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The Secrets Behind 7 Secret Recipes

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Wikimedia Commons

Proclaiming that your product contains secret ingredients is a tactic as old as marketing itself. These seven restaurant chains, drink manufacturers, and food companies have exploited the fact that "the unknown" will always be more exciting than, "just some mayo and paprika."

1. Big Mac Special Sauce

While not explicitly secret, the "special sauce" found in McDonald's Big Macs is the most mysterious ingredient of its "two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions—on a sesame seed bun." In 2012, McDonald's executive chef Dan Coudreaut released a YouTube video explaining how to make a Big Mac at home—and how to make your own special sauce. Confirming many folks' suspicions, the sauce is just a variation of Thousand Island dressing: mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, yellow mustard, white wine vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika (although, depending on the country in which it's sold, the restaurant throws in some preservatives and other stuff you'd be more likely to find in a chemist's lab than at a market).

2. Bush's Baked Beans Secret Recipe

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Bush's Baked Beans' ad campaign centers around Jay Bush and his corporate snitch of a dog, Duke. According to Duke's self-penned bio on their website, "Back when Jay shared the Secret Family Recipe for Bush's Baked Beans with me, his best friend, he didn't know that I could speak. And ever since, I've been trying to sell the recipe." 

The original recipe was invented in 1967 and a copy of Bush's recipe book (minus the actual baked beans recipe), is on display at their visitor’s center in Tennessee. Why is it kept secret? Try to think of another company's baked beans ad, and therein lies your answer.

3. Coca-Cola's "Merchandise 7X"

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Coca-Cola's long-guarded "secret formula" has a weapons-grade name, "Merchandise 7X," and enough cloak-and-dagger lore to make Ian Fleming blush (he died in 1964, so that's a whole lotta lore). The recipe famously sits in a bank vault in Atlanta, and ad campaigns have focused on how only two company execs have access to two separate halves of the secret formula (this isn't true).

In 2011, This American Life uncovered an alleged version of the original formula (or a precursor to it) that was copied by Coca-Cola inventor John R. Pemberton's friend. This document wasn't hiding in a bank vault, but in a newspaper—in 1979, The Atlanta Journal and Constitution printed a photo from an old notebook that, upon close inspection, seemed to match the famous secret formula. You can check out the recipe here (and yes, it includes FE Coca, a.k.a. the fluid extract of coca leaves).

4. Dr Pepper's 23 Flavors

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If urban legend is to be believed, Dr Pepper is just a soda-fied prune juice. If Dr Pepper's website is to believed, this is flat-out untrue. "Dr Pepper is a unique blend of natural and artificial flavors," they assert. "It does not contain prune juice." Then what does it contain? The soft drink boasts 23 flavors, and the specifics of these is considered "proprietary information" by the company.

Keep in mind that "flavors" doesn't necessarily mean "ingredients," so it could all be subjective. A quick Google search will uncover some guesses (although we're not sure apricot is any more refreshing than prune juice).

5. Colonel's "Secret Blend of 11 Herbs and Spices"

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In 1940, Colonel (née Harland) Sanders whipped up a "secret blend of 11 herbs and spices" for his now-ubiquitous Kentucky Fried Chicken. The recipe is locked in a vault at the company's headquarters, and it's said that the ingredients are made and processed by separate manufacturers who are unaware of what the others are producing in order to prevent the mysterious concoction from ever being revealed.

In their ingredients list, KFC merely lists this as "Secret Original Recipe Seasoning." However, for his book "Big Secrets," William Poundstone took a batch of the Colonel's chicken to a lab for testing. According to Poundstone (via LiveScience), "The sample of coating mix was found to contain four and only four ingredients: flour, salt, monosodium glutamate, and black pepper. There were no eleven herbs and spices—no herbs at all in fact."

6. Barr's Irn-Bru

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Scottish soft drink Irn-Bru was invented in 1901, and its secret recipe "is held under lock and key in a vault in Switzerland." According to their website, only three people know the recipe: Former Chairman Robin Barr, his daughter and Legal Affairs Manager Julie Barr, and one other board director "whose identity remains confidential." Irn-Bru does concede that iron is one of the drink's ingredents (hence the name).

