20

Surprising Official State Foods

We know there are questions around travel amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Read our note here.

Most states have a variety of official symbols, from trees to birds to flowers, and while many also have iconic regional dishes, not every state has declared an official food. The culinary designations that do exist can be pretty specific — for instance, there are several states with official muffins. And while sometimes they’re a little more general, as in the case of the official state snack, state foods are often no less surprising. Read on to learn about some of the foods you didn’t know were official snacks, as well as some other surprising state grub. Hungry yet?

20

New York: Yogurt

Yogurt in glass bowl with blueberries
Credit: IGphotography/ iStock

New York is the most recent state to appoint an official state snack, and despite the abundance of iconic foods people associate with New York — from pizza to bagels to chopped cheese sandwiches and beyond — they went with yogurt. The decision wasn’t entirely out of nowhere: the state has, in the past, been designated the yogurt capital of the country, with most of the nation’s supply being manufactured upstate. There were some naysayers, however, and the 2014 hearing at the State Senate in Albany has been described as “animated” and “heated,” with some senators worrying about lactose intolerance, and whether or not a breakfast food counted as a snack. The yogurt proposal was brought forth by a fourth-grade class in western New York and, according to Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer, who sponsored the bill, truly demonstrated democracy in action.

19

Texas: Chips and Salsa

Chips and salsa in a blue bowl
Credit: pjohnson1/ iStock

One of the best parts of Tex-Mex dining is the basket of tortilla chips and bowl of salsa that appear on your table the moment you sit down. In 2003, the ubiquitous pair was appointed the state’s official snack, not only because of its wide-reaching popularity throughout the state, but because of the historical, cultural, agricultural, and economic significance of the dish’s ingredients. The 78th Legislature of the State of Texas highlights not only that “tortilla chips and salsa enjoy popularity ratings in the stratosphere,” but that the corn, peppers, onions, and tomatoes used to make the dish have fed the state’s ancestors for centuries, and even served as important components in Texas folk medicine. Corn, onion, tomato, and jalapeño crops, meanwhile, were major drivers of the state’s economy at the time. “They constitute a much savored part of our shared cultural identity,” the resolution stated, showing just how deep the reverence for the beloved appetizer really is.

18

Illinois: Popcorn

Popcorn in a wooden bowl
Credit: vasiliybudarin/ iStock

Illinois might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of popcorn. In fact, while the state does boast more than 300 popcorn farms across almost 50,000 acres, it’s only the third biggest U.S. producer behind Nebraska and Indiana. But in 2003, after a group of second and third graders from Joliet Elementary School proposed that popcorn be given official state snack status, Senator Larry Walsh sponsored the bill and successfully earned the all-time classic snack its due. There was some unusually tough competition for the title: Beer Nuts, Lemonhead candy, Doritos, and Cheetos were all mentioned (if not outright fought for), but in the end, the humble kernel came out on top.

17

South Carolina: Boiled Peanuts

Boiled peanuts in a pile
Credit: rudisill/ iStock

Boiled peanuts have been a southern staple since the 1800s, and in 2006, South Carolina declared them the official state snack. The reasoning was simple, with the General Assembly calling them “a delicious and popular snack food” and a “truly Southern delicacy.” They’re pretty much exactly what they sound like, but if you’re picturing a sopping wet version of a traditional roasted peanut, fear not — the peanuts are boiled from a raw, green state, and end up with a texture similar to edamame. Boiled peanuts are believed to have been brought to America by African slaves before the Civil War, and are considered an important part of South Carolina’s culture and history.

16

Utah: Jell-O

Blueberry Jell-O on a white plate with a spoon
Credit: HandmadePictures/ Shutterstock

Although it wasn’t invented in and isn’t made in Utah, Jell-O has been the official snack of the Beehive State since 2001. Utahns are known to consume more Jell-O per capita than anywhere else in the U.S., even rallying to take back the title when Iowa surpassed their consumption in 1999. The state’s reasons for honoring the jiggly gelatin dessert are endearingly wholesome, including it being “representative of good family fun, which Utah is known for throughout the world.” During the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics, an enamel pin shaped like a bowl of green Jell-O became an official souvenir, and is now a coveted collector’s item.

15

Nebraska: Kool-Aid

Kool-Aid boxes stacked on table
Credit: Jennifer Wallace/ Shutterstock

In 1998, Nebraska reclaimed a part of its heritage by naming Kool-Aid the official state soft drink. The sweet, fruit-flavored beverage was invented in Hastings in 1927 by Edwin E. Perkins. It was originally invented as a syrupy liquid called Fruit-Smack, but, inspired by Jell-O, Perkins found a way to turn it into a powder, making it into the Kool-Aid drink crystals most widely known today. Although production was moved out of state shortly thereafter, Nebraska still proudly calls Kool-Aid theirs. The now-iconic Kool-Aid Man mascot once had his footprints immortalized in cement on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but they were rightfully returned to their Hastings home, and now, every August, attendees of the annual Kool-Aid Days Festival can visit the piece of history as well as the original Kool-Aid Factory and even a Kool-Aid Museum.

