Junk food is always in the news: unusual places to buy it, how to make it healthier for kids, its contribution to the obesity epidemic, healthcare costs, and on and on. But I’ll admit—at the risk of damning myself—there are some long-gone junk foods I will never stop loving. I’m referring to those super-weird foods that appeared for a brief time, stayed for a little while, and then left, leaving behind a greasy stain on American history. I’m talking about failed junk food.
Here’s a list of my favorites:
The Hershey’s Desert Bar
You read that right: not dessert bar, desert bar. In 1990, Hershey’s—longtime producer of military chocolate—did what it thought it was good at: producing heat-resistant chocolate bars to be included in U.S. military field rations. The tradition began in 1943 with the Army-commissioned Hershey’s Tropical Chocolate Bar, which saw action in the full WWII theater of war, in Korea, in Vietnam, and even on the moon. The Gulf War version, the Congo Bar, was created to withstand the 140ºF heat of Kuwait and Iraq but was heavily disliked by troops for its waxy taste. When it was repackaged in a camouflage wrapper and sold as the Desert Bar, it also flopped on the home front. Hershey’s discontinued it in 1991.
Remember those? In 1995, M&M’s undertook a massive a marketing campaign to find out what color the world would like to add to the M&M’s roster as a replacement for tan. The latter had previously replaced violet in 1949, and the world now had the chance to bring it back, or to replace it with blue or pink. The result: blue in, tan out. How is blue doing today? Scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center recently discovered that when a very similar dye was injected into recently paralyzed rats, it significantly helped them regain their ability to walk. It also turned them blue.
New Coke and Crystal Pepsi
Released in 1985 and 1992, respectively. These epic failures occupy such a high place in the pantheon of failed foods that they hardly need rehashing. But a couple curious notes: 1.) New Coke was killed not by taste, but by nostalgia. In market research, people reported liking the taste of New Coke better than (what was promptly renamed) Coca-Cola Classic. But what they weren’t asked was whether they would prefer to replace the old with the new. Low sales confirmed that, taste aside, people wanted what they’d grown up with. 2.) Of the known “natural flavors” that make up the taste of Coca-Cola, one of them is still the coca leaf. It’s processed to be cocaine-free first, of course, but the factory where these leaves are processed—in Maywood, New Jersey—is the only company in the United States legally permitted to import coca leaves.
Almost impossible to find today, this variant on the usual powdered gelatin product would, when combined with water, set into not one but three layers: a fluffy layer, a creamy layer, and a layer of plain Jell-O. I believe—I really have no idea—that these three layers were mousse, over pudding, over Jell-O. It was sort of an Italian dressing–separated-into-layers type thing. This product all but vanished from supermarket shelves in 1987.
Technically, this sandwich isn’t extinct; instead it enjoys periodic long hibernations, followed by re-release and then a “farewell tour.” Generally, phrases like “mechanically separated pork” and “meat slurry” are what keep me away. That’s not all from McDonald’s, though. There’s also …
One of my all-time favorites. (Check out this McDLT commercial, starring a pre-Seinfeld Jason Alexander.) Not only does the ad make me laugh every single time, but the McDLT itself kinda makes sense—the hot stays hot, and the cool stays cool. I’ll defend it to the end, especially over McDonald’s replacement for the McDLT: the McLean Deluxe. In 1991, McDonald’s released this healthier alternative to its burgers. Much of the lower fat content came from the addition of carrageenan to the patty, a red-seaweed extract that’s used in everything from toothpaste to sexual lubricants to beer.
And honorable mentions go to:
Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy
Of the circle of five monster cereals once available to hyperactive children everywhere, two of them are extinct today: Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy (discontinued in 1993). Count Chocula, Frankenberry, and Boo Berry are currently still available.
Shelf-stable, carbonated, orange-flavored milk. No comment required.
Coffee-flavored soda released in 2006—may it never return.
Before I go, I want to thank my parents for keeping a house full of fruits and vegetables and for forcing me, physically, to eat them.
Originally published on Book of Odds