7. Chartreuse

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The legend of this liqueur is long and complex, and it goes something like this: In 1605, the Marshal of King's Henri IV artillery gave a secret manuscript for an "Elixer of Long Life" to the monks of a monastery outside Paris. The monks couldn't immediately decipher the combination of 130 herbs, but in the 18th century the recipe was sent to a separate monastery where its apothecary, Frère Jerome Maubec, learned how to make a drink from the list. In the years that followed, the liqueur underwent changes to produce different varieties (green, white, and yellow), but Chartreuse is still made by monks—and the recipe is still secret—to this day.

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Yes, You Can Put Your Christmas Decorations Up Now—and Should, According to Psychologists
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We all know at least one of those people who's already placing an angel on top of his or her Christmas tree while everyone else on the block still has paper ghosts stuck to their windows and a rotting pumpkin on the stoop. Maybe it’s your neighbor; maybe it’s you. Jolliness aside, these early decorators tend to get a bad rap. For some people, the holidays provide more stress than splendor, so the sight of that first plastic reindeer on a neighbor's roof isn't exactly a welcome one.

But according to two psychoanalysts, these eager decorators aren’t eccentric—they’re simply happier. Psychoanalyst Steve McKeown told UNILAD:

“Although there could be a number of symptomatic reasons why someone would want to obsessively put up decorations early, most commonly for nostalgic reasons either to relive the magic or to compensate for past neglect.

In a world full of stress and anxiety people like to associate to things that make them happy and Christmas decorations evoke those strong feelings of the childhood.

Decorations are simply an anchor or pathway to those old childhood magical emotions of excitement. So putting up those Christmas decorations early extend the excitement!”

Amy Morin, another psychoanalyst, linked Christmas decorations with the pleasures of childhood, telling the site: “The holiday season stirs up a sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia helps link people to their personal past and it helps people understand their identity. For many, putting up Christmas decorations early is a way for them to reconnect with their childhoods.”

She also explained that these nostalgic memories can help remind people of spending the holidays with loved ones who have since passed away. As Morin remarked, “Decorating early may help them feel more connected with that individual.”

And that neighbor of yours who has already been decorated since Halloween? Well, according to a study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, homes that have been warmly decorated for the holidays make the residents appear more “friendly and cohesive” compared to non-decorated homes when observed by strangers. Basically, a little wreath can go a long way.

So if you want to hang those stockings before you’ve digested your Thanksgiving dinner, go ahead. You might just find yourself happier for it.

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11 Black Friday Purchases That Aren't Always The Best Deal
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Black Friday can bring out some of the best deals of the year (along with the worst in-store behavior), but that doesn't mean every advertised price is worth splurging on. While many shoppers are eager to save a few dollars and kickstart the holiday shopping season, some purchases are better left waiting for at least a few weeks (or longer).

1. FURNITURE

Display of outdoor furniture.
Photo by Isaac Benhesed on Unsplash

Black Friday is often the best time to scope out deals on large purchases—except for furniture. That's because newer furniture models and styles often appear in showrooms in February. According to Kurt Knutsson, a consumer technology expert, the best furniture deals can be found in January, and later on in July and August. If you're aiming for outdoor patio sets, expect to find knockout prices when outdoor furniture is discounted and put on clearance closer to Labor Day.

2. TOOLS

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Unless you're shopping for a specific tool as a Christmas gift, it's often better to wait until warmer weather rolls around to catch great deals. While some big-name brands offer Black Friday discounts, the best tool deals roll around in late spring and early summer, just in time for Memorial Day and Father's Day.

3. BEDDING AND LINENS

A stack of bed linens.
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Sheet and bedding sets are often used as doorbuster items for Black Friday sales, but that doesn't mean you should splurge now. Instead, wait for annual linen sales—called white sales—to pop up after New Year's. Back in January of 1878, department store operator John Wanamaker held the first white sale as a way to push bedding inventory out of his stores. Since then, retailers have offered these top-of-the-year sales and January remains the best time to buy sheets, comforters, and other cozy bed linens.

