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Pop Rocks Candy (Public Radio Commentary)

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(For radio stations: Bill's public radio work can be licensed via PRX).

Yesterday, while shopping, I noticed the reapparence of Pop Rocks, the most exicting candy from my childhood. To explain a Pop Rock I'll quote from its patent. "When placed in the mouth [the candy] produces an entertaining but short-lived popping sensation.... The tingling effect in the mouth is sensational but short." Its inventor, William Mitchell, had tried originally to make a powdered soft drink. He envisioned a packet of powder, which, when mixed in water made a carbonated, bubbly drink like a coke. It didn't work well, but, when he looked at the solid powder he saw bubbles in it. It was trapped carbon dioxide gas, the stuff that makes soda fizzy. When he tossed the solid powder in his mouth, it melted releasing the bubbles with a loud pop.

Mitchell's employer, General Foods, marketed his Pop Rocks candy in the early 70's. They were a smash hit. They came, as I recall, in the flavors Tingling Grape, Zinging Cherry, and Orbiting Orange. General Foods sold some five hundred million packets at fifteen cents a piece, but then

diaster struck.

The violent pop of the candy delighted children, but scared parents. The FDA set up a Pop Rocks hot line with messages to allay parental fears, but rumors persisted. They increased when a shipment blew open the doors of an overheated delivery truck. In temperatures over 85 degrees Pop Rocks can pop on their own. The body blow against Pop Rocks was a rumor that still circulates today.

In the early 70s Quaker Oats promoted Life Ceral with a commercial featuring a boy named Mikey. A rumor spread that poor Mikey consumed some Pop Rocks, washed them down with a chaser of soda pop and his little stomach exploded, unable to handle the pressure from the carbon dioxide. Although totaly untrue, the rumor took on a life of its own.

The huge number of inquiries prompted General Foods to send letters to fifty thousand school principals explaining that pop rocks were safe, and General Foods ran full-page ads in major newspapers. But none of this quelled public fears. By the early 80s General Foods threw in the towel and stopped producing Pop Rocks candy.

Now, a Spanish company has bought the rights to make Pop Rocks and is marketing them again. If, like me, you're a little sheepish, to buy goofy children's candy I have an alternative for you.

Visit the Cafe Atlantico in Washington DC and order the warm mushroom ceviche. The chef, there, is trying to "change people's dining experiences"; she wants them entertained as well as fed. So she's incorporated into her mushroom dish Pop Rocks.

Copyright 2001 William S. Hammack Enterprises