By Tony Sokol
TARYTOWN, N.Y., Jan. 7, 2015 /Daily Offbeat/ -- Pop Rocks, they were all the rage in the mid-seventies. They were like little cans of soda wrapped in a gummy casing. When they first hit the market, everyone tried them. Once. Sometimes someone would go back a second time because they were positive they got a bad batch, but they were the epitome of short-shelf-life confections.
After the initial effervescence of Pop Rock’s popularity popped, the sugary treat made a comeback. Not because kids were missing the candy that got stuck between their teeth after the fizzing stopped, but because the goodies were declared dangerous. And not just by four out of five dentists. Word got around that, when mixed with soda, Pop Rocks could pack a punch with so much force, the chewers teeth might be blown into their brains.
The stuff urban legends are made from.
Or was it something less sinister but more callously cynical? Could the whole Pop Rock phenomenon have been drummed up by a dapper Don Draper whispering into the ears of kids at a playground? You can’t buy that kind of advertising. You can only generate that kind of buzz by word of mouth.
Pop Rocks was patented by William A. Mitchell, a research chemist at General Foods, in 1957. It didn’t hit candy stores until 1975. Pop Rocks are a carbonated candy made from sugar, milk sugar, corn sugar and sugar flavoring. When it dissolved it created a fizzy reaction in the mouth. Sometime in 1978, rumors began circulating that if someone drowned down their pop rocks with soda their stomachs would explode, much like giving an Alka Seltzer tablet to a seagull. People thought that the fizzy feeling came from a mixture of baking soda and vinegar. It wasn’t true, but hey, if Mikey from the Life Cereal commercials died from it, anyone could.
Especially if they were in Seattle, where a Pop Rock panic broke out. The Food and Drug Administration had to set up a hotline to assure parents that their kids tummies were safe. General Mills personnel wrote letters to schools promising that the fizz was not fatal.
Kids across the country started popping Pop Rocks by the handful and were washing it down with soda, just to see if they’d explode. They didn’t. The kids soon moved on to Screaming Yellow Zonkers and other silly snacks which didn’t pack the punch.
General Foods continued popping them out until people stopped buying them in 1983. Kraft made them for a while. Cadbury Schweppes put out a version of it. But the heyday of the Pop Rock revolution is over. The world may never know if the myth began organically or in a Madison Avenue pitch room, but the legend persistently pops up to this day.
If you like what you see and want to see more, like us at our Daily Offbeat Facebook page.<a