Random Trivia: Why Some Foods Are “Deviled”

November 28, 2014

Some random trivia you ought to know, because the devil is in the details.

 Random Trivia: Why Some Foods Are “Deviled”“Deviled” as a culinary term goes back to the 1700s, and it originally meant to cook something—anything—with lots and lots of hot and spicy condiments and seasonings. The most commonly used spices in this catchall preparation were mustard and cayenne pepper. (It’s first ever use in print refers to a “devil’d kidney,” which we’re sure was quite tasty.)

The meaning behind the term is pretty easy to ascertain: deviled, to devil, to hot and spicy, in going with the traditional representation of the devil as a horned demon that lives in fire. It’s a phenomenon that continues to this day, with cartoon devils appearing on the packaging of numerous hot sauces and other spicy foods.

Deviled foods of all stripe were eaten in the U.S. well into the 19th century, with some culinary historians going so far as to place the idea something like a westernized version of a curry. Deviled shrimp and seafood were especially popular.

Today, the term is most closely associated with just two foods: deviled eggs and deviled ham. While deviled eggs—egg yolks mixed with mayonnaise, mustard, and spices and placed back into a halved, hard boiled egg—aren’t particularly spicy, they do maintain the qualities that makes a food traditionally deviled: mustard and pepper. The paprika is technically a variety of chili pepper, and for extra devilish credentials, it’s red.

As for deviled ham, it was invented in 1868 by the Underwood Company, when a worker mixed ground ham with some slightly spicy seasonings, and then canned it.

As for devil’s food cake, well, that’s just a clever spin on angel food cake, which came first. Angel food cake was light and white, and it’s opposite, dense and darkly colored chocolate cake, came from the “devil,” of course. However, in the cake’s original, 1880s preparation, cocoa powder reacted with baking soda, giving the cake a red tint…which was positively devilish.

Yearning for more random trivia? Try our 27th annual edition: Uncle John’s Canoramic Bathroom Reader.