Food Inventions and Who Did Them?

Food Pioneers and What They Invented

A look at the pioneers of some food consumed everyday like instant coffee, margarine, and baked beans.

Most of the time food products are taken for granted. Occasionally, it’s fascinating to remember their origins. Here are some of these food inventions, their inventors, and the stories behind them.

Baked Beans

Baked beans were first made in 1829 to be eaten with pork. The beans were soaked overnight in earthenware pots. The following morning they were seasoned with mustard, slated pork and molasses, and baked all day, ready to eat at night.

In 1875, baked beans were put into cans at Portland, Maine, USA, for fishermen to eat while at sea. However, it was not until 1891 in Indianapolis, USA, that baked beans in tomato sauce were first canned by the Van Camp Packing Company. Then the American firm H.J. Heinz started selling them too, opening a factory in Britain in 1928.

Breakfast Cereals

One day, in a hotel, an American lawyer, Henry D. Perky, saw a man eat what seemed an unusual breakfast — boiled wheat served with milk. Perky’s Shredded Wheat came about, and in 1893, the first breakfast cereal followed.

About that time, John Kellogg and his brother, William, were running a health farm, a sanitarium, in Michigan, USA. They emphasised healthy eating and wanted to provide something other than ham and baked beans for breakfast. In 1895, Kellogg produced the first flaked breakfast cereal made from wheat, named Granose Flakes.

Three years later, William Kellogg invented cornflakes, initially for use in the sanitarium, but they became so popular that they began production for the general public.

Chewing Gum

Chewing gum was first made in 1848 by John Curtis, of Maine, USA. He started production in a factory in Portland, Maine, with a variety of gums in 1850.

Modern chewing gum owes its origins to an American photographer called Thomas Adams, who experimented with a tree substance called chicle. One day he chewed a lump of chicle and thought of adding flavouring and selling it as gum.

In 1872 Adams opened a small factory. Business expanded fast, aided by the fact that the Tutti-Frutti Company began selling it from machines. Chewing gum was introduced to Britain in 1894, but failed to catch on. Wrigley re-introduced it in 1911, appearing on the streets in vending machines.

Coffee (Instant)

Nobody knows who discovered coffee – it could have been an Ethiopian goatherd Kaldi, c. 859 AD, who found his goats getting very lively after eating the berries off a particular bush.

The first powdered instant coffee was made by Satori Kato, a Japanese chemist living in America, in 1901. Five years later, an American chemist, G. Washington, produced what he called ‘a refined soluble coffee,’ used by the US Army in World War I.

In 1938, modern instant coffee was produced by Nestlé Company, in Vevey, Switzerland. Nestlé called it Nescafé. The idea of turning coffee beans into a soluble powder was first suggested to them by the Brazilian Institute of Coffee in 1930. It took a few years for Nestlé to process it right.


Napoleon III organized a competition to find a replacement for butter in the French Navy and for use by the common folk.

In 1869, Hippolyte Mege-Mouriez came up with a compound of suet, skimmed milk, pig’s stomach, cow’s udder, and bicarbonate of soda. He called it ‘margarine’ from the Greek work margarites, meaning ‘a pearl’ since through the process, the compound looked like a string of pearls. He sold the process to butter merchant brothers, Jan and Henri Jurgens, in Oss, Holland. The brothers opened a factory for production in 1871.

A rival firm, the Van den Burghs, were making large amounts of margarine, selling well in Holland and England, but not in America.

A shortage of animal fats made the two firms experiment with vegetable oils. In 1910, this became successful with a method of hardening fats by adding hydrogen. Later, when vitamins A & D were added and the margarine began to look like butter, the Americans started to eat it too. The two firms joined as Van den Burgh & Jurgens.

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