You Won’t Believe the Surprising Origin Stories Behind These Classic American Desserts

Seemingly American desserts are anything but red, white, and blue. Some of our favorite treats hail from other countries. Find out which of your favorite “American” desserts originate in the U.S. or abroad. The answers are surprising.

Red velvet cake

red velvet cupcakes

It all goes back to food coloring. |

Red velvet cakes becomes a classic dessert all because a man in Texas wants to sell more food coloring. “After Congress passed the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938, shoring up regulations for food coloring, [John A.] Adams (owner of the Adams Extract Company) figured he could sell a lot more extracts and dyes, and a red cake would be just the way to do it,” Food and Wine said. Make no mistake, Adams didn’t invent the cake, but his actions make the signature red color a mainstay in American cuisine.

Hint: This quintessential American dessert isn’t American.

Apple pie

apple pie

This American classic traces back to England. | bhofack2/iStock/Getty Images

Americans aren’t credited with inventing apple pie. “[sic] The first recorded recipe for apple pie was written in 1381 in England, and called for figs, raisins, pears, and saffron in addition to apples,” Emily Upton of Today I Found Out said. Not even the apples in apple pie are native to the United States. Supposedly, Romans introduced them to the English, who brought them to America.

Hint: Chocolate chip cookies grace us with their presence in the 1930s.

Chocolate chip cookie

Chocolate chip cookies with milk

A woman invented the cookies in the 1930s. |

Ruth Wakefield invented the Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie in the late 1930s, The New Yorker said. In March 1939, Wakefield gave Nestlé the rights to her cookie and the name, “Toll House.” During World War II, soldiers received care packages with cookies in them. Thus, chocolate chip cookies are now a classic American dessert.

Hint: Cupcakes have a long history.


Cupcakes with chocolate cream and topper in the shape of a gold crown

The word cupcake originated in 1828. |

Cookbook author Eliza Leslie was the first person to coin the word “cupcake” in 1828, according to Thought Co. Before Leslie, there was Amelia Simmons. Simmons created a recipe for “a cake to be baked in small cups,” in 1796. Centuries later an innovation was made. The cupcake liners we use today were invented by an artillery manufacturer and gain popularity in the 1950s.

Hint: We have a past president to thank for vanilla ice cream.

Vanilla ice cream

Three large scoops of vanilla ice cream in a white bowl.

Thomas Jefferson had a hand in bringing vanilla ice cream to the U.S. |

Vanilla ice cream is the best selling flavor in the U.S., Business Insider said. In the 17th century, Queen Elizabeth I introduced vanilla treats, according to National Geographic. Then, in the 1780s, Thomas Jefferson lived in Paris and tasted vanilla ice cream. He was “so thrilled with it that he copied down a recipe, now preserved in the Library of Congress.”

Hint: A mystery dessert is known for nearly the entire U.S. population.



It dates back to 1897. | Edith64/iStock/Getty Images

In 1897, Pearle and May Wait added strawberry, raspberry, orange, and lemon flavorings to gelatin to create the first Jell-O flavors, according to Mental Floss. After a year of poor sales, they sold their recipe and trademark to orator Frank Woodward for $450. Today, Jell-O is so well-known in the U.S. that 99 out of 100 people recognize the brand.

Hint: Queen Elizabeth I is the first person to try this dessert.

Cherry pie

cherry pie slice with ice cream

It has English origins. | bonchan/iStock/Getty Images

One of the most American desserts, cherry pie has English origins. “English tradition credits making the first cherry pie to Queen Elizabeth I,” the Pie Council said. Pie came to America with the first settlers. As they say, the rest is history.

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Read more: Recipes That Use Science to Make Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies