Popular snacks from your childhood
In the 1982 classic "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," a lost and loveable alien bonded with his human hosts over Reese's Pieces. Coca-Cola and McDonald's have crept their way into the farthest reaches of the world. One of the most-significant college championship football games is literally called the Sugar Bowl. Junk-food culture is as ingrained into the American psyche as cars, Hollywood, and baseball—in fact, you'd be hard-pressed to watch an auto race, a movie, or a baseball game where a snack maker's logo wasn't featured somewhere in the mix.
Americans eat an average of 10 billion donuts and 22 pounds of candy every year, about 25% of us consume fast food every single day. The negative consequences of these diets have been well documented: We're one of the fattest, sickest countries on Earth, and obesity and its many detrimental side effects creep closer toward epidemic levels every year. Even so, the country's love affair with junk food is enduring, and in a way, sentimental. It's almost certain that Ronald McDonald, the Kool-Aid Man, and Tony the Tiger are more instantly recognizable to more Americans than most former presidents.
From Twinkies and Girl Scout Cookies to chocolate bars and popcorn, snack food conjures up memories of childhood, specific situations like movies or first dates, and nostalgia for simpler, or at least sweeter, times. Some snacks are specific to a generation or decade. Others transcend time and are intimately familiar to the masses regardless of age. All of them, however, have brought moments of joy and satisfaction to the masses, even if the tradeoff was a few—or a few dozen—pounds.
From chasing ice-cream trucks in the summer as a kid to tearing open a bag of some delicious, processed food-like substance on a first road trip, snacking is an undeniable part of the American experience. Here's a look at the snacks that defined decades and generations. Some are savory, some are sweet. Some barely resemble their original design while some have remained unchanged for more than a century. Either way, it's likely that at least some readers will get hungry just reading about them.
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No one could ever mistake the stacked, curved crisps as anything but Pringles. That's largely because of the iconic tall, cylindrical container that has housed Pringles since chemist and food storage technician Fredric J. Baur developed the container for Procter & Gamble in 1966. When Bauer died in 2008, his children honored his wish and buried him with a can of Pringles—original flavor, of course.
People's love affair with Chex Mix goes much farther back than when its pre-packaged incarnation arrived in stores in 1987. The popular party snack made its original debut in the 1950s when the Ralston Purina Co. unveiled Chex cereal, which included recipes for a party mix on the back of the box.
Oreos have been a staple of American junk-food culture since the National Biscuit Co. (Nabisco) introduced them to the world in 1912. The cookies, which are both vegan and kosher, comprise exactly 29% creamy center and 71% cookie. The most popular cookie in the world, Oreos do more than $2 billion in annual sales.
If movie-theater candy had a Mount Rushmore, it would have to include Junior Mints. Candy maker James Welch invented the chocolate-covered mint creams in 1949 and named them as an homage to a Broadway play, and later a radio show starring Shirley Temple, called "Junior Miss."
A bag of gummy bears on Halloween is a rarely traded score, and it all started with an innovative German confectioner named Hans Riegel who experimented with soft, gelatinous, dancing-bear-shaped candies when his hard candies weren't selling. Gummy candy—like the mountains of bears still sold by brands like Haribo and Black Forest—was born, but the technique was hardly new. People had been cooking sugar and fruit to preserve it for generations, so gummy bears are close relatives of jellies, jams, and marmalades.
Arguably the world's most-famous snack chip, Doritos were invented in the 1950s in Casa de Fritos, a Mexican-themed restaurant run by the Frito company in the newly opened theme park Disneyland. At the suggestion of an employee, the restaurant stopped throwing away its stale, unused tortillas and instead cut them into triangles, seasoned and fried them. Today, Doritos does nearly $1.5 billion in sales, more than double Tostitos, the next-closest competitor.
Developed by the Mars Corporation (now Mars, Incorporated) in 1930, Snickers was the name of Frank Mars' favorite horse. All Snickers contain about 16 peanuts—100 tons are used to create 15 million Snickers bars every day. The world's most popular candy bar, more than $2 billion worth of Snickers are sold annually in 70 countries.
Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bars
When confectioner Milton Hershey walked away from two previous failed ventures at the turn of the 20th century, chocolate was a luxury reserved mostly for the wealthy. Hershey changed all that by wholesaling Hershey's cocoa so he could make chocolate for the everyman, and the Hershey bar was born. Hershey was a prolific philanthropist who donated his entire fortune—but not before building a network of charitable schools and even Hershey Park for his employees and their families to enjoy.
When Forrest Mars took control of the Mars company from his legendary confectioner father Frank Mars, he already had an idea to coat chocolate in candy to keep it from melting, a concoction he first learned of in Europe. Mars, who already had a patent for the candy, met prominent chocolatier Bruce Murrie who partnered with Mars on the idea. Mars & Murie, or M&M, was born.
Cracker Jack is such an American institution that the molasses-flavored, caramel-covered popcorn is mentioned in the lyrics of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," which has been played at ballparks since the 1030s. Invented by a German immigrant who was hired to come to the United States to help clean up in the wake of the Chicago fire in 1872, Cracker Jack was first sold at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.2018 All rights reserved.