October 30, 2013
In 1971, Walt Disney World had just opened in Orlando, Florida. Led Zepplin was about to blow our minds, a prison riot had been shut down at Attica, and all across America, kids were pooping pink. Hundreds of mothers hospitalized their children for fecal testing out of fear of internal bleeding. Within that same year, not-so-coincidentally, General Mills released their classic monster cereals Count Chocula and Franken Berry. The latter was colored red using “Food, Drug and Cosmetics” (FD & C) Red No. 2 and No. 3., originally and chemically known as amaranth, a synthetic color named after the natural flower. The synthetic dye can’t be broken down or absorbed by the body.
A 1972 case study, “Benign Red Pigmentation of Stool Resulting from Food Coloring in a New Breakfast Cereal (The Franken Berry Stool),” published in Pediatrics explains the phenomenon later known as “Franken Berry Stool.” A 12-year-old boy was hospitalized for four days after being admitted for possible rectal bleeding. “The stool had no abnormal odor but looked like strawberry ice cream,” Payne reports. Further questioning of the mother revealed that the child had enjoyed a bowl of Franken Berry cereal two days and one day prior to his hospitalization. By the fourth day, they did a little experiment: They fed the boy four bowls of Franken Berry cereal and for the next two days, he passed bright pink stools. But other than pink poop, there were no other symptoms, Payne reports, “Physical examination upon admission revealed [a boy] in no acute distress and with normal vital signs…Physical examination was otherwise unremarkable.”
At the time of the study, the product had only been on the market for a few weeks. The author warns that “physicians should be aware of its potential for producing reddish stools.” Other monster cereals at the time also used dyes that caused stool to change colors. Booberry, which debuted in December of 1972, for example, uses Blue No. 1 (a dye currently banned in Norway, Finland and France) and turns stool green. Apparently, green stool seems less life-threatening than the reddish hue caused by Franken Berry.
But pink poop wasn’t always the worst side effect from colored confections. Ruth Winters’s A Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients details the history of commercial food dyes, including those later used in Franken Berry. At the turn of the 20th century, with virtually no regulation of more than 80 dyes used to color food, the same dyes used for clothes could also be used to color confections and other edibles.
In 1906, Congress passed the first legislation for food colors, the Pure Food and Drug Act, deeming seven colors suitable for use in food: orange, erythrosine, ponceu 3R, amaranth (the color later used in Franken Berry cereal), indigotin, naphthol yellow, and light green. Since then, upon further study, several of these choices have been delisted.
More than 20 years later, in 1938, Congress passed the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which gave these colors numbers instead of chemical names—every batch needed to be certified by the Food and Drug Administration, though some problems still arose: in the fall of 1950, many children became ill from eating an orange Halloween candy containing one to two percent FD&C Orange No. 1, for example.
Red Dye No. 2, the one used by the original Franken Berry cereal, was one of the most widely used color additives at the time, until a 1971 Russian study reported that the dyes caused tumors in female rats. Years of research led the FDA to find that even though the Russian study was extremely flawed (the FDA couldn’t even prove that amaranth was one of the dyes used), the agency would remove the dye from its Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) list in 1976. Between public outcry against the dye and the chance that trace elements could potentially have carcinogens, the FDA banned a number of other dyes as well. According to the FDA, 47 other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, still allow for the use of Red Dye No. 2.
That same year, Mars removed their red M&M’s from the candy-color spectrum for nearly a decade, even though Mars didn’t even use Red No. 2; the removal of the red candies was a response to the scare, livescience.com reports:
The red food coloring in question was not actually used in M&M’s chocolate candies, according to mms.com. “However, to avoid consumer confusion, the red candies were pulled from the color mix.”
Inquiries to General Mills as to when the Franken Berry ingredients switched to less poop-worrying dyes, were not responded to. These days, the only red colors accepted by the FDA are Red No. 40, which appears in all five of the General Mills monster cereals, and Red No. 3, typically used in candied fruits.
The symptoms of “Franken Berry Stool” were pretty benign compared to other more notable confectionary mishaps in history: The accidental poisoning of more than 200 people in Bradford, England in 1858 comes to mind. The sweets were accidentally made with arsenic. Let’s be thankful there’s a bit more regulation of food dyes these days.
Another stool scare in cereal history: Smurfberry Crunch Cereal, released in 1982 by Post Foods, turned the poop of those who ate it blue—the ultimate Smurfs experience. Post then changed the formula and re-released the cereal in 1987 as Magic Berries Cereal.
Looking for a sugar high now? You’re safe. When you open your celebratory, Franken Berry or any of the other monster cereals this Halloween, [for the first time, all five monsters are available in stores since the well-received re-release of Frute Brute (1975-1984) and Fruity Yummy Mummy (1987-1992)], expect a sugar high—without the pink poop aftermath. We tasted all five of the cereals and Count Chocula is the best by a long shot.
