7 times the Dutch did it first: fun facts from the Netherlands

The Netherlands is such a small country, and yet it has always played an important role in history. In fact, it has had a massive impact on many aspects of our everyday lives that are still common to this generation.

I’m not talking about colonialism, wars, or international trading. I’m talking about booze, food, sex, and legal rights.

It’s time to pay our respects to the Dutch for all these “little” things they thought about doing before anybody else in the world. Buckle up for seven fun facts that demonstrate just how great the Netherlands is… kind of.

1. The Dutch invented gin

Photo-of-man-pouring-gin-into-glass-behind-bar
This delicious drink has the Dutch to thank for its existence. Image: Freepik

And the world will always be thankful for that! This is probably my favourite Dutch fun fact. Despite being known for being a British drink, gin was invented in the Netherlands in the 17th century.

At the time, it was produced as a medicine to treat stomach aches, gout, and gallstones. They also added juniper in it for the flavour and its medicinal properties. A medicinal cocktail recommended by doctors… sounds like the perfect excuse to have a glass this weekend!

Gin was given to British soldiers during the war. They started bringing it home and it did not take long before they opened their first distillery. This is how they kind of took over the glory of the drink.

2. The Dutch created orange carrots

orange-carrots-netherlands
Just look at those orangey hues 🤩. Image: Unsplash

Well, technically, orange carrots were first cultivated in the Netherlands. But, before the 16th century, carrots were actually not orange at all! They were either purple, red, or white(ish).

While those kinds still exist today, they are not as popular or easy to find in Europe (as you may have noticed…). The Dutch were the first ones to create orange carrots by crossing different crop varieties.

As you know, the Dutch are quite fond of the colour orange. And, just like for everything else, it is thought that orange carrots were a tribute to William of Orange, founder of the Dutch independent state (although there is no actual proof of that).

3. The Dutch were the first to legalise gay marriage

gay-wedding-happy-couple
Free love, the Dutch believe in it! Image: Unsplash

I know, this is quite an obvious one, but it couldn’t possibly be left out of the top seven. The Dutch were the first in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001.

They set the example for the rest of the world, and, since then, more and more countries have been following suit.

4. The Dutch were the first to add rats to the police force

Brown-rat-sitting-in-puddle-on-street-looking-up-at-camera
Freeze punk! Image: Pexels

All jokes aside, I do mean actual rats. The police forces in Rotterdam have been training and using rats since 2013. They use them for their great sense of smell, to find drugs, gunpowder or explosives, for example, as it is much cheaper than doing tests in laboratories.

They are also much faster at finding results than employees in a lab, as they would take about two hours, while rats only need a few seconds.

The first rats to join the Dutch police squad were named Derrick, Magnum, Poirot, and Thomson and Thompson after famous fictional detectives — because the Dutch police also have a great sense of humour.

5. The Dutch discovered viruses and bacteria

antibiotics in the netherlands
Yep, the Dutch were among the first to spot these little buggers. Image: Pixabay.

While this may be less sexy than rats, it’s still a massive step for humankind!

Antoni van Leeuwenhoek was one of the world’s first microbiologists and discovered the existence of bacteria (generally speaking) with his microscope in the 17th century. He is known as the “father of microbiology.”

His pioneering work on microorganisms was during the Dutch golden age of exploration and discovery, which stretched out from the early 1590s until the 1670s.

6. The Dutch invented cocoa powder

photo-of-cacao-powder
Cocoa powder — another one of Dutch inventions. Image: Pexels

Does the name Van Houten, written on a box of cocoa powder, ring a bell? That’s because he was the one to invent it in the early 19th century!

In 1828, Van Houten invented a cocoa pressing method, which ended up giving us cocoa powder, easily soluble and full of flavour.

This cocoa powder was then exported to France, the UK, and Germany from 1870 onwards. Although cocoa was known long before that, cocoa powder was a revolution because it was so easy to dissolve and mix in water or milk.

READ MORE | Dutch Quirk #127: Drink Chocomel like it’s water

7. The Dutch (may) have invented the doughnut

dutch-traditional-oliebolen-with-sugar
Heel lekker, toch? 😋. Image: Depositphotos

If there is one mouthwatering invention that countries fight over, it is the doughnut. Some say it was invented by the Dutch in the 17th century, but the Dutch version of the doughnut didn’t have a hole in the middle.

An American named Hanson Gregory is claimed to have invented the ring-shaped doughnut we know today in the 19th century.

READ MORE | These are 7 Dutch foods you need to try before you die

However, the Brits are claiming that it was invented by the British upper class, with the first recipe found dating from 1800.

Personally, I don’t care much, as my gluten intolerance doesn’t allow me to eat them anymore. But I am sure the rest of you are just thankful for their existence, no matter where they originated from.

Do you know any other fun facts about the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments below!


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September 2016 and was fully updated in March 2023 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Depositphotos

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Image result for dutch invention stock market
    The Amsterdam Stock Exchange was established in 1602 by the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or “VOC”) for dealings in its printed stocks and bonds. It was subsequently renamed the Amsterdam Bourse and was the first to formally begin trading in securities.

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