Eating is often a ritualized activity. From keeping halal to staging a seder, what one eats frequently takes on more significance than simply nutrition—so it’s little wonder that we often attach meaning to what we eat and how we eat it that may not make sense, but sticks around nonetheless.
While some superstitions are so ingrained we don’t even think about them (salt, shoulder, etc.), others still stand out as unusual, counterintuitive, or straight-up odd. Some come from customs or belief systems that have since gone out of fashion; some don’t have any explanation at all. Each of them has managed to survive, though whether they actually work is another story. Better safe than sorry though, right?
Here are 10 food-related superstitions from countries all over the world. And trust us—you’ll never look at a tortilla the same way again.
Always put bread on the table right side up.
Origin story: During the Middle Ages, bakers would designate loaves meant for the local executioner by placing it upside down so other customers would know it wasn’t for sale. While the days of ordering a government employee to decapitate people are long gone, the superstition—and its eerie undertone—remains. (Photo: marquefoods.com)
Wear a chili pepper for good luck.
Origin story: While “cornicello” actually translates to “little horn,” it’s a common belief in Italy’s Calabria region (think the tip of the boot) that the old-school good luck charm, meant to ward off the evil eye, are actually modeled off chili peppers native to the region. The fact that the pendants typically come in red helps their case. (Photo: foderiausa.com)
Handle tortillas with caution.
Origin story: Folk wisdom holds that a tortilla dropped on the floor will lead to either unexpected or unwanted company, depending on who you ask—five second rule be damned. There’s no clear origin story for this particular superstition, but introverts ought to keep an eye out the next time they’re making some homemade nachos. (Photo: Flickr/Stacy Spensley)
Save your wedding cake.
Origin story: It’s tradition to stow the top layer of a wedding cake in the freezer and eat a slice on a couple’s one-year anniversary. While it’s doubtful that freezer-burned carbs are anyone’s first dessert of choice no matter how good they were to begin with, the ritual is supposed to guarantee a happy, long-lasting union—though no one would blame you for breaking out the Ben & Jerry’s instead. (Photo: Flickr/Counselman Collection)
And hold on to those hot cross buns too.
Origin story: As befits a pastry traditionally prepared on Good Friday, there are a whole bunch of superstitions surrounding the frosted, raisin-studded treats. Some, like the belief that they won’t go stale for a full year, are easily debunked; others, like the idea that hanging them in your kitchen wards off fires and even shipwrecks, are easier to buy into. (Photo: Flickr/Adele Prince)
Go ahead, slurp those noodles.
Origin story: Because it’s better than the alternative: Long noodles symbolize long life, so cutting them into pieces translates into some nasty symbolism. Think of it as yet another reason to master chopsticks; and never, ever ask for a knife and fork at the local takeout place. (Photo: saveorykitchen.blogspot.com)
Put the gum away after sunset.
Origin story: Tradition holds that chewing gum after dark is the same as chewing on the flesh of a dead body. It may defy the laws of science, but if you could do something to avoid accidentally eating dead people, why shouldn’t you? (Photo: Flickr/Ewen Roberts)
Break out the grapes on New Year’s.
Origin story: And wine, too, but also grapes. Where Americans celebrate the New Year by popping champagne, kissing, and/or making Times Square a living hell for 48 hours before and after, the Spanish attempt to eat 12 grapes in 12 seconds. Gross, sure, but worth it for the 12 months of luck that are supposed to follow. (Photo: Flickr/Michael Pardo)
Never, ever pass chopstick to chopstick.
Origin story: It’s the same ritual used to handle bones—post-cremation—during Buddhist burials, and carries all the bad associations that come with it. Put food on a plate before passing it instead. (Photo: Flickr/Lohb)
Don’t cry over spilt coffee.
Origin story: This one is pretty straightforward: in most Arab countries, spilled coffee means good luck. While the superstition’s origins remain obscure, some chalk it up to a feeble excuse. One saying holds that “the clumsy [people] spill coffee and claim it’s a sign of good luck.” Harsh, but good luck definitely takes the edge off cleaning up a bunch of piping hot liquid, especially since it’s a lot harder to throw some coffee over one’s shoulder than, say, salt. (Photo: Flickr/jen)