Breakfast is a storied meal, but for most of us on a day-to-day basis, it’s probably some iteration of eggs, bacon, and toast, or (no judgement) a stale Pop-Tart and some flat soda. Oh, and don’t forget a giant glass of orange juice and coffee. But, it turns out, many of the things we thought were staples of breakfast weren’t always the de facto morning fuel of choice. Thanks to clever marketing campaigns, cultural changes, and some pretty nifty developments in technology and food preservation, we can all enjoy the bounties of the modern breakfast table. Here are seven surprising foods that weren’t always on the menu.
Though it may sound like sacrilege, the most delicious of fatty pig products didn’t become a staple of American breakfasts until about a century ago. And you have one man to thank for bringing porky goodness to your plate—Edward L. Bernays, the so-called father of public relations. In the 1920s, this smooth-talking prince of propaganda was asked by the Beech-Nut Packing Company to find a way to get more American consumers to buy bacon. Bernays found an in-house doctor to agree that the American public needed a breakfast heavier than just, say, a roll and coffee, a typical breakfast of the day. And that doctor, perhaps knowing the importance of keeping his job and continuing to bring home his bacon, got other medical professionals to agree that bacon and eggs was a better breakfast choice. Newspapers and magazines were quick to pick up on the fabricated trend, and that’s how bacon became a breakfast staple.
Many foods have an origin story wrapped up in a happy accident, and yogurt is no different. Historians agree that yogurt was likely discovered after milk was left out in warm climates and fermented into a thick, nutrient-packed bundle of tastiness. Although the recipe for yogurt was brought over to America in the 1700s, Americans didn’t truly embrace it until after World War II, when two men, Daniel Carasso and Juan Metzger, started making yogurt out of a factory the Bronx. The name of their operation? Dannon.
That glass of OJ on your table might have looked worlds different in the 1920s. For one, orange juice would have been boiled and canned, and another, it would have tasted, well, not so great. It would have also been massively expensive, since there weren’t easy ways to ship Florida’s orange crop to, say, a grocery store in Michigan. But following the invention of orange juice from concentrate in the World War II era and the creation of superhighways a decade later, it became easier than ever to get that cup of OJ in the morning (with the added knowledge that the Vitamin C in it would jumpstart your immune system). Even though orange juice has been warring against other healthy beverage choices in the past few years, you can pretty much agree that there are few things more satisfying than having fresh-squeezed orange juice (with or without pulp) with your pancakes.
Even among breakfast foods (and yes, baked beans count as a breakfast food as well as a barbecue staple), the humble baked bean has a fascinating history. It was once a traditional Native American dish that was then modified by New Englanders to incorporate molasses and pork. It was the God-fearing colonists of Boston (or, you know, Beantown) who first started eating these beans for breakfast, since leftovers from the Saturday supper could easily be repurposed on Sunday. Then, a savvy businessman by the name of Henry Heinz decided to take his canned legumes across the pond in the early 20th century.They can be eaten in a traditional “Boston breakfast” of baked beans and brown bread or as part of a traditional English Breakfast, or fry-up, usually consisting of sausage, eggs, bacon (hey again!), fried toast, stewed tomatoes, and, of course, baked beans. True, Americans might think they’re better served alongside Fourth of July fare like hot dogs and watermelon, but this is one of those instances of “don’t knock it until you try it.”
Ask any Aussie, and they’ll tell you that no meal is complete until there’s a generous schmear of this brewer’s yeast on everything from soups to desserts. The thick, potent paste was created in the 1920s, but thanks to an aggressive ad campaign some 30 years later featuring cherubic little kids singing about how they ate the stuff “for breakfast, lunch, and tea,” people got it in their heads that the substance was not only trendy, but necessary. Nowadays, it’s not breakfast Down Under unless you have the salty brown paste on toast with a pat of butter.
Back in the dark ages (and by dark ages, we mean a time when you couldn’t get a latte at your corner cafe), coffee was a curiosity for wealthy aristocrats, and served as a marker of class status. In ancient times, workers usually subsisted on wine-soaked bread to stave off hunger (and maybe get a different kind of buzz). But by the time of the Industrial Revolution, workers adapted the hot beverage as both a means to stave off hunger and work incredibly long hours at a factory, according to Mark Pendergrast, author of Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed the World. In other words? The working man no longer had beer soup for breakfast, but coffee, and lots of it. “The drink of the aristocracy had become the necessary drug of the masses,” Pendergrast writes. By the 1920s, prohibition was causing another massive shift in how we drank coffee, with a 1923 New York Times piece including that “the number of men and women who breakfast on nothing but coffee is increasing.” And that’s pretty much the case now.
Based on your Instagram feed, it might seem absurd to think that life existed before the advent of avocado toast. But it turns out this delicious Central American fruit didn’t make it to the breakfast table for a good long while, instead garnering names like “alligator pear” and “midshipman’s butter.” It wasn’t until—you guessed it—a marketing campaign in the 1920s promoting the avocado as an aphrodisiac that it gained popularity. But who is to blame for the frenzy of modern-day avocado (especially on toasted bread)? You can thank San Francisco for that.