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Published:February 6th, 2010 11:58 EST
American Junk Food: PEZ

American Junk Food: PEZ

By Daniel Mabee


"If I could only have one food for the rest of my life? That`s easy: PEZ. Cherry-flavored PEZ. No question about it."
                                                            - Vern Tessio, "Stand By Me"

PEZ candies are a product that has reached a rare level of popularity. Five states hold annual conventions honoring the treat. In Europe, there are vending machines dedicated solely to dispensing the sugary, fruity delights. Every year, over three billion individual PEZ candies are consumed. How did this simple treat become such an icon?

In 1927, an Austrian confectioner by the name of Eduard Haas III cooked up a recipe for small, brick-like peppermints. He originally sold the mints in small tins, and named them "PEZ," deriving the name by taking the first, middle, and last letters from the German word for peppermint, Pfefferminz.

Shortly after, he created the first PEZ dispensers, which were then known as "regulars." Originally, the dispensers were designed to look like cigarette lighters, and the mints were marketed as an alternative to smoking - or at the very least, to conceal bad smoker`s breath.

The dispensers finally became toys in 1955, boasting the likenesses of a variety of cartoon characters, such as Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. Two decades later, the faces of real-life people, such as Daniel Boone, would be rolling their heads back to dispense sweet goodness. Today, there are over 450 different dispenser models, each with several variations.

Rare dispenser models are highly collectible - the highest-valued sale on record was $7,000 for a Mickey Mouse prototype model. If you plan to break into this world of collecting, however, be wary - counterfeit versions of rare dispensers have been used to dupe unwitting PEZ-lovers.

Today, flavors range from the original peppermint, to cherry, to yogurt, to chocolate, as well as sour and sugar-free variations on all of the most popular flavors. As much as we love PEZ in America, however, we can only enjoy half the flavors available in Europe.

If you`ve never had the pleasure of  pulling Darth Vader out of your pocket, tilting his helmet back, and indulging in a little taste of fruity sugar, I highly recommend you do so.

Go for cherry. You won`t regret it.