‘Bac’n’: 16 Foods With Misleading Names

From decaf coffee to ginger ale and chocolatey chips, what you see isn’t always what you get with these foods and drinks.
Bacon? Not exactly.
Bacon? Not exactly. / dimitris66/DigitalVision Vector via Getty Images (Background) // Amazon (Bac'n Pieces)

On a 2003 episode of her reality series Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica, pop star Jessica Simpson caused a minor stir when she expressed shock that Chicken of the Sea brand tuna fish didn’t actually contain any chicken. Given the orchestrated nature of reality television, it’s hard to surmise if Simpson was really under the impression she was missing out on canned poultry. But there’s no question a variety of food brands and dishes have misleading, inaccurate, or otherwise confusing names.

Sometimes, it’s a game of semantics played by manufacturers who want to imbue their product with a certain appearance. Many fruit snacks or cereals imply having fruit ingredients, for example, but might not have any. In the cases of these food names, what you hear and what you eat are two different things.

Bac’n Pieces

Bac’n Pieces
Bac'n bits aren't always made from real bacon. / Amazon

Sometimes, wayward labels are good news for people with specific diets. Take Bac’n Pieces, a bacon-esque seasoning from McCormick. Despite the name, there’s no pork in the container whatsoever. These bits are mostly soy flour and canola oil with red dye, giving them a bacon aesthetic while being suitable for a vegan diet.

Similar bacon crumbles are on the market, some of which are made with actual bacon. One easy way to tell the difference is in spotting names that use alternate spelling—like, say, bac’n—in place of a noun. You can find the same wordplay in Walden Farms Creamy Bac’n salad dressing. Actual bacon content? None.

Boston Cream Pie

A Boston cream pie is pictured
Boston cream pie isn't as advertised. / Sergio Amiti/Moment via Getty Images

Almost unfathomable deception lurks in the name of this delicious dessert, which is no pie at all but is in fact a cake: sponge layers separated by cream and with a variety of toppings or glazes. The history of the Boston cream pie is hotly contested, though it’s generally believed it rose to prominence in the 1860s. So why pie? At the time, cake and pie didn’t have distinctly different meanings, and bakers used pie tins for cakes.


Grape-Nuts have neither. / Amazon

Post, the company behind several popular cereals, will be the first to inform you that their Grape-Nuts contain neither grapes nor nuts. The crunchy blend was concocted by C.W. Post in 1897 and actually contains wheat and barley flour as its primary ingredients. But Post (the company) isn’t entirely certain how it got the name. One possibility is that Post himself believed glucose, or what he called “grape sugar,” was formed when the formula was baked. Another is that the cereal clusters look a bit like grape seeds.

Cool Whip

Whipped cream is pictured
Cool Whip isn't whipped cream. / Jo McRyan/DigitalVision via Getty Images

Anyone who has dished out dessert has probably known the thrill of scooping out some Cool Whip as a topping. The tub of fluff looks, acts, and tastes like whipped cream, but contains relatively little actual cream or dairy. Instead, its main ingredients are corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. In fact, Cool Whip was basically vegan up until 2010, as it contained no dairy. (Today, it has some skim milk.) Study the package carefully and you’ll find the phrase whipped topping, not whipped cream.

Chock Full o’Nuts Coffee

More like Chock full o'Lies.
More like Chock full o'Lies. / Amazon

People with nut allergies probably flinch at Chock full o‘Nuts, an enduring brand of coffee that’s been on shelves as a retail consumer product since 1953. But inside the container is pure, simple coffee. The name stems from the Chock full o’Nuts store chain in New York where the coffee originated: Founder William Black sold coffee, nuts, and other treats. Eventually, Black realized he was doing the most business with the coffee, and decided to focus on that. In a concession to the allergen concern, the company once had a disclaimer on cans: “No nuts. Just coffee.” (Another Chock Full o‘Nuts trivia note: Baseball great Jackie Robinson worked as vice president of personnel for the company from 1957 to 1964.)

White Chocolate

White chocolate is pictured
White chocolate is a somewhat misleading treat. / DBenitostock/Moment via Getty Images

For chocolate lovers used to the bitter kick of some dark chocolate, white chocolate can seem like a bit of an acquired taste. But perhaps people shouldn’t judge it by chocolate standards as it isn’t actually chocolate by the strictest definition of the term. White chocolate is made with cocoa butter, not cocoa solids. (A cocoa bean has both cocoa butter and cacao, with the latter giving chocolate much of its taste.) By FDA standards, chocolate needs at least 10 percent cacao mass to be declared chocolate.

It‘s important to note some chocolatiers consider this quibbling, as both chocolate and white chocolate have the same cocoa bean base.

Chocolatey Chips

Chocolate chip cookies are pictured
'Chocolatey' is a clue that something is amiss. / Esther Chou/Moment via Getty Images

As with Bac’n Pieces, foods that use alternative spelling are often trying to obfuscate something. Take chocolatey chips: While this seems like a fanciful term for chocolate chips, the two are not interchangeable. Chocolatey or chocolate-flavored ingredients have less than chocolate’s required 12 percent milk solids and 15 percent chocolate liquor, a.k.a. crushed cacao beans.

