A dish by any other name may taste as good (or bad), but when it comes to getting people to actually buy it and eat it—well that’s where expert product naming comes in.
And in the realm of food naming, frequently the less descriptive and more opaque, the better. Through sleight-of-hand product naming, savvy marketers can make almost anything sound more wholesome and appetizing, the FDA permitting. For instance, what sounds healthier to you: flavored waters or sugared drinks? We thought so.
The ongoing saga of the Corn Refiners Association’s lobbying efforts to rename high-fructose corn syrup, which sounds processed and unhealthy (all true!) with the blander moniker “corn sugar” is a case in point—and a food renaming initiative that the Sugar Association, predictably, is strongly protesting.
A less turbulent food renaming occurred when the California Prune Board (now renamed the California Plum Board) renamed prunes “dried plums”: an acceptably accurate renaming which helped to reposition the fruit as a culinary treat rather than a laxative necessity.
But while food renaming can be fairly benign, it can also be something of a dark art. Consider the highly publicized case of lean finely textured beef (LFTB) and boneless lean beef trimmings (BLBT): the commonly accepted industry terms for “beef scraps, sinew, fat, and connective tissue….processed, heated, and treated with ammonia gas….” Yum. No wonder the more apt term pink slime surfaced for this food product.
Here are some other things we might not put in our mouths were it not for some clever food naming (or renaming, to be precise):
Fried calves’ or lambs’ testicles (aka Rocky Mountain oysters)
Rapeseed oil (aka canola oil)
Oil balls/olliebollen (aka doughnuts)
Tripe/farm animal offal soup (aka pepper pot soup)
Boiled pig intestines (aka chitlins)
Cooked animal glands (aka sweetbreads…really!)
Raw beef or horsemeat (aka steak tartare)
And there should be a special naming category for fish with unappetizing monikers that make a splash after renaming. I’m talking about:
Mudbugs (aka crayfish)
Fried squid tentacles (aka calamari)
Slimehead fish (aka orange roughy)
Spiny dogfish (aka rock salmon)
Patagonian toothfish (aka Chilean sea bass, so renamed by an L.A. fish wholesaler)
Channel catfish (aka Southern trout)
Another crafty rename in the food industry to circumvent the current prejudice against “fast foods” is the redubbing of fast food restaurants as quick service restaurants (QSR).
Occasionally, food renaming will be the result of national antipathies and political agendas rather than marketing and mouth appeal, and these names ted to be less enduring. For instance, during World War I, anti-German sentiment was so strong that Americans took to calling sauerkraut “liberty cabbage.” That renaming didn’t stick, of course. And remember the (thankfully) brief period in American history around 2003 when some restaurants (and even three Congressional cafeterias) renamed their French fries “Freedom Fries”?
Bottom line: when it comes to food renaming, sometimes we’ll eat it up, and sometimes a name will stick in our collective craw. What makes the difference is…well, food for thought.