This 18th Century Swedish King Went To Extreme Lengths To Prove Coffee Was ‘Dangerous’

This experiment, designed by coffee-hating King Gustav III, sounds like a pretty sweet deal to us!


Sometimes, in the study of history, you come across individuals who shouldn’t necessarily be counted among the worst people to ever live, but who are nevertheless total goobers. One such fellow is the Swedish king Gustav III, who reigned from 1771 to 1792. Gustav was a bit of a mixed bag, overall: an “enlightened despot,” he abolished the torture of people accused of crimes and passed legislation promoting religious toleration.

He also had a lifelong vendetta against the greatest beverage in the world, coffee. In fact, the consumption of both coffee and tea (the second-greatest beverage in the world) had been restricted in Sweden since 1746, coincidentally the year of Gustav’s birth.


via Wikimedia

Even so, coffee-drinking grew in popularity during the second half of the 18th century, much to Gustav’s horror. During his reign, the king decided to use science to prove once and for all that coffee was not to be trusted by forcing some guy to drink coffee until he died.

According to the Cambridge World History of Food,

In the best scientific tradition, Sweden’s Gustav III reputedly commuted the death sentences of twin brothers convicted of murder on the condition that one be given only tea to drink and the other coffee.

First of all, how convenient is it that Gustav was able to find a pair of twins, both convicted of the same capital crime? And second, how lucky were these guys? Instead of being executed, they got to live out their lives in comfort, enjoying tasty caffeinated beverages.

The experiment didn’t exactly go as planned.

The tea drinker died first—at age 83—and Sweden became the world’s most ardent coffee-consuming nation, with its citizens drinking five cups per person per day by 1975.

Gustav never found out that his experiment failed—the king was assassinated at a masquerade ball by his political enemies long before his test subjects passed away from natural, non-coffee-related causes.

Written by Caroline Wazer // History Buff // Featured image via Wikimedia


5 Disgusting Recipes From The First Ever Celebrity Cookbook

Gordon Ramsay would blush


Long before the introduction of the tomato to Europe, Italy had a reputation for being a gourmand’s paradise. One of the most important sources for understanding ancient epicures is the collection of recipes known as Apicius de re coquinaria (roughly, Apicius on cooking). Apicius, a wealthy Roman of the 1st century C.E. who reputedly killed himself rather than eat cheaper food once he ran out of money, has gone down in history as the first celebrity chef. It’s unlikely, however, that he personally wrote any of the recipes in the collection, which probably dates to three centuries after Apicius’ untimely demise.

Many of Apicius’ recipes remain appetizing today (I recently helped Leftovers History select and research one tasty example). But others are better left to the dustbin of history. Here are 5 Apician recipes that we’d rather not try.


via Wikimedia

1. To Improve a Broth

If your reaction to noticing that your soup has spoiled to the degree that it stinks is to dump a bunch of spices in it and then serve it to your friends, please let me know so I can never ever eat at your house.

If a broth has contracted a bad odor, place a vessel upside-down and fumigate it with laurel and cypress and before ventilating it, pour the broth in this vessel. If this does not help matters and if the taste is too pronounced, add honey and fresh spikenard to it; that will improve it.

2. Vegetable and Brain Pudding

There’s nothing wrong with eating organ meat, and I’m not even a particularly picky eater. But 5-year-old me would have had a hell of a tantrum if my mom decided to serve this dish for dinner.

Take vegetables, clean and wash, shred and cook them, cool them off and drain them. Take 4 calf’s brains, remove strings and cook them in the mortar. Put 6 scruples (a type of measure) of pepper, moisten with broth and crush fine; then add the brains, rub again and meanwhile add the vegetables, rubbing all the while, and make a fine paste of it. Thereupon break and add 8 eggs. Now add a glassful of broth, a glassful of wine, a glassful of raisin wine, taste this preparation. Oil the baking dish thoroughly and place it in the oven and when it is done sprinkle with pepper and serve.


via Wikimedia

3. For Birds that Smell Strongly

There’s some scholarly debate over what “goatish” means in this recipe—is it just birds with a gamey flavor? Many Classicists, however, think that this recipe told cooks how to cover up the stench of rotting fowl. 

For birds of all kinds that have a goatish smell, add pepper, lovage, thyme, dry mint, sage, dates, honey, vinegar, wine, broth, oil, reduced must, mustard. The birds will be more luscious and nutritious, and the fat preserved, if you envelop them in a dough of flour and oil and bake them in the oven. Alternately, stuff the inside with crushed fresh olives, sew them up, and thus cook, then retire the cooked olives.


via Wikimedia

4. To Make Spoiled Honey Good as New

Honey can actually stay good for a crazy long time, but you really don’t want to mess around with it when things go wrong.

How bad honey may be turned into a saleable article is to mix one part of the spoiled honey with two parts of good honey.

5. To Clarify Muddy Wine

No thanks, I’m good.

Put bean meal and the whites of three eggs in a mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly with a whip and add to the wine, stirring for a long time. The next day the wine will be clear.

Written by Caroline Wazer // History Buff // Recipes adapted from Joseph Dommers Vehling’s 1926 translations // Feature image via Wikimedia