11 Things You Use (or Eat) That Aren’t Made the Way You Think

11 Things You Use (or Eat) That Aren’t Made the Way You Think

We’re so used to seeing finished products, it’s hard to imagine that they were once anything else. But nails, staples, springs, and chains all started life as spools of wire, and a bunch of other household objects and foods have even more surprising origins. Here’s a tour — starting with some bad news about silk. I’m so sorry.

They kill the silkworms to make silk

You’ve probably heard that silkworms “make” silk, but they don’t just sit around happily squeezing it out. A silkworm is a caterpillar, and when it’s time to turn into a moth, the caterpillar creates a cocoon for itself — out of a single strand of silk. All you have to do is unwind it, and you’ll have about half a mile of a continuous, strong thread. (Compare that to cotton, whose fibres are only about an inch long and must be twisted together to make thread. This is why silk is so strong and smooth.)

To get that thread, you can’t wait for the moth to emerge; it rips the cocoon open when it does. So you need to bake, steam, or boil the cocoon to kill the moth, and then you can unwind it to make your own cocoon. I mean, clothes.

Pineapples grow on the ground, not from trees

Many temperate-climate fruits grow on trees, like apples and oranges. Plenty of tropical fruits do as well, like bananas and papayas. But if you thought pineapples do too, think again. Pineapple plants are bromeliads that only grow about four feet high.

Loofahs come from squash plants, not sea creatures

The loofah craze has abated somewhat, but it seemed like every shower in the 2000s had a loofah hanging in it. This exfoliating device looks like a tube-shaped sponge, and if you already know that natural sponges come from the sea, you would probably assume (as I did) that loofahs are in the same family. But nope. Loofahs come from the loofah (or luffa) gourd. That’s right — it’s a squash plant. You can grow one in your garden if you like, next to the zucchini.

Gelatin comes from animal skins

Jell-o, gummy bears, and marshmallows are all made with gelatin. You may be vaguely aware that gelatin is some kind of animal product, and if you listen to the schoolyard rumours you may be under the impression that it is made from cow hooves. But gelatin is made from collagen proteins, and there isn’t much collagen in hooves (they’re made of keratin). Skin, on the other hand, contains plenty of collagen, and meat processing plants often have a lot of pig skin to spare. (By the way, if you take collagen supplements for your skin, you are basically adding animal skin to your own skin. It’s the circle of life.)

Mushrooms grow on compost

If you envisioned your portobello mushrooms growing in a sunny field, think again. Mushrooms aren’t plants, so they don’t need sunlight. Instead, they “eat” nutrients from their surroundings. In a forest, that might mean leaching nutrients from a rotting log. In a commercial mushroom farm, that usually means living off a tray of compost in what’s basically a big ol’ closet.

If you’ve heard that mushrooms grow on “manure,” that’s sometimes true. The compost can contain manure. But more often the main ingredients are things like like hay, straw, mulch, and poultry litter that have been aged until they break down into tasty mushroom-ready nutrients.

Rayon is made from wood

Rayon, viscose, and modal all refer to silky-smooth fabrics that are often described as being made with “natural” rather than synthetic fibres. But no silkworms, sheep, or cotton plants are involved in making these. Instead, they come from wood pulp or similar materials like bamboo.

The wood pulp — looking a lot like sawdust — is chemically turned into a slurry, and then pulled into a long thin fibre as the molecules join back up. The result is a cellulose-based fibre (cellulose being a carbohydrate found in wood) that is thin, long, and uniform, much like silk.

Cashews grow on a fruit

You read that right — they don’t grow in a fruit, but on a fruit. When Lifehacker visited Costa Rica, a member of the production team there grabbed a cashew fruit from a nearby tree during one of our filming breaks and sliced it open to share. The fruit is juicy, like a tomato, and the cashew “nut” as we know it hangs off the bottom.

Fun fact: cashews are related to poison ivy, and the shell around the nut contains an irritating oil that is destroyed by roasting before the nuts make it to market.

Peanuts plant themselves

Peanuts are also called ground nuts because they grow in the ground — like, literally in the ground. They are a fruit, and peanut plants are in the same family as beans and peas.

After the peanut flower is fertilised and begins to develop into a seed, the plant droops its stem, called a “peg,” down toward the ground, essentially planting the seed for the next generation. Unless we dig it up and eat it, that is.

Candy canes start as a 45 kg slab of sugar

I’m not sure how I thought candy canes were made, but it wasn’t like this. A mixture of sugar and flavoring is kneaded and aerated, and slabs of different colours are slapped together to make a 45 kg, roughly rectangular hunk of candy. This is then rolled out thin enough to make 3,200 individual candy canes, which are then cut, wrapped, and finally bent into the signature hook shape.

Cinnamon is tree bark

Have you ever wondered why cinnamon sticks have that strange curled-up shape? Each stick is actually a thin rectangle of tree bark that curls up as it dries.

By the way, there’s a sorta-myth going around that most grocery store cinnamon is not “real” cinnamon, but something else called cassia. In fact, cassia is a type of cinnamon, and it’s both more commonly available and more strongly flavored than the slightly sweeter ceylon cinnamon.

Asparagus is a teeny baby plant

This will not shock the gardeners among us, but you need to grow the same asparagus plant for years before you can start to pounce on those tender stalks. The asparagus plant dies off every winter, and it pokes up from the ground all over again each spring. Each spear of asparagus is a stem trying to grow into a tree-sized plant that looks like a giant fern. (It is neither a tree nor a fern. It’s an asparagus.)

Each mature plant only gives you about two spears per week, or 16 per growing season, according to the asparagus farmer in the video above. Then you watch it tower over you and die off, and gather a few more sprouts next spring.

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.

At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


Leave a Reply