Surprising foods Americans miss while abroad

Missing your favorite foods is such a part of any tourist or expat's life, in fact, that some scientists have theorized that a craving for the flavors of home is instilled in the womb. Even scientists, however, might be surprised by which flavors American expats and tourists miss the most when away from home.

Root beer

Many drinks invented by Americans have a worldwide reach. It's hard to think of anywhere in the world where you couldn't get a Coke, Pepsi, or Dr Pepper. Even Cuba and North Korea, places where historically these drinks were not available, have since begun selling them.

One American export more difficult to track down, however, is root beer. Despite existing in the US since the 1870s, the lack of availability of its main ingredients in other countries early in its development may have stopped it from catching on like Coke has. In fact, the only places where it can be found are cities with a history of large American presences, such as Okinawa in Japan. Even there, the majority of the public hate it. Despite what other countries may think, however, CNN still ranked root beer as one of the 10 foods and beverages Americans miss most.

Brisket

To some, a southern barbecue just isn't complete without a large slab of brisket. However, different ways of butchering beef across the world can make that particular cut, which comes from the breast and lower chest of a cow, difficult to track down in other countries.

For example, one American now living in Germany had trouble finding brisket in his new home country. That's because where American butchers cut the front into chuck (upper chest), brisket (lower chest) and shank (leg), German meat markets sell hals (literally the neck, but in real terms the full chest), schulter (shoulder) and hesse (lower leg). This splits the brisket cut in half, meaning that unless Americans in Germany and elsewhere in the world want to order a whole front and leg of beef, they have to do without perfectly slow-roasted brisket. No wonder Americans have named brisket as one of their most fondly-remembered foods from home.

Skittles

Skittles occupy a kind of weird culinary limbo. Big American candy brands like Hershey's have branches bringing their sweets across the world, while other sweets just aren't available. Meanwhile, Skittles are available nearly everywhere...but can taste very different than what you're expecting. This can make a craving worse–you buy Skittles to satisfy your sweet tooth, but are disappointed to find they're not the American kind you know and love.

One American polled by Thrillist called Skittles "the finest reminder of home." He obviously hadn't tried the European version of Skittles' 'Crazy Sours'. Where the American version of the tart candy is a regular-fruit flavored Skittle that gets its sharpness from a sour sugar coating, the European version have no grainy coating and are completely different flavors, with grape, lemon, lime, orange and strawberry replaced by apple, pineapple, mandarin, raspberry and cherry.

Even regular Skittles may not be what Americans are used to. For example, purple skittles are blackcurrant flavored in the UK and Sweden. This is a flavor that hasn't caught on in the US, since it was made illegal to grow blackcurrant plants in the country in the early 20th century. In fact, it is still illegal in some states.

Mexican food

In these divided times, it seems ironic that the only thing that really unites Americans is Mexican food. Almost every list of what Americans miss while travelling features tacos, burritos, and other foods from south of the border. One American in Japan posted on Reddit wishing for "a decent taco that isn't a f***ing octopus."

The reason people seem to miss Mexican food the most might be for similar reasons as to why they pine for Skittles: Mexican food exists everywhere, but (in some Americans' views at least) it's best in the US of A. People's comments bear this out, with one expat Redditor writing "Mexican here in Australia is pretty sad in comparison", while another one in Italy noted that they "don't really sell anything close the right sauce" for Mexican food. CNN claimed that, "the further you get from Mexico, the lamer the tortillas get. Interestingly one writer on Quora has found that "the only place that seems to be a haven for 'real' Mexican is in Berlin, Germany."

However, though Americans will say that what they miss is authentic Mexican food, it seems that what many really want to get their hands on is the mass-produced version found at Taco Bell. The chain is the place many travelers visit as their first stop in the states. One blogger sums up this situation when she writes, "my sister has promised to bring me straight from the airport to Taco Bell."

Peanut butter

Another food that regularly features on lists of Americans' most-missed munchies is peanut butter. A survey by insurance company Aetna International found that 70% of US travellers missed peanut butter brands like Jif, Skippy, and Smucker's.

Though peanut butter is available in most countries, there is not as much demand for it. Other countries just don't understand America's obsession with peanut butter, which Americans spend as much on as on regular butter. The average American spends five times more on peanut butter than the average Brit, for example. This relative lack of popularity means that it's harder to get and is more expensive.

That's if you can get it at all. NPR reported that the average European eats less than one tablespoon of American peanut butter in an entire year, and Huffington Post published a list of 10 countries where it's difficult to find.

Ranch dressing

Ranch dressing is to American salads what vinaigrette is to the French, and wafu is to the Japanese. It's often the salad dressing of choice for everything to barbecues to family dinners. However, its popularity hasn't transported across the pond, and expats everywhere have reported that Ranch dressing in other countries is but a pale imitation of the American concoction, which consists of mayonnaise, buttermilk, salt, garlic, onion, mustard, herbs, and spices.

