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Do you know where your condiments come from?

  • Story Highlights
  • Thousand Island dressing is named after 1,793 islands in the Saint Lawrence River
  • Tabasco's founder imported peppers from the Mexican state of Tabasco
  • Hollandaise isn't actually Dutch; it's one of the most well known French sauces
By Ethan Trex
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Mental Floss

(Mental Floss) -- Have you ever wondered about the origins and namesakes of our favorite spreads, sauces, and dressings? Here are a few stories that you can use to regale your friends the next time you chow down.

Peppers were imported from the Mexican state of Tabasco to make spicy Tabasco sauce, giving the condiment its name.

Peppers were imported from the Mexican state of Tabasco to make spicy Tabasco sauce, giving the condiment its name.

1. Thousand Island Dressing

Is the delicious dressing that gives a Reuben its tanginess named after an actual chain of islands? You bet it is. The Thousand Islands are an archipelago that sits in the Saint Lawrence River on the U.S.-Canada border, and there are actually 1,793 of them, some of which are so small that they contain nothing more than a single home.

So why is the dressing named after an archipelago? No one's quite sure. Some people claim that early film star and vaudevillian May Irwin, who summered on the Thousand Islands, named it, while others contend that George Boldt, the famed proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria, gave the dressing its name because of his own summer place in the region. No matter who named it, it's tough to beat on a sandwich.

2. Ranch Dressing

Yep, the beloved dressing and dipping sauce actually got its start on a real ranch. When Steve and Gayle Henson opened a dude ranch in California in 1954, they had an ace up their sleeves: a delicious dressing that Steve had concocted while the couple was living in Alaska.

The couple did a nice business at their Hidden Valley Ranch, but guests were always flipping out over just how tasty Steve's dressing was. Eventually, the Hensons started bottling the stuff, and the popularity grew so quickly that they had to hire a twelve-man crew just to help mix up each batch. Steve's culinary creativity turned out to be lucrative; in 1972 Clorox forked over $8 million for the recipe. Mental Floss: Foods named after people

3. A1 Steak Sauce

According to the brand's Web site, A1 has been around for quite a while. Henderson William Brand worked as the personal chef for King George IV from 1824 to 1831, and at some point during this employment mixed up a new sauce for the king to use on his beef. George IV allegedly took one bite of Brand's creation and declared that it was "A1." Brand then left the king's employ in order to go peddle his new sauce.

4. Tabasco Sauce

Tabasco sauce is perhaps the most famous of all hot sauces, but where did it get its name? When Edmund McIlhenny, a former banker, invented the sauce in Louisiana in 1868, he didn't have a huge supply of chili peppers at his disposal. To keep cooking, he imported peppers from the Mexican state of Tabasco and slapped the region's name on his bottles. Mental Floss: The origins of salt, pepper and other popular spices

5. Heinz 57

Legend has it that Heinz 57 takes its name from H.J. Heinz's company formerly marketing 57 products at once, and except for the number, the story holds up. Heinz's Web site tells a story that Henry John Heinz was riding a train when he saw a billboard advertising 21 varieties of shoes. He so liked the idea he wanted to try it with his own condiment company. Thus, he started touting Heinz's 57 varieties.

There was only one catch: Heinz marketed well over 60 products at the time. So where did the 57 come from? Heinz thought the number was lucky. Five was Heinz's lucky number, and seven was his wife's. He mashed the charmed digits together, got 57, and never looked back.

6. Tartar Sauce

Fish's best friend is named after an alternate spelling of the word "Tatar," which was how Western Europeans once referred to almost anyone of Mongolian or Turkic descent. Many of these Tatars/Tartars ran roughshod over Europe in the time of Genghis Khan, but they knew how to cook. One of the dishes they left behind, beef tartare, came back into fashion in 19th-century France. These helpings of steak tartare came with a number of garnishes, including the creamy white stuff that eventually became generically known as tartar sauce. Mental Floss: The history of utensils (spork included)

7. Hollandaise Sauce

Hollandaise, the lemon-butter-and-egg yumminess that Eggs Benedict can't live without, isn't actually Dutch. Instead, it's one of the most well known French sauces. The sauce first appeared in French cooking in the 17th century, and is apparently named both because it somewhat resembles an old Dutch sauce and because the Dutch had such thriving butter and egg industries that provided two of the sauce's main ingredients.

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