You’ve already been introduced to the 25 best snack food mascots of all time, and you’re surely familiar with the faces of well-known food-brand reps like Aunt Jemima, Little Debbie, and the BirdsEye Captain. But what you may not be quite so familiar about are the origin stories of these grocery-store personalities—and, most importantly, whether they were real people that walked this earth.

For your enlightenment, we’ve debunked the mystery behind the most recognizable human food-brand mascots of all time. 

Famous Amos

famous-amos
Real or fake?: Real
Backstory: Wally Amos always liked to bake cookies. In March, 1975, he opened up the first Famous Amos cookie store in L.A. and, soon after, received a $25,000 loan from Marvin Gaye and Helen Reddy and started his cookie franchise. (Photo: The Life of JWo, Putting It All On The Table)

Aunt Jemima

aunt jemima
Real or fake?: Fake
Backstory: Aunt Jemima was first introduced as a stereotypical African American character in a postbellum minstrel show. The R.T. Davis Milling Company cast the character as its mascot in 1890 for its signature pancake mix and hired a former slave, Nancy Green, to play her. Green played Jemima until her death on September 23, 1923. (Photo: REAL GOODS)


Uncle Ben

unclebens
Real or fake?: Partially real
Backstory: Uncle Ben was a real person—a Houston rice farmer in the 1940s who was known for consistently producing the highest quality rice. The gentleman on the box, however, isn’t Ben: the spokesperson was Frank Brown, the maître d’ of a Chicago restaurant. (Photo: Obviously Marvelous)

Cream O’ Wheat “Rastus” Cereal Man

cream o wheat
Real or fake?: Real
Backstory: “Rastus,” a generally derogatory and generic name used to refer to African American men in the 1800s, was the mascot on Cream O’ Wheat cereal boxes. Frank L. White, a Chicago chef, became the mascot for the brand in the 1920s. It was said that a founder of the company noticed White, noting that his appearance “seemed especially appropriate for a wholesome, new cereal.” It wasn’t until 69 years after his death in 1938, however, that White was finally recognized for his contribution. (Photo: B&G Foodservice, The Historyapolis Project)


Little Debbie

little debbie
Real or fake: Real
Backstory:  O.D. McKee, founder of McKee Foods, was inspired by a photograph of his then four-year-old granddaughter, Debbie, in her straw hat, and decided to name the company’s cakes after her. (Photo: Mojosavings.com, New Republic)

Miss Chiquita

chiquita
Real or fake?: Fake
Backstory: The mascot for Chiquita Bananas was first drawn in 1944 by artist Dik Browne as a banana, not a woman. Later on, models and famous personalities were hired to represent her. Puerto Rico-born actress Elsa Miranda was the most famous Miss Chiquita. (Photo: Chiquita)


Quaker Oats Man (“Larry”)

quaker
Real or fake?: Fake
Backstory: Although he was identified as early Quaker founder William Penn in the earliest company advertisements, the man is not, in fact, an actual person. Says Quaker’s website: “His image is that of a man dressed in the Quaker garb, chosen because the Quaker faith projected the values of honesty, integrity, purity, and strength.” (Photo: Quaker)

Sun-Maid Girl

sun-maid
Real or fake?: Real
Backstory: Lorraine Collett Petersen is the real-life Sun-Maid girl, having sat for a portrait shortly after 1915 for the company. As the story goes, Petersen and her friends went to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco to help distribute samples. All the other girls were wearing blue bonnets, but Petersen rocked a bright red one. The wife of a company exec noticed her bonnet, and the rest is history. (Photo: Country & Victorian Times, Sun-Maid)


BirdsEye Captain

birdseye
Real or fake?: Partially real
Backstory: John Hewer played BirdsEye frozen fish mascot Captain Birdseye from 1967 to 1998, but he was an actor, not a seafarer. (Photo: Metro, The Telegraph)

Otis Spunkmeyer

otis spunkmeyer
Real or fake?: Made-up name
Backstory: The king of frozen cookie dough, muffins, and brownies, Otis Spunkmeyer was a specialty shop first conceived by Ken Rawlings in 1976. Rawlings let his then 12-year-old daughter name the chain, and the first Otis Spunkmeyer location opened up soon after in Oakland. (Photo: Green Top Fundraising)