This week marks the 70th anniversary of World War II’s VE Day (Victory in Europe Day), when Germany surrendered to Allied forces, marking the end of the war in the European theater. As GIs liberated Europe, some brought American chocolate bars in their backpacks to share with the civilians they met. But they also brought a taste for foods they experienced in Europe back to America. One of those tastes was for oregano, used in Italian foods.
Oregano “was practically unheard of in American cooking before the war.” Today, Americans consume more than 14 million pounds of the pungent herb each year.
Nina Martyris reports for NPR’s The Salt:
Between 1948 and 1956, sales of oregano in the U.S. rose by an astounding 5,200 percent, says food writer and historian John F. Mariani in his 2011 book, How Italian Food Conquered the World. From an herb the Department of Commerce didn’t even bother to list separately in its import records, oregano imports zoomed to 1.5 million pounds a year by the 1960s. Even Peg Bracken’s delightful 1960 I Hate to Cook Book, which takes a perverse pride in shunning exotic ingredients and sticking to stuff available in the average kitchen cupboard, lists oregano as a staple, along with curry powder and chili powder.
A fascinating read about food culture and exchange, and how war changed the American palate.