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textbook example

Anatomy of a Corn Dog

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textbook example

To make the county fair staple, you need ingredients from all over the globe.

1. Eggs

Most eggs come from Leghorn hens. According to Steve Ettlinger’s Twinkie, Deconstructed, they’re cracked in specialty plants like Papetti’s in New Jersey, which breaks nearly 7 million a day! Once liquefied, the eggs are hosed into trucks and shipped off.

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2. Corn Syrup

Yellow # 2 dent field corn puts the “corn” in your corn dog. Corn syrup is made in huge batches: First, 40,000 bushels of corn are soaked in seven-story tanks of hot water for two days. Corn starch is separated from the wet-milled kernels, centrifuged, and washed up to 14 times! Most of the starch is used to make cardboard, but the rest is placed in a vat with hydrochloric acid and heated into corn syrup.


Liquid smoke comes from actual smoke! To make it, wood chips or sawdust are burned and the vapor is captured and condensed into a liquid. After the dogs are cooked, they get a quick shower in it.


For nearly 6,000 years, people have used animal intestines to encase sausages. But chances are, your frank was wrapped in trees. Wood chips are steamed, saturated in a stew of caustic sodium sulfide, cooked, and screened into wood pulp. The result is cellulose, popular for paper, textiles, and hot dog casings (which are stripped off after the dog is factory cooked).

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Although B1 is found in brown rice husks, it’s usually synthesized from petrochemicals derived from coal tar. (It’s easier and cheaper to synthetically create vitamins than to extract them from plants.) Most B1 companies keep the details secret.


Your corn dog’s riboflavin comes from either bacteria, yeast, or fungi. Thirty percent of the world’s B2 is made from the fungus Ashbya gossypii. These microbes are dunked in a broth of fermenting fats and carbs, and enzymes secrete B2. Then the vitamin is extracted, crystallized, and powdered.

7. Niacin (B3)

Niacin comes from Switzerland—and petroleum. Swiss petrochemical plants “crack” petroleum into methane, ethylene, and other gases. The methane is concocted into nitric acid, while the ethylene is converted into acetaldehyde. Brewed together with some ammonia sprinkled in, the two make niacin, which enriches flour and safeguards consumers from diseases like pellagra.


Most of the world’s B9 is made in China from a soup of petrochemicals or fermented tapioca starches. The acid is purified with zinc and magnesium (mined from open pits in Australia or China) and powdered.


Phosphate rocks in Idaho are surface mined and baked to 2,500°F. Then they’re tumbled into a nine-story furnace and liquefied at 11,000°F—the intensity of the sun. Phosphoric acid is made by spraying water onto the gas that escapes.


Gas companies remove CO2 from natural gas and truck it to processors, who clean, compress, and liquefy the gas. The carbon dioxide is added to a slurry of soda ash to make sodium bicarbonate: that is, baking soda.

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Limestone—the calcified skeletons of ancient sea critters—is mined deep under Idaho. It’s crushed and heated to about 2,000°F to make lime. Meanwhile, in Wyoming, trona—ancient lake mud—is mined, crushed, and filtered into soda ash, which is used for glassmaking. When both are mixed with phosphoric acid, you get two main compounds in baking powder: sodium acid pyrophosphate and monocalcium phosphate.


Unless it’s marked “all beef,” that wiener may contain a whole barnyard: cows, pigs, turkeys, and chickens! Franks can contain tongues, snouts, and lips, but “these components should not exceed 15 to 20 percent of sausage formulation,” says the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. (The FAO also requires franks to be free of gristle, sinews, bone, and cartilage). Edible offal aside, most of the dog is made of trimmings—the skeletal meat left over after the prime cuts are made. These are ground up like hamburger meat and then blended into a pudding-like batter with all the air vacuumed out. The gloop is then pumped into casings.

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13. WHEY

A cheap replacement for eggs and milk, whey often comes from Wisconsin cheese factories. To make cheese, a culture of bacteria is added to milk to make it sour. Enzymes thicken the mix; after two hours, the resulting curds are pressed into cheese. The residual liquid whey is siphoned off, dried, and powdered.


The U.S. makes 26 billion pounds of chlorine each year—some of which is used to bleach flour. To make chlorine, saltwater is exposed to a strong electrical current. The jolt separates the sodium, and the resulting chlorine is purified, compressed, and liquefied. Then it’s shipped in bulletproof tanks to flour mills, where it’s stirred in to balance the powder’s pH. (This keeps future batches of bread light and fluffy.)