4. HOLIDAY DÉCOR

Rows of holiday gnomes.
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If you are planning to snag a new Christmas tree, lights, or other festive décor, it's likely worth making due with what you have and snapping up new items after December 25. After the holidays, retailers are looking to quickly move out holiday items to make way for spring inventory, so ornaments, trees, yard inflatables, and other items often drastically drop in price, offering better deals than before the holidays. If you truly can't wait, the better option is shopping as close to Christmas as possible, when stores try to reduce their Christmas stock before resorting to clearance prices.

5. TOYS

Child choosing a toy car.
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Unless you're shopping for a very specific gift that's likely to sell out before the holidays, Black Friday toy deals often aren't the best time to fill your cart at toy stores. Stores often begin dropping toy prices two weeks before Christmas, meaning there's nothing wrong with saving all your shopping (and gift wrapping) until the last minute.

6. ENGAGEMENT RINGS AND JEWELRY

Rows of rings.
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Holiday jewelry commercials can be pretty persuasive when it comes to giving diamonds and gold as gifts. But, savvy shoppers can often get the best deals on baubles come spring and summer—prices tend to be at their highest between Christmas and Valentine's Day thanks to engagements and holiday gift-giving. But come March, prices begin to drop through the end of summer as jewelers see fewer purchases, making it worth passing up Black Friday deals.

7. PLANE TICKETS AND TRAVEL PACKAGES

Searching for flights online.
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While it's worth looking at plane ticket deals on Black Friday, it's not always the best idea to whip out your credit card. Despite some sales, the best time to purchase a flight is still between three weeks and three and a half months out. Some hotel sites will offer big deals after Thanksgiving and on Cyber Monday, but it doesn't mean you should spring for next year's vacation just yet. The best travel and accommodation deals often pop up in January and February when travel numbers are down.

8. FOOD AND SNACK BASKETS

Gift basket against a blue background.
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Fancy fruit, meat and cheese, and snack baskets are easy gifts for friends and family (or yourself, let's be honest), but they shouldn't be snagged on Black Friday. And because baskets are jam-packed full of perishables, you likely won't want to buy them a month away from the big day anyway. But traditionally, you'll spend less cheddar if you wait to make those purchases in December.

9. WINTER CLOTHING

Rack of women's winter clothing.
Photo by Hannah Morgan on Unsplash.

Buying clothing out of season is usually a big money saver, and winter clothes are no exception. Although some brands push big discounts online and in-store, the best savings on coats, gloves, and other winter accessories can still be found right before Black Friday—pre-Thanksgiving apparel markdowns can hit nearly 30 percent off—and after the holidays.

10. SMARTPHONES

Group of hands holding smartphones.
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While blowout tech sales are often reserved for Cyber Monday, retailers will try to pull you in-store with big electronics discounts on Black Friday. But, not all of them are really the best deals. The price for new iPhones, for example, may not budge much (if at all) the day after Thanksgiving. If you're in the market for a new phone, the best option might be waiting at least a few more weeks as prices on older models drop. Or, you can wait for bundle deals that crop up during December, where you pay standard retail price but receive free accessories or gift cards along with your new phone.

11. KITCHEN GADGETS

Row of hanging kitchen knives and utensils.
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Black Friday is a great shopping day for cooking enthusiasts—at least for those who are picky about their kitchen appliances. Name-brand tools and appliances often see good sales, since stores drop prices upwards of 40 to 50 percent to move through more inventory. But that doesn't mean all slow cookers, coffee makers, and utensil prices are the best deals. Many stores advertise no-name kitchen items that are often cheaply made and cheaply priced. Purchasing these lower-grade items can be a waste of money, even on Black Friday, since chances are you may be stuck looking for a replacement next year. And while shoppers love to find deals, the whole point of America's unofficial shopping holiday is to save money on products you truly want (and love).

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