14

Oklahoma: An Entire Southern Meal

Smoked pulled pork served with pickles on wooden board
Credit: golubovy/ iStock

Why have a state snack when you can have a whole meal? In 1988, the 41st Oklahoma Legislature named a plateful of Southern home-cooked staples as the official state meal. So just what will you get in this state-sanctioned feast? Well, you sure won’t go hungry: Barbecue pork, sausage and gravy, chicken fried steak, fried okra, squash, black-eyed peas, grits, corn, biscuits, cornbread, strawberries, and pecan pie. Phew! The meal was assembled to reflect the state's cultural backgrounds and its agriculture businesses, and officials from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, the Oklahoma Pork Council, the Oklahoma Beef Commission, and even the Oklahoma Restaurant Association weighed in on the dish. Louisiana is the only other state to have also designated an official meal in 2015, although it is specific to the northern part of the state.

13

Indiana: Hoosier Pie

Hoosier pie on a wooden table
Credit: margouillatphotos/ iStock

Since 2009, sugar cream pie — AKA Hoosier Pie — has been the official state pie of Indiana. The earliest recipe first appeared in the state in 1816 (the same year the state was founded) and is believed to have originated with the Shaker or Amish communities. The delectable, custard-like pie consists of creamed butter, maple or brown sugar, and vanilla-flavored cream. It was also informally known as desperation pie because it could be made year-round and not rely on seasonal ingredients, but on items already often found in a pantry (which was also a reason the dessert sustained its popularity throughout generations). Hoosier Pie is so deeply ingrained in Indiana’s culinary heritage that there is even a “Hoosier Pie Trail,” a journey throughout the state with stops at 20 noteworthy spots along the way.

12

New Mexico: Biscochito

Biscochito cookies in a pile
Credit: Kayla Blundell/ Shutterstock

New Mexico was the first place to name an official state cookie. The biscochito (or bizcochito) was given the designation in 1989 in an effort to ensure that traditional recipes continued to be handed down and made in homes throughout the state. The crisp, buttery cookie, flavored with cinnamon and anise, originated with the 16th century Spanish settlers, and has become a mainstay not only in day-to-day life, but at celebrations in the state, from weddings, to baptisms, and (especially) Christmas. The only other state that has adopted an official state cookie is Massachusetts, who honored the invention of the original Toll House chocolate chip cookie.

11

Missouri: Ice Cream Cone

Two ice cream cones
Credit: Mvltcelik/ iStock

One of the most universally beloved treats in America, the ice cream cone, became Missouri’s official state dessert in August 2008. While the cone most likely originated in New York City by way of Italian emigrant Italo Marchiony, it was independently introduced on a much wider scale — and subsequently made popular — at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. According to local legend, two vendors, one who made waffles and one who served ice cream, collaborated on the iconic dessert when the ice cream vendor ran out of dishes. The bill to officially recognize the dessert was proposed by a group of grade school children who sought to honor their hometown history, as well as help promote the state’s dairy and ice cream industries. Whether or not they were looking for an excuse to eat more ice cream cones remains unknown.

10

Alabama: Lane Cake

Close up of layered cake
Credit: oumjeab/ Shutterstock

It’s been around since the 1800s, but until Alabama native Harper Lee wrote about it in her seminal 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Lane cake was a lesser-known regional dessert. There are several variations on the multi-level layered cake, but the filling rarely strays from the mixture of pecans, coconut, whiskey-soaked raisins, sugar, eggs, and butter. The recipe — and cake’s namesake — originated with Emma Rylander Lane, who even won a Clayton, Ala. county fair baking competition with it in 1898. The cake became a point of Alabama pride following its appearance in “Mockingbird,” elevating the sticky-sweet dessert to a Southern staple and, eventually, the official state dessert in 2015.

9

Rhode Island: Calamari

Fried calamari with sauce
Credit: bhofack2/ iStock

Calamari’s chewy texture may make it somewhat of an acquired taste, but not for Rhode Island — in 2014, the Ocean State named the squid dish its official state appetizer. Rep. Joseph McNamara and Senator Susan Sosnowski sponsored the bill in a bid to highlight the importance of the state’s fishing and food and tourism industries, and the Fishermen's Alliance president Richard Fuka eagerly agreed, saying that "squid is to Rhode Island what the potato is to Idaho." Rhode Island lays claim to being the squid capital of the Northeast, accounting for 54 percent of the supply in the region and more of the aquatic creature being brought to shore than any other type of seafood.

8

Vermont: Maple

Maple syrup
Credit: showcake/ Shutterstock

Perhaps the sweetest (literally) of the official state foods belongs to Vermont, who in 1994 named an entire official state flavor — maple. New England has a celebrated maple syrup industry thanks to its sugar maple trees (which is, of course, the official state tree), and every year tourists flock to the region to visit sugar shacks and festivals celebrating the liquid gold. Vermonters take the stuff seriously: it’s illegal to say something is maple flavored unless the product is indeed pure maple, and in 2011, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture actually went after McDonald’s for advertising a new, artificially flavored maple product. Vermont is the only state to have an official state flavor.

