This short piece originally appeared as a sidebar in the mental_floss book 'In the Beginning: A Mouthwatering Guide to the Origins of Everything.'
One widely accepted account says pretzels were developed in 610 C.E. by an Italian monk. He baked the confections for children as an incentive to memorize scripture. In fact, the shape of the treats reflects this, since the criss-crossed bits are supposed to depict the folded arms of pious children in prayer.
Turning Water Into Welch's
In 1869, Christian dentist and prude extraordinaire Dr. Thomas Welch invented "unfermented wine." As the good Doc saw it, drinking in alcohol in church was a bit of a contradiction, so he brewed up a batch of the unfermented stuff to wash down Eucharist. Local pastors weren't interested, though, and a dejected Thomas was sent back to his teeth pulling. Six years later, his son began marketing the beverage—this time as Welch's Grape Juice.
Cod is Good, Cod is Great: The Filet-O-Fish Story
In the early 1960s, a McDonald's in Cincinnati was beginning to notice a pattern: Friday sales were always low. The reason? The city's large Catholic population couldn't eat meat on Fridays. Taking a little initiative, franchise owner Lou Groen asked chairman Ray Kroc if he could expand his menu. He eventually gave in, though, and sponsored some research. The McDonald's team came back with a cod sandwich. But because Kroc hated the word "cod" (probably from drinking spoonfuls of cod-liver oil as a kid), it was marketed as Filet-O-Fish, and became a permanent addition to the menu in 1963.