10 Snack Foods Originally Sold as Medicines
There was a time when you could have subsisted on graham crackers, Coca-Cola and Goo-Goo Clusters and called it a healthy diet. In fact, a lot of foods and beverages we consider snack items today, like the 10 below, were once marketed as medicines or tonics to a gullible public.
1. Coca-Cola. The original intent of Coca-Cola, as you probably know, was a health drink. Created by John Pemberton, it was sold for five cents at soda fountains (a dollar or so in today's money) because people thought carbonated beverages would increase their wellness. Pemberton's company also sold Pemberton's Indian Queen Hair Dye and Pemberton's Globe Flower Cough Syrup.
2. Graham Crackers were invented in 1829 by Reverend Sylvester Graham, who felt the bland food was a perfect prescription for those prone to excessive amounts of "self-abuse." Apparently dry crackers would bore the sexual appetite right out of you.
3. Corn Flakes. OK, it might be a stretch to call corn flakes a snack food, but I'm sure I'm not alone in downing a bowl of cereal when I want a little something. Will Keith Kellogg was looking for something to improve the diet of hospital patients and decided that corn flakes were a great bread substitute that helped digestion.
4. Goo-Goo Clusters, during the Great Depression, were marketed to consumers as a "nourishing lunch for a nickel." Sure, I employ that theory on candy all of the time: peanuts are protein, chocolate has calcium, marshmallow has ... marshmallow.
5. Fig Newtons. Although Fig Newtons are marketed as "fruit and cake" these days, back in 1892 they were considered digestive aids. A lot of doctors thought that digestion problems were the root of all kinds of other illnesses, so you see a lot of digestive aids from that era. They were originally fig rolls instead of the square pastry we're familiar with now.
6. Moxie was one of the first mass-produced soft drinks commercially available, and I now consider myself a pop culture failure because I had never heard of it until now. In fact, it's where we get the word "moxie" from. But back to its "medicinal" roots. It was created sometime around 1876 by a doctor whose friend, Lieutenant Moxie, was using the extract of a South American plant to prevent paralysis, "softening of the brain," nervousness and insomnia. The good doctor took Moxie's plant extract and stuck it in soda water, calling it "Beverage Moxie Nerve Food."
7. Heath Bar could have just as well been called the Health Bar -- the use of the best milk chocolate, almonds, butter and pure sugar cane was thought to pep a person up. "Heath for better health!" was the motto for many years.
8. 7-Up is probably not a big shocker for you, since many of us still use the miracle tonic to soothe an upset stomach. Originally called "Bib-Label Lithiated Lemon-Lime Soda," it contained lithium citrate, so it really was a mood-stabilizing drink. It was marketed as a hangover cure, which a lot of people probably needed since it was launched just two weeks before the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Never fear (or maybe I should be apologizing), the lithium was removed from the product in 1950.
9. Dr Pepper has a similar story. Like Coke and 7-Up, it was sold as a brain tonic and pick-me-up and was available at drugstores to cure what ails ya.
10. McVitie's Digestive Biscuits. The first time I went overseas, I remember being charmed by the fact that some cookies were referred to as "digestives." What a great idea -- a guilt-free cookie covered in chocolate! The idea started with McVitie's back in 1892. Because the biscuit contained a high amount of sodium bicarbonate, the inventor theorized that eating the biscuits after a large meal would be beneficial to one's health. They're still called digestives, but McVitie's now prints a disclaimed on them that says "The ingredients in this biscuit do not contain any substances that assist digestion."
Do you know of any other snacks that started out as cure-alls? If someone could spin it so that mint chocolate chip ice cream is somehow a health tonic or digestive aid, I would be grateful.
This story originally appeared in 2010.