10 Expensive Foods that Used to be Cheap
In the brutal battle for food prestige, pricey products like escargot and lobster have slugged and clawed their way to the top. While they now command high prices at grocery stores everywhere, these foods were once only considered fit for peasants and prisoners. The following 10 dishes have come a long way from humble beginnings and are now highly desirable delicacies!
Until the mid-19th century, eating lobster was considered a mark of poverty. Indentured servants even specified employment agreements that limited their weekly lobster consumption to only twice a week. When it wasn't being fed to the poor, lobster was used as fertilizer and fish bait. As its star rose, it was actually marketed as a low-price canned staple food, but once New Englanders actually figured how how to cook and prepare it properly, it's prestige and price skyrocketed.
These might not be an expensive luxury item, but nowadays chicken wings are the priciest part of the bird, usually costing at least 10% more than breasts or thighs. Chicken wings used to be the least desirable chicken part, typically used for stock or thrown out. Their popularity is directly attributed to the invention of Buffalo Wings in the 60s, when it became a bar food staple. The sale of wings usually peaks around February, in conjunction with the Superbowl.
Oysters have been an international delicacy since Roman times - however, in mid-19th century America, oysters were cheap and eaten primarily by the working class. Since the oyster beds in New York was so prolific, there were millions of oysters to be found by barges all along the city's waterfront and so they were greatly enjoyed for low prices by many New Englanders. As Oysters gained popularity, their numbers decreased (with some reserves harvested to depletion) and their prices rose.
Snails were eaten all around the world by a huge variety of cultures dating back to prehistoric times, particularly throughout Africa and Australia. They gained an elite following during the Greek and Roman ages, earning praise from many famous scholars and writers. It's modern status as a fine delicacy began when it was inducted into French cuisine, though the dish still hasn't acquired that much widespread popularity stateside.
Before being a delicacy, this fish was known for being the ugliest, scariest looking fish around. In fact, it's said that in France, these fish were not allowed to be sold with their heads, lest it scare off customers. Prior to the 1980s, when monkfish were caught in New England nets, they'd be thrown back into the water! However, once it was discovered that their tails had a taste similar to lobsters, they gained a reputation as "the poor man's lobster," and their livers are even growing in popularity as "the other foie gras."
Polenta is cheap throughout much of the world, particularly in Latin and South America, where it's usually used in fast food comparable to grits or gruel. However, American celebrity chefs and restaurants adopted polenta into more sophisticated recipes, giving it the perception of being an elite, curiously expensive, and fancy food. It can still be purchased cheaply at the average store if you want to make it yourself, but if you're eating out, it might cost you.
When sushi was created in Southeast Asia in the 4th century BC, the fermented rice was used exclusively as a way of preserving the fish and was to be discarded before consumption. The Japanese added vinegar to the rice, preferring to eat rice and fish together, creating the sushi that we know today. There, sushi is still a relatively cheap meal. However, with sushi-grade fish not being quite as accessible in America, high quality sushi can come with a pretty steep price tag.
Foie Gras has been considered a delicacy since Roman times. However, it became a staple of the Jewish diet as a substitute for cooking with butter or poultry fat. When Jewish populations migrated throughout Europe, the practice of fattening geese gained widespread popularity. In particular, when this dish reached France and French chefs adopted it in much of their cuisine, it gained repute and a hefty following all around the world.
Sweetbreads are essentially the thymus or pancreas of a calf or lamb (though pork and beef sweetbreads are also popular). These parts used to be thought of as being unworthy of consumption by the wealthy, being discarded or left for poorer people to eat, in part because they are highly perishable. However, they gained popularity, particularly as a complement with pâtés, and are usually served lightly fried or grilled.
Caviar has enjoyed a long history of being a delicacy. Surprisingly, however, this dish was extremely common in America during the 19th century. American waters were so abundant with sturgeon that beluga caviar was actually given away for free at bars because the saltiness encouraged the sale of beer - one significant step up from salted peanuts. Over-fishing wild sturgeon then caused caviar prices to increase to the levels they are today.
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