The best part is when the chocolate “sweeties,” as the marshmallows were called in the original commercials in 1971, are all gone: the plain milk becomes chocolate milk. Let’s be real, what child—or “adult”—prefers regular milk to chocolate? I haven’t met this kind of person.
October 31, 2012
Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. And sometimes you feel like a regionally-specific, hometown-proud confection that you just can’t find anywhere else (or if you can, everyone knows they won’t be as good). This Halloween, we’re saluting those finds that marry place and taste for a lasting bond.
Given our country’s proclivity for sweets, it’s no surprise that the Census Bureau has collected data on the confectionery industry since 1926. All so the government can tell us that in 2010, the average American consumed almost 25 pounds of candy.
And if that average American was living in Ohio, you can bet that included Buckeyes. Or maybe he was living in Texas and snacking on Chick-o-Sticks. Thanks in part to the dedicated foodies over at NPR, Serious Eats and CNN, we’ve created a roundup of the seven best regional finds:
1. Goo Goo, Tennessee: A hunk of marshmallow, peanuts and caramel covered in chocolate, the Nashville-born, century-old treat even has its own app: the Goo Goo Finder. The candy was a regular sponsor of another Nashville icon: the Grand Ole Opry, according to NPR, delighting listeners with its slogan: “Go get a Goo Goo … it’s gooooooood!”
2. Buckeyes, Ohio: Other than being the mascots for the best college football team in the entire country, the buckeye is a time-honored candy tradition enjoyed year-round. Peanut butter mixed with confectioners sugar and dipped into melted chocolate to resemble the actual (and not so tasty) nut, buckeyes are almost always better when made at home.
3. Velatis caramels, Washington, D.C.: Masters of all things caramel, Velatis (whose new location in Silver Spring, Maryland comes after a sad hiatus from its original location in downtown D.C.) brings crowds for its marshmallow-stuffed vanilla caramels. The company’s roots stretch back to 1866, according to the City Paper, and it remains a staple for stocking stuffers.
4. It’s-It, San Francisco: Stretching the definition of candy a bit, It’s-It is an ice cream treat worth the category-bending. First made in 1928, the individually packaged creations sandwich ice cream between two oatmeal cookies before dipping the whole thing in dark chocolate. The sandwich was named “the official food of San Francisco.” Take that, Ghirardelli.
5. Saltwater Taffy, Atlantic City: No one knows how long it will take for the Jersey shore to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, or whether or not the taffy shops on the city’s boardwalk will ever return. Ironically, the local delicacy allegedly has its roots in a 19th-century flood which soaked a candy-maker’s taffy with saltwater. Though no one has proved who first invented it, Joseph Fralinger certainly popularized it in the 1880s, from his boardwalk stand to his empire of stores. Chewy, sweet and, of course, salty, it may be the most difficult thing to eat on this list.
6. Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts, Hawaii: Though we’d be happy to receive a box of Hawaiian Host in the mail, it’d be a little sad to miss the Hawaii part. “Oh yes, Hawaiian Host has been imitated by many over the years but the unique quality of our secret milk chocolate has never been equaled,” claims the site. But what about when the French Laundry serves guests chocolate covered caramelized macadamia nuts dusted with sugar? Seems like that’s a safe bet to sample.
7. Bizcochito, New Mexico: Taking the honor of being the first official cookie of any state, the Bizcochito made history in 1989. A shortbread cookie with cinnamon and anise flavoring, it dates back centuries and combines many of the flavors from New Mexico’s past. Another seasonal favorite, the cookies also pop up at major community events.
Other popular items from the lists: New England’s Sky Bar, the Idaho Spud, Kansas’ Valomilk, Chukar Cherries from Washington state and more.
October 30, 2012
The commemoration of the last day of the ancient Celtic calendar was a major influences on how we celebrate Halloween, but one significant tradition has (thankfully?) not survived. Kale, that leafy salad green, was a tool of marriage divination, identifying life partners for men and women in ancient Scotland and Ireland.
But first, some context: According to the Celtic calendar, on the morning of November 1, spirits and the supernatural “bogies” were free to roam the night of the 31st and into the morning as the new year represented the transition between this world and the otherworld. To fend off the spirits and to celebrate the coming year, Scottish youths participated in superstitious games on Halloween night that were thought to bring good fortune and predict the future marital status of partygoers.
Scottish bard Robert Burns describes the typical festivities for the peasantry in the west of Scotland in his poem, “Halloween,” originally published in both English and Scots in 1785. The 252-line poem follows the narrative of 20 characters and details many—often confusing—folk practices: Burning nuts, winnowing the corn, and the cutting of the apple:
“Some merry, friendly, country-folks,
Together did convene,
To burn their nuts, and pile their shocks of wheat,
And have their Halloween
Full of fun that night.”
