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Published:May 28th, 2008 13:18 EST
Magic American Junk Food: Pop Rocks

Magic American Junk Food: Pop Rocks

By Daniel Mabee


When I was in the fifth grade, I once ate four bags of Strawberry Pop Rocks. Surrounded on the playground by my gawking peers, I then theatrically produced a contraband Coca-Cola-- strictly forbidden during recess-- and drank deeply. Some kids cheered, some shrank away, but nearly all of them were convinced my stomach was about to explode. I groaned, grabbed at my stomach, and then... did, in fact, burst-- but with a mighty belch, not blood and gore.

I, of course, had already used the trick to scare a friend`s little brother, so I knew I was safe. Across America, other devious children were doing the same thing. Half toy, half candy, few things pleased me more than a heaping pile of Pop Rocks. Trust me, they are still as fun and tasty today.

The concept for Pop Rocks is simple: a variety of sugars, flavorings, and colorings topped off with a bit of magic usually reserved for champagne and soda carbonation. Because of this little miracle of modern science, anyone who has ever managed a mouthful of the treat can tell you of the great crackle, pop and fizz the candy produces.

The idea for the candy was patented in 1956 by William A. Mitchell, a chemist at General Foods, but would not be offered to the public until 1975.

They debuted at 15 cents per pack in orange, grape and cherry. Known as Space Dust in the United Kingdom, the delights were an immediate hit everywhere they were offered. A testament to Pop Rocks` popularity, a mere four years later General Foods was already battling various urban legends surrounding their product.

The most famous, of course, was that of the "exploding kid." More detailed, however, was the playground-based rumor that "Mikey," the well-known child from the Life cereal commercials of the time, had spent his fortune on the candy and met an untimely, and explosive, death.

General Foods tried a number of methods to debunk the myth. Thousands of letters were sent to elementary schools. Mitchell himself, the treat`s creator, traveled the country assuring children the candy was safe. The FDA even set up a phone line to convince concerned parents that Pop Rocks were, in fact, harmless.

It was all for nothing, however, and in 1983 General Foods discontinued the product. Fortunately, two years later Kraft Foods purchased the rights to the treat and began selling it as "Action Candy" to avoid more negative press.

Nowadays, Pop Rocks are back under their original name. They are now offered in chocolate, sour and sugar-free variations. In this writer`s opinion, however, nothing beats watermelon.

For $26.00 per case of 36, nowhere else can you buy a product that is both sweet and musical. Whether you have never tried the treat or have been tricking little brothers since the fifth grade, it`s never a bad idea to grab some Pop Rocks.

I promise, you will be safe.