The potassium in your corn dog—and your fertilizer—is unearthed in Canada, from 3,000 feet underground. There, potash is mined and baked in a kiln to make pearl ash. This is mixed with slaked lime to create potassium hydroxide, which is added to a soup of lactic acid—derived from sugar cane or beets. The result is potassium lactate, an additive used to extend the shelf life of meat.

16. IRON

The iron we eat comes from oil wells and ore mines. Refineries extract sulfur from “sour” crude oil and convert it into sulfuric acid. The acid is shipped to steel mills, where freshly made steel is “pickled” in an acid bath. As iron saturates the acid, crystals of iron sulfate sink—these are powdered and mixed into flour to protect eaters from deficiency-related ailments like anemia.

Textbook Example


Your corn dog stick started as a Canadian white birch tree. The tree, which has pale peeling bark, is flavorless and odorless—perfect for popsicle sticks, toothpicks, and chopsticks. The wood is flattened into thin, paperlike scrolls and sticks are punched out with a die-cut machine.

*You do not consume this; it's merely part of the corn-dog-making process.

10 Facts About Aspirin

Aspirin may be one of the world's best-known wonder drugs, able to do everything from cure a headache to reduce a fever, but its powers stretch beyond your medicine cabinet.

1. It's not the same as acetaminophen (used in Tylenol), ibuprofen (used in Advil and Motrin), or naproxen (used in Aleve).

2. There’s more than one way to take an aspirin. Americans swallow their tablets whole. The British dissolve theirs in water. And the French prefer theirs as suppositories.

3. The ancient Egyptians took their painkillers in the form of tree bark. Egyptian doctors used to give their patients willow bark to relieve pain because it contains salicin—the raw ingredient in aspirin.

4. Aspirin broke into the European market in 1763, after British clergyman Edward Stone chewed on some willow bark and felt a renewed vigor. He shared the stuff with his parishioners and relieved 50 cases of rheumatic fever in the process. After Stone reported his discovery to the Royal Society of London, the race was on to package the miracle cure.

5. A century later, French chemist Charles Gerhardt published an article on how to synthesize salicin in the lab, creating acetylsalicylic acid. Nobody paid attention.

6. Forty years after that, in 1897, German scientist Felix Hoffman followed Gerhardt’s process and took credit for inventing aspirin. Hoffman worked for Bayer Industries, which introduced the medicine in 1899 as the first mass-marketed drug.

7. In the mid-1940s, aspirin became a huge hit in Argentina thanks to radio jingles sung by future First Lady Eva Perón. Her country became the biggest per-capita consumer of aspirin in the world.

8. The wonder drug doesn’t just cure headaches; it can also revive a dead car battery. Just drop two tablets into the battery, let the salicylic acid combine with the battery’s sulfuric acid, and you’ve got an instant jump! Just make sure you don’t have any salt on your hands. Adding sodium to the aspirin-and-car-battery combo can cause an explosion.

9. So how does aspirin work? No one knew for sure until the 1970s, when British scientist John Vane discovered that aspirin reduces the body’s production of prostaglandins—fatty acids that cause swelling and pain.

10. Here’s another reason to eat your fruits and veggies: When the body gets a healthy dose of the benzoic acid in those foods, it makes its own salicylic acid, or aspirin.

A version of this story appeared in Mental Floss magazine.

Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
How Kiss's Alive! Saved Their Record Label—And Changed the Music Industry
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images

It was late 1974, and Neil Bogart, CEO of Casablanca Records, was falling apart. His wife of nine years had divorced him. Warner Bros., Casablanca’s onetime parent company, had cut the fledgling label loose, saddling Bogart with crippling overhead and advertising costs. The company’s headquarters—a two-story house off the Sunset Strip that Bogart (no relation to Humphrey) decorated to resemble Rick’s Café from the film Casablanca—had devolved into a hedonistic playground awash in cocaine and Quaaludes. A few years earlier, he’d made stars of the Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield, whose soundtrack for Super Fly had been an instant hit. Now, at 31, he was watching his career crumble.