Also included among the party games mentioned in Burns’ poem is our first Halloween kale matchmaking activity, known as ”pou (pull) the stalks.”
1) Pou (Pull) the Stalks
In this Scottish tradition, instead of trick-or-treating, young, eligible men and women were blindfolded and guided into a garden to uproot kale stalks. After some time digging in the dirt, the piece of kale selected was analyzed to determine information about the participant’s future wife or husband.
In Burns’ poem, for example, the character of Willie, tries his luck and pulls a stalk as curly as a pig’s tail. He isn’t too happy about it:
“Then, first and foremost, through the kail,
Their stocks maun a’ be sought ance;
They steek their een, and graip and wale,
For muckle anes and straught anes.
Poor hav’rel Will fell aff the drift,
And wander’d through the bow-kail,
And pou’t, for want o’ better shift,
A runt was like a sow-tail,
Sae bow’t that night.”
The analysis was pretty literal according to Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween by David J. Skal—meaning poor Willie’s curly-Q’d root didn’t look too promising. Characteristics of the stalk were thought to reveal signs about the potential partner: A short and stunted stalk meant just that for the player’s future mate. Tall and healthy, withered and old, and so on—even the kale’s flavor was thought to hint at the disposition of the future spouse (bitter, sweet, etc.). The amount of dirt clinging to the stalk post pou was believed to determine the size of the dowry or fortune the participant should expect from their husband or wife. A clean root meant poverty was in the cards.
“A lad and lassie, hand in hand,
Each pull a stock of mail;
And like the stock, is future wife
Or husband, without fail.
If stock is straight, then so is wife,
If crooked, so is she;
If earth is clinging to the stock,
The puller rich will be.
And like the taste of each stem’s heart,
The heart of groom or bride;
So shut your eyes, and pull the stocks,
And let the fates decide.”
2) Cook Up Some Colcannon
If you’re not satisfied with letting the “fates” determine the man or woman you will spend the rest of your life with, perhaps this Irish tradition may interest you. For Hallowe’en—what Christianity would later call All Hallows’ Eve—kale was used in the traditional dish, colcannon, or “white-headed cabbage” when translated from its Gaelic roots cal ceannann’. Charms hidden in the mush of cabbage, kale and chopped onions, were thought to determine who at the table would be the next to tie the knot. If you were lucky enough to find a ring concealed in your meal, no longer would you spend your Halloween dinner single and sighing—wishing you’d find a piece of metal in your food. The other hidden object was a thimble, which meant the life of a spinster for the lady lucky enough to discover it. Eating the dinner trinket-free seems to be the best of the three situations, but I suppose it depends on who you’re asking. If the Halloween dinner were up to me, the only thing on the menu would be candy.
October 26, 2011
My cute little hamlet, population 148, is holding a block party this weekend, and one of the events scheduled is a deviled egg recipe contest. I don’t think it was intended as a nod to Halloween’s celebration of the dark side, but it got me wondering: What, exactly, is so wicked about mixing hard-boiled egg yolk with mayonnaise and mustard? I could understand if they were so hot and spicy they evoked the fires of hell, but most of the deviled eggs I’ve had could hardly be classified as having more than a mild zippiness. Was the dish’s name coined by Puritans who thought adding anything remotely flavorful to food was the work of Satan? Furthermore, what about all those other foods with fiendish names, like deviled ham, devil’s food cake and fra diavolo sauce?
It turns out I wasn’t too far off—Puritans had nothing to do with it, but the term “devil” has been used since at least the 18th century to refer to highly seasoned foods, according to The Straight Dope’s Cecil Adams. He quotes from the Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink, by John Mariani (1999), who says, “Washington Irving has used the word in his Sketchbook to describe a highly seasoned dish similar to a curry. Deviled dishes were very popular throughout the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, especially for seafood preparations and some appetizers.”
This definition would cover deviled ham, the most famous of which is the canned chopped ham spread sold by Underwood since 1868 (the company’s devil logo is supposed to be the oldest trademarked logo still in use). Underwood used to sell other deviled meats, including deviled tongue, but today the ham is the only demonic item in its product line.
In The Essential New York Times Cookbook, Amanda Hesser includes an 1878 recipe for deviled crabs, saying that today’s deviled eggs are the mild-mannered cousins of deviled crab and kidneys, which “were meant to be spicy and bracing, the kind of food you had after a long night of drinking.” She also notes that in David Copperfield (the Dickens novel, not the flashy magician), “Mr. Micawber saves a dinner party by turning undercooked mutton into a devil,” covering the slices with pepper, mustard, salt and cayenne and cooking them well, then adding mushroom ketchup as a condiment.
