Think back to the last time you drank a soda, say, Mountain Dew or Dr Pepper. What was its flavor, exactly? The last time you unwrapped a Hershey’s Kiss, did you wonder why it has a strip of paper sticking out? Junk food may be delicious, but it’s anything but cut and dried. In fact, there are many mysteries about the junk foods we know and love.
So we took stock of all our favorite guilty pleasure foods and uncovered 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 common junk food questions.
One of the most popular candy commercials of all time asks: How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? There have been several experiments trying to nail down this sweet mystery. A group of engineering students at Purdue University made a licking machine that measured it took 364 licks, however, student volunteers only took 252. Meanwhile, students at the University of Michigan measured 411 licks on their licking machine. So the jury is still out on this question.
When it comes down to it, most candy is primarily made of sugar, and Pop Rocks are no exception. But this candy has a little something extra to make that signature “pop” happen: carbon dioxide. These little candy rocks are gasified with CO2 under superatmospheric pressure, which creates that indistinguishable fizzy, popping sensation when they come into contact with moisture.
How does one turn colored sugar into fluffy cotton candy? 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. This is just one of the many mysteries of classic fair foods.
Why would a candy company dive into downright disgusting flavors like vomit? Jelly Belly’s infamous vomit-flavored jelly bean creation was actually an accident. In an interview with Confectionary News, Jelly Belly research and development manager Ambrose Lee explained that he 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 unconventional beans in its lineup, including canned dog food, rotten egg and booger.
You may not think you can overdose on candy, but as it turns out, you can. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), black licorice contains the compound glycyrrhizin, which can cause potassium levels in your body to fall. Side effects of low potassium can include abnormal heart rhythms, as well as high blood pressure, swelling, lethargy and congestive heart failure. The FDA recommends avoiding eating large amounts of black licorice at one time and to stop eating it if you notice an irregular heartbeat. If you’re a black licorice fiend, consider replacing it with these heart-healthy foods instead.
Why can you chew gum seemingly indefinitely without it breaking down? It’s the gum base. The exact composition of gum base is a trade secret but is usually made from synthetic resins along with flavorings and sweeteners.
Gum isn’t generally harmful if swallowed, and it’s a myth that it takes seven years to digest. 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 travels through our system at the same speed as every other food. But it’s best to throw away your gum when you’re done chewing and eat foods that are good for your gut instead.
You know that 7UP is lemon-lime flavored, and Coca-Cola and Pepsi have that classic cola flavor. But what the heck is Dr Pepper? The soda markets itself as a “unique blend of 23 flavors.” Superfans speculate that these 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. The real formula remains proprietary information, however, some companies have disclosed certain secrets about your favorite soda brands.
Were Mike and Ike real men? If only the answer were so simple. According to JustBorn, the manufacturer of Mike and Ikes, the legend goes that the name came from a 1920s Vaudeville act entitled "Mike and Ike — We look alike.”
No summertime cookout is complete without hot dogs, but have you ever wondered what a hot dog actually is? Luckily, the contents of a hot dog aren’t nearly as scary as you might believe. Hot dogs are just meat, salt, other preservatives, sugar, water, spices, flavoring and casing. However, all store-bought hot dogs are not created equal.
Is a hot dog a sandwich? In the most basic definition, the answer is yes, even if it doesn’t feel like one. 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. While the answer seems simple, this query has become 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?” AP style says this iconic breakfast food is spelled “doughnut,” while your favorite coffee chains like Dunkin’ spell it “donut.” So, what gives? According to Merriam-Webster, both doughnut and donut are in the dictionary, with the latter being the less popular spelling. Donut only emerged as a simplified, phonetic-based spelling in the mid-20th century.
Whether you call them Samoas or Caramel deLites, Girl Scout Cookies are undeniably delicious. But why do some people call certain cookies Tagalongs and others call them Peanut Butter Patties? As it turns out, Girl Scouts of America employs two different companies to make its famous cookies: ABC Bakers and Little Brownie Bakers. Depending on where you purchase your annual haul, the cookies could look and taste slightly different.
Cheese Whiz dip is the best part of nachos. 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 technically not even cheese but that doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious.
Sour gummy worms, sour gummy bears, Warheads and other tart treats are among the guilty pleasure foods we won’t apologize for loving. But what makes sour candy sour? It’s actually pretty simple. The dusting on the candy, called sour sanding, is what makes you pucker. It’s made from citric or tartaric acid and sugar.
Cheetos cheese dust doesn’t taste like the stuff you’d sprinkle on your macaroni and cheese, so what is it exactly? According to the snack food’s packaging, that irresistible neon orange flavoring is cheese seasoning, made from whey, cheddar cheese, canola oil, maltodextrin, natural and artificial flavors, salt, whey protein concentrate, monosodium glutamate, lactic acid, citric acid and artificial color. The brand actually has a name for this signature dust: Cheetle.
According to Hershey, the very first s'mores recipe appeared in a Girl Scout handbook. The name, as it turns out, is exactly what it sounds like — people kept asking for "some more" of this graham cracker, chocolate and marshmallow treat that’s a staple of camping trips to this day.
Think about an Oreo cookie — is it black or brown? Sometimes, when you look at this chocolate and creme cookie, the exterior is clearly black, but from other angles, it’s a dark, dark brown. The official answer from Oreo is that there is no answer. Nabisco has not assigned a color to this favorite childhood treat.