7

Minnesota: Blueberry Muffin

Blueberry muffins with a bowl of blueberries in the background
Credit: mphillips007/ iStock

Minnesota doesn’t have an official state berry, but if it did, it might be the blueberry. Not only are wild blueberries native to the northeastern region, but the official state muffin is, afterall, the blueberry muffin, named so in 1988 after a group of third-graders successfully lobbied for the tasty state symbol, citing both the importance of the region’s wheat crops and its abundance of blueberries. The students must have been unusually persuasive — the State Capitol has a reputation for dragging out the state symbol naming hearings, even arguing over what should be named the official mammal for four decades now. Other muffins have also been granted official state muffin status, including the corn muffin in Boston and the apple muffin in New York.

6

South Dakota: Kuchen

Full pan of homemade German apple kuchen dessert
Credit: dossyl/ Shutterstock

South Dakota’s official dessert is a nod to the German settlers of the 1800s whose agricultural accomplishments helped turn the state into one of the top wheat growers in the country. The pastry, called Kuchen, consists of a thick, cakey crust and a sweet custard filling. It was first brought to the region by German immigrants in the 1880s and has been passed down to remain a staple of the state’s cuisine. Every year, the Historical Society of Delmont holds a Kuchen festival that has grown in popularity since its 1997 debut. After a failed attempt to honor the dessert with official status in 1999, the state rallied, and over 18 towns coordinated to give their written support of the bill. Kuchen was finally named the official state dessert in 2000.

5

Georgia: Grits

Big bowl of grits
Credit: kirin_photo/ iStock

Georgia is so serious about grits that a new category of official state foods was made so that they could be included. In 2002, grits were named the official state prepared food — the only one of its kind. Grits are considered uniquely southern; they were first made by Native Americans centuries ago, and the dish, prepared most simply by boiling the ground corn and seasoning it with salt and butter, has evolved into a versatile staple in the south. Though it’s often served as a sweet or savory breakfast dish, grits have also come to be a popular component of more complex meals, often served alongside shrimp or sausage. Georgia hosts several grits festivals throughout the state featuring cookoffs, grits-stirring competition, and, of course, grit eating contests.

4

Louisiana: Mayhaw Jelly and Louisiana Sugar Cane Jelly

Glass jars of jam
Credit: 5 second Studio/ Shutterstock

Louisiana has not one, but two, official state jellies, the result of a divisive 2003 debate in the Louisiana State Capitol. Mayhaw Jelly, a long-time state staple that is made from the fruit of the native Louisiana hawthorn tree, was presumed a clear-cut winner in the jelly debate. But in the interest of propping up the booming Louisiana sugar industry — which some representatives were opposed to — it was suggested that the much more modern Sugar Cane Jelly be deemed official. In the end, a compromise was suggested and easily went through in the House. Both crops hold special significance to the state: the mayhaw is thought to be one of the few remaining wild U.S. fruit trees that has remained uncommercialized, while Louisiana sugarcane is considered a major player in the state economy.

3

Maine: Whoopie Pie

Whoopie pie set on a white plate
Credit: Ihor Smishko/ iStock

Though the whoopie pie originated as a Pennsylvanian Amish tradition, the cakey frosting sandwich has become a New England classic, and in 2011, it became Maine’s official state treat. Yes, treat — not dessert. Though the bill that was initially passed did indeed name the chocolate goodie as the official state dessert, it was quickly amended to specify it was merely a treat after public outcry demanded the official state dessert designation belonged to blueberry pie — with wild Maine blueberries, of course. The whoopie pie exploded in popularity in the late 2000s, appearing in grocery store aisles and specialty bakeries alike across the country.

2

Wisconsin: Kringle

Kringle pastry with walnuts
Credit: Tony Savino/ iStock

Wisconsin is well known for its cheese and beer. But the lesser-known kringle is as much a beloved and ingrained part of the state’s culinary history, and in 2013, it was named the official state pastry. The kringle came to Wisconsin via Danish immigrants in the 1800s, and although its name translates to mean “pretzel,” this oval-shaped dessert is sweet, not savory, with a buttery pastry crust, fruit or nut filling, and a gooey white icing glaze. The handcrafted delicacy, which can take up to three days to make properly, has put the city of Racine on the map, as its cluster of authentic Kringle bakeries regularly draw media attention and tourists from around the world.

1

Oregon: Brewer’s Yeast

Close up of bowl of brewer's yest and a spoon
Credit: lucentius/ iStock

Leave it to a state as craft-beer crazy as Oregon to become the first to name an official state microbe. That’s right: brewer’s yeast was given the honor in 2013, a nod to the organism’s ability to convert sugar into alcohol and, in turn, be a major player in the state’s economy. According to the Oregon Craft Beer Guild, in 2016, the state’s brewing industry put $2.83 billion into the state's economy, employing approximately 30,000 people. The city of Portland alone has been a mecca for craft beer enthusiasts since the ‘80s: with 70 breweries within city limits, the nickname “Beervana” feels earned.



Share

Facebook iconTwitter iconEmail icon
Related article image

5 National Anthems With Surprising Origins

Related article image

7 Things You Never Knew About France

Related article image

7 Historic Trails Every American Should Experience

Related article image

9 Unique Customs You Won't Find Anywhere Else