Eggs notwithstanding, today the devil is most frequently invoked to imply a dish is truly tongue-searing—there must be dozens of hot sauce brands out there with names like Droolin’ Devil, Mean Devil Woman and Hell Devil’s Revenge. Dishes called chicken, shrimp or lobster fra diavolo—which means “brother devil” in Italian—show up on restaurant menus in the United States, but they appear to be an Italian-American invention, most food historians agree. In Italy, a similar spicy tomato sauce would usually be served with pasta, not meat, and be called pasta all’arrabiata, meaning “angry-style.”
There are also a number of foods that get their evil-sounding names to differentiate them from their angelic counterparts. In The Glutton’s Glossary, John Ayto writes that angels on horseback are a late-19th century British dish of oysters wrapped in bacon and grilled, and that devils on horseback are a variation made with prunes instead of oysters.
Devil’s food cake would seem to be another example of this, its dark, chocolaty richness a contrast to white, fluffy angel food cake. But on the What’s Cooking America website, Linda Stradley writes that devil’s food cake is actually a synonym for red velvet cake, which would suggest that it was the redness of the cake that evoked the devil. Today’s red velvet cakes usually get their vivid hue from food coloring, but the color was originally achieved through a chemical reaction between unprocessed cocoa and the acid in buttermilk.
There’s one more food I can think of with devil in the name, although when I first encountered it I never would have guessed it was a food at all. While traveling in Konya, Turkey, in the 1990s, my local guide took me to a bazaar. At one herbalist’s stall he opened a jar of something he called devil dung (he actually used a different word, but I try to keep things G-rated here) and told me to take a whiff. There was no mistaking how it got its name—this was some foul-smelling stuff. But my guide wasn’t able to come up with the English words to explain what it was used for.
It took me years, and the invention of Google, to figure out that this substance was actually asafoetida, also called hing, an herb used most frequently in Indian vegetarian cooking. I’ve never tasted it, to my knowledge, but its funky smell is supposed to mellow with cooking. As a bonus, it’s considered an anti-flatulent. In my book, that puts it firmly on the side of good, not evil.
October 5, 2011
Every year I try to plan ahead and think up a clever Halloween costume, only to end up rushing around the day before a party trying to scrape up something passable. It helps to have a theme; one year I was invited to a “one-hit wonders” party, to which I went as Jennifer Beals in Flashdance, with leg warmers, an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt and a welding mask. The food world is also rife with costume potential. Although you could go as or with a food itself, like a bunch of grapes made out of balloons, I think character-based looks are more fun.
Here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing while there’s still time:
Paula Deen: The Food Network’s high priestess of high-cholesterol food is easy to emulate. Just don a white, feathery-coiffed wig, a generous amount of mascara and a pastel-color collared shirt. To complete the look you’ll need some reference to her favorite ingredient, butter—maybe wrap a couple sticks of yellow-painted styrofoam in a butter wrapper (or waxed paper) and turn them into earrings.
The Swedish Chef: If only all cooking shows were as entertaining as this recurring sketch on The Muppet Show. And considering that a new Muppet movie is due out this holiday season, the cheerfully indecipherable chef is newly relevant. You’ll need a chef’s hat and either a chef’s jacket or a pin-striped shirt, bow tie and white apron, a bushy orange wig, mustache and eyebrows. If you ever run out of party conversation, you can always retreat into character, lilting, “Bork, bork, bork!”
Colonel Sanders: The KFC founder’s secret fashion recipe was simple—white suit, string tie, horn-rimmed glasses and a cane. And don’t forget the white hair, mustache and goatee. Bonus item: a classic red and white chicken bucket, which can double as a trick-or-treating basket for the kiddies. In fact, this look works for kids too—I mean, how cute is this?
Wendy and Jack in the Box—the couple: What if two of the burger world’s biggest celebrities got together? One half of the couple could go as freckle-faced Wendy, the other as cone-hatted Jack. The pièce de résistance: their globe-headed, red-braided baby. I thought I was pretty clever for thinking this one up, but it appears others have beat me to it. Oh well, chances are no one at your party will have seen the idea before.
The Unknown Restaurant Critic: The supposed anonymity of critics has been a topic of foodie discussion this year, with one Los Angeles Times writer outed—and kicked out—by an irate restaurateur. You could go two ways with this: either a paper bag over the head with eye holes cut out, à la the Unknown Comic, or a classic nose-mustache-and-glasses disguise. Either way, you’ll need accessories to indicate you’re a food critic—maybe a reporter’s notebook and pen, and a napkin tucked into your collar.
Anyone else have fun food-related costume ideas?