Spam seems like a total mystery meat, but the ingredients inside this favorite regional food are actually incredibly simple. According to the brand, Spam is made up of just six ingredients: pork with ham, salt, water, potato starch, sugar and sodium nitrite. Today, there are 15 different kinds of Spam, which makes a great base for dinners you can make completely out of cans.
Betty Crocker has a friendly face and her own signature, but the woman behind brownie mixes, baking ingredients and your favorite store-bought cookie dough is not a real woman at all. In 1921, Gold Medal flour held a contest in which it received a flood of submissions as well as questions about baking. The company responded using the friendly, totally made-up name Betty Crocker.
M&M's were introduced in the 1940s, and the candy-coated chocolate pieces were an instant American sensation. Because they were so popular, plenty of imitators popped up across the country, leading to the brand stamping a little "m" on the candy. To go along with the new design, the slogan "Look for the m on every piece" was introduced.
Upon its launch, the candy Reese's Pieces was a hit, but not too soon after, sales started to decrease. This was concerning to Hershey, which had just opened a new manufacturing plant. Right as the candy's sale was on the decline, Hershey was approached by Universal Studios about partnering with Steven Spielberg for his film "E.T." Hershey would market the film through promotions and displays, and in return, the adorable little alien would be lured by Reese's Pieces, which skyrocketed in demand following the film’s success.
Whether you prefer peppermint or a bizarre candy cane flavor like pickle, hook-shaped candy canes are a huge part of the holiday season. But whether you should eat the hook first or the stick is a holiday food mystery. While there is no wrong way to eat a candy cane, a study from the National Confectioners Association stated that 58% of consumers eat the stick portion of this striped treat first. Just 30% of folks eat the curved part first, while 12% of candy cane eaters break theirs into pieces.
Months after Disneyland opened in 1955, the Fritos company opened up a Mexican restaurant at the theme park, fittingly called Casa de Fritos. At the time, Fritos did not make its own tortillas and instead contracted them through Alex Foods Company. One day, an Alex Foods salesman saw discarded tortillas and instead of letting them go to waste, he asked a cook to turn them into seasoned tortilla chips. The snack was a hit with Disneyland guests, and thus, Doritos were born. Though the chips aren’t on the menu today, Casa de Fritos is now Rancho del Zocalo, one of the best restaurants at Disneyland.
Not quite taffy or fudge, Tootsie Rolls are a delightful chewy, chocolate candy that were first sold way back in 1896. How did they get their fun name? They were named after candymaker Leo Hirshfield's 5-year-old daughter Clara, whose nickname was Tootsie.
That little piece of paper sticking out of every Hershey’s Kiss has a name, the plume, and it has two purposes. First, the paper plume initially helped to identify Hershey's Kisses from knockoffs when they were introduced in 1921. Second: it's the easiest and fastest way to unwrap these little chocolate candies.
There’s a common myth that Twinkies haven’t been made in decades and instead have been sitting in a warehouse, slowly shipping out over time because they don’t go bad. But, as it turns out, these snack cakes won’t last forever. According to a report from NPR, Twinkies will last about 45 days, not years. This is still quite a long time for a baked good. The snack cake’s shelf life comes from preservatives and a lack of dairy ingredients. Twinkies are just one of many foods with a surprisingly long shelf life.
Candy hearts and little phrases are synonymous today, but this classic Valentine’s Day candy didn’t always include phrases. In the 1860s, Necco founder Oliver Chase’s brother Daniel invented a machine that could stamp the sayings on the hearts, which were typically shared at parties and weddings. Original phrases included: “Be Mine,” “Be Good,” “Be True” and “Kiss Me.”
There are a lot of things you may not know about french fries, but the No. 1 thing you should know is they may not actually be from France. Some say they originated in Belgium, where people fried potatoes in the winter instead of fish. Others say they are, in fact, French, and were sold by street vendors in the late 18th century. The Spanish also could claim inventing them, as they were the first Europeans to encounter potatoes.
Few things are cozier in the winter than a big ol’ cup of hot chocolate, or as some call it, cocoa. Aren’t these two drinks the same thing? As it turns out, no, they are not. Hot cocoa is made from cocoa powder, sugar and milk. Meanwhile, hot chocolate is made with chocolate that is chopped up and added to hot milk or water. Hot chocolate can also go by the name drinking chocolate.
An old urban legend states that Little Mikey, the boy from Life cereal commercials, died after consuming Pop Rocks and Coca-Cola because the super fizzy combination caused him to explode. As it turns out, the worst thing that will happen to you from this super sugary duo is indigestion. We already know Pop Rocks pop when they come into contact with any liquid, be it saliva, milk or soda. And that means Coca-Cola is no different — just be ready to burp.
If you remember the little marshmallow chicks of your childhood having wings, you are not imagining things. Peeps did, in fact, used to have wings. However, that design element was cut in the late-1950s so the candy could have a sleeker look. Peeps still remain a quintessential sweet treat to have before or after enjoying your favorite Easter recipes.
Most potato chips are circles, but not Pringles. These classic crisps have a very distinguishable semi-bent, semi-oval shape. What is it? Technically, it’s a hyperbolic paraboloid.
Jelly Belly has dozens and dozens of flavors, from cinnamon to licorice to strawberry cheesecake. But the brand's most popular bean is a classic: Very Cherry.
KFC’s Colonel Sanders may be played in ads by the likes of Ray Liotta, Sean Astin and Reba McEntire today, but Harland Sanders was a real Southern businessman and honorary colonel from Henryville, Indiana, with a distinctive white goatee and glasses. His likeness has gone on to become one of the most iconic food mascots of all time.
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