This is because most European and Asians have no idea what ranch dressing is. One Reddit writer displayed their ignorance by calling it "salad creme with stuff in it." It is so unknown, in fact, that Cool Ranch Doritos are called 'Cool Original' in the UK and 'Cool American' in Europe.

Doritos (particularly Cool Ranch flavor)

Speaking of Doritos, the corn tortillas are another specific food brand that Americans have said they miss when abroad. That aforementioned Aetna survey found that Doritos were one of the most missed brands for US citizens away from home.

Cool Ranch may be the most missed of the flavor varieties because of the availability of the apparently nearly-but-not-quite-the-same 'Cool American' or 'Cool Original'. Even these, however, are not available everywhere, with other countries preferring the salted or cheese varieties or some of the (at least) 124 other flavors available. Australia's favorite flavor, for example, is Nacho Cheese, which has a different colored bag and flavor than its Stateside counterpart. So those looking to appease a Cool Ranch craving might have to make do with international flavors like coconut curry, tuna mayo or roasted turkey.

Pumpkin spice and other pumpkin flavored things

In an article interviewing travel bloggers about what they missed when not in America, one responder named Lauren Bcock was very adamant: 

"The #1 thing I miss is pumpkin everything!  Things I would love: pumpkin coffee, pumpkin coffee creamer, pumpkin pie, pumpkin hand soap, pumpkin candles, pumpkin muffins, canned pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice....you name it, if it is pumpkin I love it and thus miss it here in Scotland."

Apart from a brief flirtation at the end of every year with Starbucks' pumpkin spice latte, which the coffee store serves in the fall in nearly 50 countries, most countries just don't get America's pumpkin preference. One Brit even wrote an op-ed titled "America, your love for pumpkin spice lattes is a sign your empire is falling."

This perplexity around pumpkins in other countries is due to the fact that they are mostly used for decoration outside of America, but not much else. For example, 95% of Britain's 10 million pumpkins are used at Halloween...and only 5% are used for cooking.

'Butter' for popcorn

According to Thought Catalog, "liquid butter on popcorn" is "not a thing in Europe." Though the average cinema will serve you American-style nachos with melted fake cheese, the fake butter served on salted popcorn hasn't made a similar transition.

Each country varies on how they like their popcorn. Germany has a preference for sweet popcorn, while Britain likes it covered in the sticky caramel they call toffee (though other gourmet flavors are taking off). In Japan, popcorn is flavored with seaweed or shrimp. Though no countries can quite agree on what popcorn should taste like, nearly all are in agreement that it should not have real butter on it, never mind the artificially butter-flavored kind on offer at your local multiplex.

Kraft mac & cheese

As one person tweeted to a food writer friend, "Boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese have the oddest effect on expats." Meanwhile, another article offered the following advice for fighting homesickness: "Be kind to yourself and please, please, please pack a weeks worth of single pack mac and cheese. It will work wonders [...] and it will not take up much space."

People worldwide from India to France will agree that mac 'n' cheese is one of the great American exports, but the ready-to-make kind is far less popular. In fact, the same French person who called mac 'n' cheese a great American food said "my first encounter with [...]a Kraft box [...] traumatized me for a long time".

Kale

Though at least one American really, really hates kale, millions of others love it. It really took off in the last decade, during which time kale sales rose over $100 million, with 3.5 million kale salads having been 'pinned' on Pinterest in 2016 alone. It is even being sold at McDonald's.

It has become such a part of some American diets, in fact, that people are finding that they miss it when they leave for less kale-friendly climes. Cavolo nero is good, but it's not quite American kale.

One blogger summed up the problem with getting kale in other countries when she confessed to missing it in a post for Paste: "Many produce salesmen in France would be quick to tell you that they don't have everyone's favorite superfood because it's American." Anti-Americanism and anti-food fad thinking has stopped some from selling the vegetable. This is perhaps part of why the writer (and others) miss the food when away: finding that kale is not sold due to anti-US snobbery is only going to make people pine more for home.

Cranberry sauce

The holiday season is a hard time for anyone having to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas away from home. Major food cravings, however, all seem to focus on one specific part of the turkey feast.

"I missed cranberry sauce" said one expat talking to Mic about celebrating Thanksgiving outside of the States, while the article noted that, "the Spanish don't have a word for cranberry, so expats living in Spain are out of luck if they're craving cranberry sauce."

Even those in countries that do have a word for cranberries may be disappointed to find cranberry sauce that doesn't keep the shape of the can when it is tipped out. They may even find (shock horror), cranberry sauce in glass jars. This cranberry sauce is a slightly more bitter tasting accompaniment to turkey with a runnier texture far away from the jellied American version. Different because of the way the cranberries are harvested in different countries, it can't quite hit the craving.