It's American as sweet potatoes (but not sweet potato pie)

November 27, 2009 in Data

The NYT has published an infographic showing the top recipe searches on Searches are broken out by state, allowing some interesting comparisons. (Local dialects and preferences are an interest of mine, and when combined with maps I can't resist... see also various words for soda.)

Here's the chart for "apple pie", the 5th most popular search. Purple states had above-average search volume; orange states were below:

apple pieIt's not a particularly even distribution - and sent me looking for a Thanksgiving dish that was more uniformly enjoyed by all Americans. Unsurprisingly, that turned out to be "turkey," the 14th most popular search. It's graphic was a blend of muted purples and oranges, dispersed unevenly among the nation's geography:

turkeyFrom there, I went searching for hyperlocal dishes or specialties. This would be much easier with the raw data, as a simple statistical test for dispersion and geographic correlation would toss up the winners - but it's a testament to the NYT's excellent graphics team that their visual maps serve the purpose just as well.

First up, sweet potatoes. The #1 search in the country was "sweet potato casserole," with most of the searches concentrated in the southeast:

sweet potato casserole

Clocking in at #15 was "sweet potato pie," another another - even more strongly - southeast favorite:

sweet potato pie

Interestingly, though, sweet potatoes themselves formed a pretty uniform search pattern across the states - and, after turkey, get my vote for "most American dish":

sweet potato

The dataset reveals two interesting facts about sweet potatoes. First, some people don't spell too good:

sweet potato casserole 2

Second, there's a vocabulary difference, as many people out west prefer to call their sweet potatoes "yams" (I can't back that up empirically, as they might want actual yams, but there is enough of a difference in dialect that many "yams" sold in the United States are required to state that they are also sweet potatoes on their packaging):


Moving on from those delicious root vegetables to another family, corn, reveals further geographic breakdowns. Here's Midwestern favorite #18, corn casserole:

corn casserole# 27: corn pudding, popular in the mid-Atlantic... and Alaska:

corn puddingand #31 cornbread dressing in the south:

cornbread dressing

Meanwhile, new England likes its butternut squash:

butternut squash

By this point, you're better off clicking through the actual graphic than staring at my reprints... I hope that all of TGR's American readers had a happy Thanksgiving, regardless of what was on the table.

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