Think back to the last time you drank a soda, say, Mountain Dew or Dr Pepper. What was its flavor, exactly? Turns out that Mountain Dew is mostly flavored with orange juice, and Dr Pepper’s formula is a lot more complex than you might think, although still something of a mystery. Junk food may be delicious, but it’s anything but cut-and-dry. In fact, many of the junk foods we take for granted are pretty enigmatic.
There are a lot of mysteries surrounding our favorite snacks, sweets and sodas. So we took stock of all our favorite guilty pleasure foods and dove into the mysteries behind them. Why do Pop Rocks explode in your mouth? Why are Girl Scout Cookies called Samoas in some places and Caramel deLites in others? What is Cheetos cheese dust? Wonder no more, because we have all the answers to food questions you didn’t know you were asking.
Ah, the age-old question from one of the most popular candy commercials of all time (and the longest-running commercial, ever). You can stop licking: Tootsie has gotten to the bottom of just how many licks it takes to get the to chewy, chocolatey center of a Tootsie Pop. Purdue University’s licking machine (yes, that’s a thing) determined the answer to be 364, but volunteer student researchers averaged 252 licks. So what’s the most accurate answer? The world may never know.
When it comes down to it, most candy is made from some sort of combination of water, flavoring and sugar, and Pop Rocks are no exception. But this candy has a little something extra to make that signature “pop” happen: 600-psi of pressurized carbon dioxide. When you put Pop Rocks in your mouth, the candy shells shatter, exposing the “fizzy” pressurized air. Trapped gas is also the reason why Rice Krispies “snap, crackle and pop.”
No trip to the country fair or carnival is complete without a paper stick topped with a mound of cotton candy. And while the treat itself is sweet and delicious, the science behind cotton candy is even more fascinating. How does one turn colored, powdered sugar into fluffy, candied cotton, exactly? With centrifugal force. Add water, and the spinning cotton candy machine quickly melts the sugar into a hot liquid. Then, when the liquid comes out of the small holes in the machine, it is whipped and aerated, causing the sugar to quickly cool and solidify into a cotton-like fiber. And while cotton candy may seem like a terrible candy for your dental health, did you know this treat was actually invented by a dentist?
Today, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and the candy game Beanboozled are stars of the Jelly Belly jelly bean lineup. But why would a sweets company dive into bizarre and downright disgusting flavors in the first place? It all started with the vomit-flavored bean, and according to Confectionary News, its creation was an accident. Jelly Belly research and development manager Ambrose Lee was actually trying to make a pizza-flavored bean, but couldn’t get the formula right. Instead, vomit beans were invented and started a craze of gross-out candies. Today, Jelly Belly has dozens of, say, unconventional beans in the lineup, including rotten egg, dirt, booger and skunk spray.
Black licorice is probably the most polarizing candy of all time. Either you love it or the pungent, medicinal taste offends your taste buds. So why is this candy divisive? Although scientists are not yet aware of a “licorice hate” gene, NBC reports that we do know that glycyrrhizin, the natural sweetener found in licorice root, tastes like artificial sweetener (think Sweet‘n Low) to many, producing an unpleasant aftertaste.
Unlike almost any other edible substance known to man, chewing gum holds up to hours of chewing without breaking down. So, why can you chew gum seemingly indefinitely without it breaking down? The gum base, whether natural or artificial, is what makes all gum insoluble. The exact composition of gum base is a trade secret, but is usually made from latex to give the gum stretch fillers, and resins. The resins are oil-soluble, which means that your saliva won’t be able to break them down. That may sound like it’s a disaster for your teeth, but the jury is still out on whether or not chewing gum is bad for you.
Gum takes seven years to digest in your stomach, haven’t you heard?! Well, hold up. According to the Mayo Clinic, gum isn’t generally harmful if swallowed. At the end of the day, every single thing that we swallow, as long as it isn’t sharp and pointy, will work its way through our digestive tract, though it may not get fully digested. Just like other foreign objects we swallow but can’t digest, gum just travels through our system at the same speed as every other food — not the better part of a decade. But it’s best to throw away your gum and eat foods that are good for your gut, instead.
You know that 7UP is lemon-lime flavored, and Coke and Pepsi have that classic cola flavor. But what the heck is Dr Pepper? Not quite root beer, not quite cola, this soda is very much its own thing. While some claim Dr Pepper is actually prune-flavored, the brand itself denies this. Instead, it markets itself as a “unique blend of 23 flavors,” which superfans guess are amaretto, almond, blackberry, black licorice, caramel, carrot, clove, cherry, cola, ginger, juniper, lemon, molasses, nutmeg, orange, prune, plum, pepper, root beer, rum, raspberry, tomato and vanilla. But the real formula is a trade secret, along with these other secrets about your favorite soda brands.
