sometimes chopped up and placed onto flatbread—the beginnings of modern pizza. But what turned the humble tomato into a national icon was the canning industry. Within Italy’s borders, this business took off in a big way during the mid-to-late 19th century. Because tomatoes do well stored inside metal containers, canning companies dramatically drove up the demand. The popularity of canned tomatoes was later solidified by immigrants who came to the United States from Italy during the early 20th century: Longing for Mediterranean ingredients, transplanted families created a huge market for Italian-grown tomatoes in the US.

2. CURRY

Bowl of chicken curry with a spoon in it

An international favorite, curry is beloved in both India and the British Isles, not to mention the United States. And it turns out humans may have been enjoying the stuff for a very, very long time. The word “curry” was coined by European colonists and is something of an umbrella term. In Tamil, a language primarily found in India and Sri Lanka, “kari” means “sauce.” When Europeans started traveling to India, the term was eventually modified into “curry,” which came to designate any number of spicy foods with South or Southeast Asian origins. Nonetheless, a great number of curry dishes share two popular components: turmeric and ginger. In 2012, traces of both were discovered inside residue caked onto pots and human teeth at a 4500-year-old archaeological site in northern India. And where there’s curry, there’s usually garlic: A carbonized clove of this plant was also spotted nearby. “We don’t know they were putting all of them together in a dish, but we know that they were eating them at least individually,” Steve Weber, one of the archaeologists who helped make this astonishing find, told The Columbian. He and his colleagues have tentatively described their discovery as "proto-curry."

3. THE BAGUETTE

Several baguettes

A quintessential Gallic food, baguettes are adored throughout France, where residents gobble up an estimated 10 billion every year. The name of the iconic bread ultimately comes from the Latin word for stick, baculum, and references its long, slender form. How the baguette got that signature shape is a mystery. One popular yarn credits Napoleon Bonaparte: Supposedly, the military leader asked French bakers to devise a new type of skinny bread loaf that could be comfortably tucked into his soldiers’ pockets. Another origin story involves the Paris metro, built in the 19th century by a team of around 3500 workers who were apparently sometimes prone to violence during meal times. It’s been theorized that the metro foremen tried to de-escalate the situation by introducing bread that could be broken into pieces by hand—thereby eliminating the need for laborers to carry knives. Alas, neither story is supported by much in the way of historical evidence. Still, it’s clear that lengthy bread is nothing new in France: Six-foot loaves were a common sight in the mid-1800s. The baguette as we know it today, however, didn’t spring into existence until the early 20th century. The modern loaf is noted for its crispy golden crust and white, puffy center—both traits made possible by the advent of steam-based ovens, which first arrived on France’s culinary scene in the 1920s.

4. POTATOES

Bowl of red, white, and black potatoes on wooden table

Historical records show that potatoes reached Ireland by the year 1600. Nobody knows who first introduced them; the list of potential candidates includes everyone from Sir Walter Raleigh to the Spanish Armada. Regardless, Ireland turned out to be a perfect habitat for the tubers, which hail from the misty slopes of the Andes Mountains in South America. Half a world away, Ireland’s rich soils and rainy climate provided similar conditions—and potatoes thrived there. They also became indispensable. For millennia, the Irish diet had mainly consisted of dairy products, pig meats, and grains, none of which were easy for poor farmers to raise. Potatoes, on the other hand, were inexpensive, easy to grow, required fairly little space, and yielded an abundance of filling carbs. Soon enough, the average Irish peasant was subsisting almost entirely on potatoes, and the magical plant is credited with almost single-handedly triggering an Irish population boom. In 1590, only around 1 million people lived on the island; by 1840, that number had skyrocketed to 8.2 million. Unfortunately, this near-total reliance on potatoes would have dire consequences for the Irish people. In 1845, a disease caused by fungus-like organisms killed off somewhere between one-third and one-half of the country’s potatoes. Roughly a million people died as a result, and almost twice as many left Ireland in a desperate mass exodus. Yet potatoes remained a cornerstone of the Irish diet after the famine ended; in 1899, one magazine reported that citizens were eating an average of four pounds’ worth of them every day. Expatriates also brought their love of potatoes with them to other countries, including the U.S. But by then, the Yanks had already developed a taste for the crop: The oldest record of a permanent potato patch on American soil dates back to 1719. That year, a group of farmers—most likely Scots-Irish immigrants—planted one in the vicinity of modern-day Derry, New Hampshire. From these humble origins, the potato steadily rose in popularity, and by 1796, American cookbooks were praising its “universal use, profit, and easy acquirement.”

5. CORN

Corn growing in a field

In the 1930s, geneticist George W. Beadle exposed a vital clue about how corn—also known as maize—came into existence. A future Nobel Prize winner, Beadle demonstrated that the chromosomes found in everyday corn bear a striking resemblance to those of a Mexican grass called teosinte. At first glance, teosinte may not look very corn-like. Although it does have kernels, these are few in number and encased in tough shells that can easily chip a human tooth. Nonetheless, years of work allowed Beadle to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that corn was descended from teosinte. Today, genetic and archaeological data suggests that humans began the slow process of converting this grass into corn around 8700 years ago in southwestern Mexico. If you're wondering why early farmers showed any interest in cultivating teosinte to begin with, while the plant is fairly unappetizing in its natural state, it does have a few key attributes. One of these is the ability to produce popcorn: If held over an open fire, the kernels will “pop” just as our favorite movie theater treat does today. It might have been this very quality that inspired ancient horticulturalists to tinker around with teosinte—and eventually turn it into corn

BONUS: TEA

Person sitting cross-legged holding a cup of green tea

The United Kingdom’s ongoing love affair with this hot drink began somewhat recently. Tea—which is probably of Chinese origin—didn’t appear in Britain until the 1600s. Initially, the beverage was seen as an exotic curiosity with possible health benefits. Shipping costs and tariffs put a hefty price tag on tea, rendering it quite inaccessible to the lower classes. Even within England’s most affluent circles, tea didn’t really catch on until King Charles II married Princess Catherine of Braganza. By the time they tied the knot in 1662, tea-drinking was an established pastime among the elite in her native Portugal. Once Catherine was crowned Queen, tea became all the rage in her husband’s royal court. From there, its popularity slowly grew over several centuries and eventually transcended socioeconomic class. At present, the average Brit drinks an estimated three and a half cups of tea every day.

All photos courtesy of iStock.

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