Posted in Food and Drink

I’ll Have a Pop, Or a Soft Drink, Or a Soda

Soft Drinks. No matter what you call them, we are a nation of soft drink lovers (Midwesterners call it “pop.”) Be it Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Fanta Orange, A&W Root Beer, Dr Pepper or any of the other dozens of offerings you reach for, Americans consume a whopping 650 eight-ounce servings a year per person, even though that 2016 figure is the lowest in almost 30 years. There is no question, the addition of designer coffee and energy drinks has made a dent in the soft drink industry, but the U.S. (along with Argentina, Mexico and Chile) top out the highest number of consumers and continue to guzzle a wide variety of sugary beverages. (Dentists love you!)

This time, explorer Marco Polo can’t take credit. Granted, the Chinese had been drinking tea for centuries, but the mineral springs in Europe apparently inspired the first Parisians to add honey and lemon to natural sparkling spring water and began selling the tasty beverage to the French. This delightful alternative to hot tea and coffee appeared in the mid-seventeenth century and was called “limonade.” Chemists were later able to duplicate the carbonation and add it to still water, achieving the same affect. An instant hit, it was likely the forerunner of Perrier.

In 1810, two enterprising men from Charleston, SC named Simon and Rundell took out the first U.S. patent with their invention that gave plain old water its bubbly quality. But it wasn’t until twenty years later that inventor John Mathews came up with his own design which added carbonation, and he began marketing the fizzy stuff to soda fountains. At first, sarsaparilla and fruit extracts were added to the water, and Americans flocked to drug stores for these new sparkling beverages. Many of the drug store owners promoted their flavored bubbly as having health benefits. The origins of cola, for instance, are attributed to an Atlanta pharmacist, Dr. John S. Pemberton, in 1886. He concocted the original formula and sold it at his drug store fountain as a medicinal. No wonder it caught on like gangbusters–it contained cocaine. Yikes.

Creating new flavors for their sparkling water was far more fun than doling out pills and cough syrups, so once again another pharmacist named Charles Alderton created Dr Pepper in 1885, in Waco, Texas. It is reported to have contained 23 different flavors to create its unique taste, and Alderton may have alluded to Dr Pepper’s “digestive benefits” as a selling point. (If nothing else, it made you burp.) In 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair, as hot dogs and ice cream cones made their debut, Dr Pepper and a variety of soft drinks became all the rage, and America’s thirst was unquenchable.

More companies raced to capitalize on the growing popularity and sell their products in grocery stores, but the major challenge was keeping the carbonation in the drink after bottling. It wasn’t until 1892 that a successful cap was invented by a Baltimore machinist named William Painter, who patented his invention and successfully prevented the bubbles from escaping. Of course, this opened the door for glass manufacturers, and the Libby Glass Company, among others, sprang into action.

During the 1920s, the first six-packs with the convenient cardboard carrying case arrived, and vending machines soon followed. Soft drinks were here to stay. With
the addition of cans, larger and larger packs of soft drinks appeared on the supermarket shelves, enabling shoppers to stock up on their favorites.

Although consumption has declined in the past years, especially among the “diet” drinks containing artificial sweeteners, there is no question that Americans love their beverages. And that will never decline.

Author Dale Phillip is a fan of flavored beverages, and sparkling water ranks close to the top. Growing up, her favorite treat was a chocolate ice cream soda or a lemonade made with sparkling water. She fondly remembers local drug stores with soda fountains and laments their demise. Dale invites you to view her many ezine articles under the Food and Drink category, which chronicle the histories of popular foods and beverages.

Posted in Food and Drink

Pile on the Pasta

Those Chinese did it again. While we think of pasta as a culturally Italian food, it likely originates from ancient Asian noodles. No one knows for sure, but credit is often given to merchant and explorer Marco Polo as responsible for bringing pasta back to Italy during the 13th century. Noodles had been a staple in China for over 2000 years. They likely were made with rice, but once Italians embraced the noodles, they began to use plentiful wheat flour to produce their famous spaghetti.

However, historical references may indeed dispute pasta’s Asian origin, as various pasta-type foods are mentioned in earlier centuries. Enter the Greeks, who originally occupied Naples, a southern region of Italy and are thought to have introduced a pasta- like food to the Neapolitans. Since Italy’s major grain producers and processors were in the south, it’s highly likely that long, thin pasta made its way north to Rome and other cities. Long before Marco Polo, first century Roman poet Horace described thin sheets of dough called lagana and served fried as an everyday food. Several centuries later, this dough was stuffed with meat and perhaps made way for present day lasagna.

By the sixteenth century, the dried version made storage easy, and who knows, perhaps Columbus carried the food on his voyage to discover America, as did many ships who made expeditions into parts unknown. The availability of pasta and its versatility made it a hit throughout Europe, and cooks found it easy to create new dishes. Originally eaten by hand, once sauces were introduced as an accompaniment, utensils took a prominent place on dining tables.

So when did the U.S. get its first taste of pasta? While it originally adorned the tables of the wealthy, in the late 1800’s our modern version of spaghetti caught on, first in the restaurants of Italian immigrants, then across the nation as a filling and economical meal for families. While some cooks did not serve it with tomato sauce, the different forms of pasta could be added to soups or mixed with vegetables.

Believe it or not, Thomas Jefferson is said to have brought back a pasta machine from his European travels, and his daughter, who was the lady of the house, served pasta dishes with Parmesan cheese. (Imagine her horror to learn that mass-produced boxes of mac and cheese would eventually populate grocery store shelves.) Later on, other fans substituted Cheddar, and it became a crowd pleaser and favorite of the American diet. What would childhood be without mac and cheese?

In the mid-twentieth century, packaged dry pastas, canned pasta products and sauces began to adorn the shelves of supermarkets, and pasta became a staple of American life. Chef Boyardee introduced children to pasta and turned off adults to his mushy ravioli and Spaghettios.

Pasta lives on in all its glory, its unending possibilities and its delicious varieties. So while the historians continue to debate, whoever created its humble beginnings, we are thankful. Pile on the pasta, any way you like.

Author Dale Phillip is most definitely a pasta lover. As a student in Florence, Italy, she was introduced to the many forms and varieties of pasta, and it was an instant hit. Although she admits she likes it all, her favorite form is gnocchi, which is a small potato dumpling and absolutely delicious with a cream sauce or just plain marinara. She invites you to investigate her other articles on the origins of foods and drinks, under the category Food and Drink.