When it comes to food mascots -- those iconic faces and names we've heard so often over the years that they are part of the fabric of our American life -- it can be difficult to discern fact from fiction.

That's exactly what the folks at the Washburn Crosby Co. of Minneapolis (which later became part of General Mills) were hoping for in 1921, when they created the persona of the perfect American housewife, Betty Crocker. She became so ingrained in society that even today, people are surprised to learn that she wasn't real.

But what about other food icons? Here's a rundown of who's real and who's not to impress your friends at cocktail parties and family holiday dinners, to settle trivia debates and bar bets -- and in case you ever get to be a contestant on "Jeopardy!"

Colonel Sanders: Real. Harland Sanders did indeed found the Kentucky Fried Chicken chain and developed the secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices. The colonel part, however, was honorary -- a title given out by the state to recognize outstanding residents for their accomplishments or service.

Chef Boyardee: Real. Italian Ettore "Hector" Boiardi immigrated to the United States in 1914. In 1924, he opened Il Giardino d'Italia restaurant in Cleveland. After customers began asking for his recipes, he came up with the idea to sell his food for eating at home. On the labels, however, he changed the spelling to Boyardee so that customers would have an easier time pronouncing it.

Duncan Hines: Real. Hines was a traveling salesman from Kentucky who turned his many years of dining on the road into a travel guide. He went on to co-found Park Hines Foods, which distributed baking mixes under his name.

Sara Lee: Real. Baker Charlie Lubin named his line of cheesecakes after his young daughter. His company was purchased by Consolidated Foods in 1956, and he went on to serve as an executive there for many years. In 1985, the company took on his daughter's name, too.

Howard Johnson: Real. He developed a chain of restaurants and later motor lodges, beginning in 1925 in Quincy, Mass. (In 1961, the company gave a job to an up-and-coming young French chef by the name of Jacques Pepin.)

Aunt Jemima: Fictional. She was created to help sell ready-made pancake mix by Chris Rutt and Charles Underwood of the Pearl Milling Co. In 1890, R.T. Davis purchased the company and brought the Aunt Jemima character to life when he hired former slave Nancy Green to portray her. Quaker Oats Co. now owns the brand.

(She is no relation to Mrs. Butterworth of pancake syrup fame, who also was fictional. The fact that she was a talking glass bottle should have given that away.)

Fannie Farmer: Real. She was a Massachusetts cooking instructor who, in 1896, published "The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book." Fanny Farmer candy stores, founded shortly after her death, were named in her honor. In 1992, Archibald Candy, which operated Fannie May candies, purchased Fanny Farmer. The two merged under the Fannie May name.

Little Debbie: Real. In 1960, when company founders O.D. and Ruth McKee were trying to come up with a name for a new family pack of snacks, a supplier suggested the name Little Debbie in honor of the McKees' 4-year-old granddaughter.

Wendy: Real. Wendy Thomas, an Ohio native, was the inspiration for dad Dave Thomas' hamburger chain. The real Wendy, all grown up, is featured in TV commercials for the chain.

Marie Callender: Real. Marie Callender began making pies at home in Orange County, Calif., in the 1940s and delivering them to area restaurants. By 1948, along with her husband and son, she turned it into a bona fide business. Her pie and coffee shops eventually became a nationally franchised chain, and now are under the same corporate umbrella as Perkins Family Restaurants.

Mrs. Smith: Real. Amanda Smith began selling her deep-dish fruit pies in Pottstown, Pa., in the early 1900s, and her son later helped her sell them at the YMCA, door-to-door and eventually to local restaurants and grocery stores.

Mrs. Paul: Real. She was real, but she had little to do with the founding of the frozen-fish company. That was done by her son, John Paul, who started the company with friend Edward Piszek.

Uncle Ben: Fictional. Forrest E. Mars (of candy bar fame) acquired the rights for easy-to-cook parboiled rice in 1942. It was called Original Converted Brand Rice. As it grew in popularity, legend has it that rice growers compared it to the high-quality grains grown by "Uncle Ben," a black Texas farmer who grew rice so well that other farmers used his as a standard of excellence. The company adopted the name Uncle Ben's Original Converted Brand Rice, and his face has been on every box since.