7 Iconic Foods Invented in Brooklyn

nathan's hot dog

Have you ever been to a fair and ordered a deep-fried Twinkie, or put Sweet’N Low in your coffee or gulped down a delicious egg cream? If so, you probably praised the heavens for inventing something so delicious. Well, it’s not the heavens that deserve praise – it’s Brooklyn!

Tootsie Rolls were invented in Brooklyn.

The Tootsie Roll was invented by an Austrian immigrant, Leo Hirschfeld, who settled in Brooklyn in 1884. Leo was a candy maker back in his homeland, so naturally he opened a candy shop in Brooklyn. His store specialized in penny candies and hard candies because that’s what folks in the neighborhood could afford. Chocolate was expensive at the time, so he didn’t sell much.

Leo would walk home from work and on many occasions his daughter Clara would run up to him and say, “Daddy, make me some candy”, so he would. He’d use what he could find in his house: sugar, cocoa, butter, etc. Soon word spread about the candy he made at home and neighborhood kids wanted some too. He realized he should be selling them at his store for a penny a piece. He wanted to create a candy that was in a wrapper, so needed a name for it. Then he remembered what he’d say to Clara when she’d ask for candy, “Yes my little Tootsie I will make you some candy”.

The rest is history.


Did you know Sweet’N Low has Brooklyn roots?

What’s even cooler is the Sweet’N Low factory was located in the same place it started for almost 60 years. It was invented by Benjamin Eisenstadt who had a cafeteria in Brooklyn Navy Yard. Business slowed down after WWII, so he needed a new idea to support his family.

His first idea was to create individual serving-size packets of sugar, but that idea was stolen after he pitched it to large sugar producers. Soon after, he and his son struck sweetener gold when they invented a zero calorie single serving sugar substitute called Sweet’N Low. It was named after the song, “Sweet and Low” and the package was pink so it would stand out alongside regular sugar packets.

Even Louis Armstrong loved Sweet’N Low and wrote them to tell them so:

“Dear Sweet’N Low Folks, I just want to tell you that Sweet’N Low picks me up and is just right for my diet. Since I use lots of it, I wonder if I could order direct from the company? I buy large orders. Anyway, let me know if I can buy maybe a carton or so, or something or other. Yea! Regards, Satchmo Louis Armstrong”

sweet n low

Hot dogs were invented in Coney Island in 1867.

It’s no surprise that hot dogs were invented in Brooklyn, right in Coney Island. It’s still home to the world’s most famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Nathan’s Famous.

German immigrant Charles Felton moved to the U.S. when he was 15. When he was older, he opened up a beer garden and entertainment venue in Coney Island where Luna Park now stands. He came up with the idea to put German all-beef Frankfurters in a long roll he made at his Park Slope bakery. He called them ‘Coney Island Red Hots” and at 10 cents each, they were a hit. Eventually they just became known as “hot dogs”.

Nathan Handwerker worked at Feltman’s restaurant slicing hot dog buns open all day. The singer and piano player at Feltman’s, Eddie Cantor and Jimmy Durante, lent Nathan $350 in order to open up his own hot dog stand on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues. Nathan used his Mother-In-Law’s recipe for an all-beef hot dog. Cantor and Durante also convinced Nathan to undercut Felton’s 10 cents hot dogs by a nickel and sold his for 5 cents each. Feltman refused to come down in price to just a nickel. Urban legend is that Nathan’s put Felton’s out of business but the two co-existed for nearly 40 years. in another connection with Brooklyn, Feltman is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery.

Coney Island

Can you think of your childhood without thinking of Bazooka gum?

It was the invention of the Shorin brothers in Brooklyn: Abram, Ira, Phillip and Joseph, who started Topps Chewing Gum Inc. in Brooklyn in 1938. Bazooka Gum was born in 1947.

In 1953, Topps changed their packaging to include small comic strips of a character known as Bazooka Joe along with his friends. You were also able to send away for items featured on the comic. Best of all, piece of that sugary pink rectangle was only a penny.

In 2012, Bazooka Joe comics were pulled if you can believe it. Say it ain’t so, Bazooka Joe!

bazooka joe

Ever had a traditional Brooklyn Egg Cream?

It’s kind of funny, but the egg cream doesn’t contain eggs or cream. It’s a mixture of milk, seltzer water, and Fox’s U-bet chocolate syrup which has been made in Brownsville, Brooklyn for the past 100 years.

There are a few theories about how the Egg Cream was invented, but the most popular is that Louis Auster, who was a Jewish immigrant, invented it at his Brooklyn candy store. He sold thousands per day. An ice cream company asked if he’d sell the drink and when he refused he was called an anti Semitic name, so vowed never to share his secret recipe!

Egg creams were even mentioned on the TV show, “The West Wing”:

Bartlet: Toby, I’m drinking the most fantastic thing I’ve ever tasted in my life: chocolate syrup, cold milk, and seltzer. I know it sounds terrible, but trust me, I don’t know where this has been all my life.

Toby: It’s called an egg cream, Mr. President. We invented it in Brooklyn.

You can still experience an authentic egg cream in Brooklyn at Junior’s where you stop for lunch on our Neighborhood Tour.

egg cream

Ebinger’s Brooklyn Blackout Cake could only come from one place.

Growing up in Brooklyn, Ebinger’s Brooklyn Blackout Cake was legendary! But do you know how it got its name?

During World War II the Brooklyn Navy Yard was one of the most vital ship building locations in the U.S. So much so that enemy U-boats would hide in the waters off shore in New York to try to sink boats leaving harbor. The enemy used the bright lights of the city to see silhouettes of the boats. There was only one solution: NYC and Brooklyn had to be completely dark at night. Cars drove with no headlights, people boarded up their windows and city lights were turned off.  Even Coney Island went dark.

Ebinger’s Bakery was located near Brooklyn Navy Yard. Before the war they sold a pudding filled, three-tiered chocolate cake, but decided to change the name in support of the war. Hence, “Brooklyn Blackout Cake” was born.

Sadly, Ebinger’s closed in 1972. But we’ve been told by folks who remember the cake fondly that the chocolate cake at The Chocolate Room, which is one of the many samples on our Brooklyn Chocolate Tour, comes pretty close to filling that void.

blackout cake

Deep Fried Twinkies were invented in Brooklyn.

You love Twinkies, right? Who doesn’t? Regular Twinkies are good as is, but fry them up and FUHGETTABOUDIT!

That’s exactly what happened in early 2000 at The Chip Shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Owner Christopher Sell originally opened the shop to recreate the classic fish and chips of his childhood. He soon started deep frying other food items and found a winner with Twinkies. He describes them like this,

“Something magical occurs when the pastry hits the hot oil. The creamy white vegetable-shortening filling liquefies, impregnating the sponge cake with its luscious vanilla flavor…. The cake itself softens and warms, nearly melting, contrasting with the crisp, deep-fried crust in a buttery and suave way. The pièce de résistance, however, is a ruby-hued berry sauce, adding a tart sophistication to all that airy sugary goodness”.

fried dessert

It seems almost everything that is good was invented in Brooklyn. 😉 That’s why three of our four tours involve food: Chocolate Tour, Pizza Tour & Neighborhood Tour.

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