Head Cheese

Head cheese is pictured
Head cheese is an acquired taste. / Jupiterimages/The Image Bank via Getty Images

Cheese lovers who accept a dish of head cheese are in for quite a shock. Head cheese is a delicacy in which an entire pig’s head simmers in a stew for hours before being shoved into sausage casing. (Variations can also include pig’s feet and other parts.) The fat from the meat forms a gelatinous binding agent that makes for a kind of meat jelly, which comes in handy if chefs decide to form it into a sliceable loaf or spread. Some might opt to shape it into bite-sized cubes similar to cheese appetizers, but that’s not where the name comes from. Instead, it’s likely derivative of the Latin word forma, which refers to the mold that was used to prepare it (and which was also utilized for cheese).

Refried Beans

Refried beans are pictured
Not refried. Just well-fried. / 4kodiak/E+ via Getty Images

Plenty of popular Mexico-borne dishes come with a side of refried beans, a pasty bean putty that certainly implies having been fried twice. In fact, refried beans are fried just once. The re- in Spanish means very, not twice, making them very fried beans. They’re typically prepared by simmering the beans in water, mashing them, and then frying them—once.


Sweetbread is pictured
Be careful when ordering sweetbread. / lupengyu/Moment via Getty Images

Sweetbread sounds very much like some kind of chain restaurant appetizer that’s full of flour and sugar. But it’s actually organ meat, typically thymus or pancreas from lamb, that’s prepared and cooked. Compared to meatier cuts, they’re a little sweeter, which some theorize may have led to their highly misleading name. As for bread: In Old English, it meant “animal flesh.”

Russian Dressing

Russian dressing isn't exactly a Moscow favorite.
Russian dressing isn't exactly a Moscow favorite. / Amazon

This condiment has long been in a war with Thousand Island dressing thanks to their similar ingredients and flavors. (Ketchup, mayo, and pickle relish.) But Russian dressing has no origin among Soviet chefs. It was invented by James Coburn of New Hampshire in the early 1900s. It might have taken on the ethnic name due to a stereotype in America about Russians favoring pickles.

Egg Cream

An egg cream is pictured
Egg creams have a loyal following. / Thomas Young/Photodisc via Getty Images

Once a favorite order at ice cream and soda parlors and considered a Jewish staple, egg creams have largely fallen out of fashion. Despite the name, it’s more of a fizzy chocolate soda made from whole milk, chocolate syrup, and seltzer. There’s no eggs or cream to be found.

One theory is that the name stems from the Yiddish word echt, meaning “genuine.” Another explanation has it that operators would actually use whipped egg whites for a frothier concoction.


Peanuts are pictured
Peanuts are deceptive. / Isabel Pavia/Moment via Getty Images

“Peanuts and almonds do not meet the botanical definition of a true nut.” That’s according to the United States Department of Agriculture, which should (hopefully) know. Indeed, peanuts are considered legumes, or an edible seed encased in a pod, despite the nut in the name. This is why people with peanut allergies may not necessarily have tree nut allergies, and vice versa.

Decaffeinated Coffee

Coffee beans are pictured
Don't expect 100 percent decaf coffee. / skaman306/Moment via Getty Images

Some people don’t like the stimulant effect of caffeine, either as a personal preference or because it might exacerbate an existing health issue. Some turn to decaffeinated coffee to enjoy the taste without the jitters. But a better term for decaf would probably be mostly decaf.

Coffee beans are stripped of caffeine in a variety of ways, but no system is ever 100 percent effective in removing all of it. In chemical decaffeination, for example, beans are submerged in a solution that binds to the caffeine and then gets rinsed off. According to the National Coffee Association, about 97 percent of the caffeine gets removed. In a single cup of coffee, that means about 2 milligrams of caffeine will be present in decaf versus 95 milligrams or so in regular coffee. (Some independent testing has found as much as 7–12 milligrams in a decaf cup.)

This comparatively small amount of caffeine likely won’t harm you, but some have expressed concern that the chemicals used in the decaf process could be detrimental. Some companies use carbon dioxide or water to strip the beans in an effort to avoid artificial means.

Ginger Ale

Ginger ale is pictured
Ginger ale has health connotations, but it really shouldn't. / pjohnson1/E+ via Getty Images

The ginger root has long been reputed to contain medicinal properties to soothe upset stomachs and other ailments. That association has led millions of people to reach for ginger ale, a carbonated soft drink, on the assumption it contains actual ginger. While it does depend on the brand, don’t count on it. Many ginger ales are made with only minimal, processed, or artificial ginger, all but eliminating any potential health benefits—unless you think high fructose corn syrup is good for you.

Rocky Mountain Oysters

A bull is pictured
'You're eating what?' / Vicky Smith/Moment via Getty Images

Also known as “prairie oysters,” this dish has absolutely nothing to do with oysters. This is not information you want after the fact, either. Rocky Mountain oysters are battered and fried bull testicles, usually obtained from castrated livestock, which means it’s technically possible that the source of your dinner could still be looking at you with extreme disapproval as you consume it.

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