Every old-school candy shop worth its weight in sugar has Mike and Ikes on its shelves. But what does that name even mean? Were Mike and Ike real men? If only the answer were so simple. According to JustBorn, the makers of Mike and Ike, the candy is named after the founders of the brand. But there’s no other confirmation of these men’s identities. Instead, the name seems to be a nod to an old Rube Goldberg comic, “Mike and Ike (They Look Alike),” or an old vaudeville song, “Mike and Ike (The Twins).”
No summertime cookout is complete without hot dogs, but have you ever wondered what a hot dog actually is? Luckily, the things inside a hot dog aren’t nearly as scary as you would believe. Hot dogs are just meat, salt, other preservatives, sugar, water, spices, flavoring and casing. Nothing to be afraid of!
Something you can be afraid of is being asked the question: Is a hot dog a sandwich? In the most basic definition, the answer is yes. Merriam-Webster defines a sandwich as “two or more slices of bread or a split roll having a filling in between.” A hot dog falls into the split roll category. So while a hot dog may technically be a sandwich, if you asked your mom to make you a sandwich for lunch and she brought you a frankfurter with ketchup, you’d need her to get her head checked. Turns out, this query will just go down as one of the greatest food debates of our generation.
How do you spell that sweet ring of deep-fried dough covered in a sugary glaze? Is it “doughnut” or “donut”? Technically, it’s the former, but why does doughnut have an alternative spelling that’s almost more common than the so-called “right” way? The history of doughnut vs. donut, as it turns out, is complicated. The shortened spelling first occurred in 1900 in the book “Peck’s Bad Boy and His Pa” by George W. Peck. “Pa said he guessed he hadn’t got much appetite, and he would just drink a cup of coffee and eat a donut,” one character in the book said. Dunkin’ (formerly called Dunkin’ Donuts) also helped to popularize this simpler, easier-to-pronounce spelling.
Whether you call them Samoas or Caramel deLites, Girl Scout Cookies are undeniably delicious. But why do some people call the same cookie Tagalongs and Peanut Butter Patties? As it turns out, the Girl Scouts of America employ two different companies to make their famous cookies: ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers. Depending on where you purchase your precious cargo, things could look and taste slightly different.
Cheese Whiz is the best part of getting nachos at the pool or movie theater, and is undeniably the best cheese for a Philly cheesesteak. But have you ever stopped to wonder what that liquid, sort of plastic-tasting cheese actually is? There are a lot of lengthy ingredients in this sauce, but when it comes down to it, Cheez Whiz is made of whey (a protein by-product of milk), oil, sodium-heavy flavorings and a concoction of ingredients that help make it bright yellow and shelf-stable. It’s nowhere near the most interesting cheeses in the world, and technically it’s not even allowed to be called cheese, but it does its job well.
Peeps are one of the best candies for Easter, but they don’t look exactly like chicks. So, how do Peeps get their shape? When Peeps were first invented, the little chicks were piped by hand with pastry bags, dusted with colored sugar and allowed to dry for an extended period. And when you think about hand-piped chicks, a Peep starts to make a lot more sense. Peeps also used to have wings, but those were clipped in the 1950s. And if you didn’t know that, you probably don’t know these other fun facts about Peeps.
Whether you prefer sour gummy worms, sour gummy bears, Warheads or another tart treat, there’s a similar, indistinguishable sour coating on all of these candies. What makes sour candy sour? It’s actually pretty simple: That sandy dusting is called sour sugar, and it’s made from citric or tartaric acid and sugar.
Flavored seltzer is all the rage these days, but have you ever wondered just how LaCroix gets that whisper of flavor? Be it mango, apricot or pamplemousse (grapefruit in French), the exact “natural flavors” in LaCroix are a closely guarded industry secret and an ingredient name that basically means nothing. Natural flavors can be made up of one ingredient or numerous ingredients — somehow also including artificial ingredients. But no matter what that LaCroix flavor consists of, we know we’re drinking it by the case.
Most cheese dust, whether it’s found in packets of Kraft macaroni and cheese, on Cheetos or on Doritos, is made from the same thing: dehydrated processed cheddar cheese. Most cheesy snacks are made by spray-drying (blasting liquid cheese into a chamber with hot air). This makes the cheese evaporate, and a solid substance is left behind. Add some artificial neon orange coloring and you’ve got yourself some Cheetos dust.
No matter what kind of pretzel you buy, it likely has that same shape, and that shape is… pretzel. But where did that shape come from? One legend is that an Italian monk used to gift pretzels to children who learned their prayers; the interlocked arms of the pretzel would have mimicked arms folded in prayer. Others claim that pretzels got their shape for practical reasons only — that the holes allowed them to be hung on strings for sale or that the shape maximizes the deliciously salty surface area. So why are pretzels shaped like that? The world may never know the real answer, and they may never know the answer to these other food mysteries, either.
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