But Bogart had a plan. As part of the split with Warner Bros., Casablanca inherited a promising project: a double LP of audio highlights from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It seemed like a sure thing. In 1974, The Tonight Show drew 14 million viewers a night. The year before, as the CEO of Buddah Records, Bogart had sold more than a million copies of a similar compilation titled Dick Clark: 20 Years of Rock N’ Roll. Bogart was so confident in The Tonight Show project that he envisioned the album as the first of four highlight records, stretching back decades.

Before SoundScan existed to track album sales, the recording industry conferred “gold” status to any album that shipped more than 500,000 copies. Bogart shipped 750,000 copies of Here’s Johnny: Magic Moments From the Tonight Show. As it turned out, no one wanted to listen to audio clips of a late-night talk show. The album was such a flop that distributors even mailed back their free promotional copies. Industry insiders joked that it had been shipped gold and “returned platinum.” Or as Casablanca cofounder Larry Harris put it, “It hit the floor with a lifeless, echoing thud.”

By the end of 1974, Casablanca was broke. To make payroll, Bogart cashed in his line of credit at a Las Vegas casino. The label seemed doomed. It needed a cheap hit just to survive.

One of the bands on Casablanca’s roster was in similarly rough shape. Kiss, a flamboyant heavy metal outfit from New York City, had released three albums by the spring of 1975. The band had a cult following in the Rust Belt. But the moment Kiss stepped into the studio, they deflated, unable to replicate the raucous energy of their live concerts.

This may have been an impossible task. Since their first gig in 1973, the foursome had performed only in Kabuki-style makeup, black leather costumes, and towering platform shoes. Onstage, Gene Simmons, the Israeli-born bassist with a 7-inch tongue, spat fire and fake blood at the audience. Blasts of smoke and pyrotechnics punctuated hard-driving songs like “Strutter,” “Deuce,” and “Black Diamond.” At the end of each set, drummer Peter Criss rose 10 feet above the stage atop a hydraulic drum riser. This intimidating stagecraft belied Kiss’s sound: more pop than metal, closer to David Bowie than Black Sabbath on the ’70s rock spectrum. Kiss’s stage show was so over the top that Bogart pitched the band as a headline act before the foursome had a legitimate hit. Queen, Genesis, and Aerosmith all canceled bookings with Kiss because no one wanted to play after the band.

But if Kiss was a circus act, Bogart was its P.T. Barnum. At pitch meetings, he’d unleash fireballs from his hand using magician’s flash paper, declaring “Kiss is magic!” Bogart hounded DJs, TV hosts, critics, and music magazines, pushing the Kiss brand. He even convinced Kiss to record a cover of “Kissin’ Time”—a single by ’60s teen idol Bobby Rydell—as a promotional tie-in for a nationwide kissing contest called “The Great Kiss-Off.”

None of it worked. And Kiss was fed up. The band received a meager $15,000 advance for its first three albums—Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, and Dressed to Kill— and despite Bogart’s fiery efforts, it had yet to see royalties. He’d even produced Dressed to Kill himself because he was unable to afford a professional producer.

Then Bogart had an idea. What if Kiss put out a live album? It’d be less expensive than a studio recording and might preserve some of the band’s incendiary live show. At the time, live records weren’t considered a legitimate product; bands released them mainly to fulfill contracts. But Bogart didn’t care. He knew this was his last chance.

Kiss liked the concept. Within days, Bogart had arranged to record a multicity tour, with stops in Detroit; Wildwood, New Jersey; Cleveland; and Wyoming. Since Bogart couldn’t finance the tour himself, Bill Aucoin, Kiss’s long-suffering manager, put $300,000 of his own money into costumes, expenses, and effects. To oversee the recordings, Bogart roped in Eddie Kramer, a star audio engineer who’d produced albums for Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

On May 16, 1975, 12,000 people packed into Detroit’s Cobo Hall—the largest venue in a city many considered the capital of rock ’n’ roll. Bogart and Aucoin went all out on production. To fire up the crowd, a cameraman followed the band from the dressing room to the stage, projecting the shot onto a giant screen overhead. During the song “100,000 Years,” flamethrowers wrapped the band in a curtain of fire. And this time Criss’s drum kit rose to twice its usual height.

The concerts were a massive success, yet the recordings were still mediocre. The energy was there, but the band’s musicianship suffered in its frenzied live performance. In the end, sound engineers recorded over much of the material. Nevertheless, certain core elements remain, including Criss’s drum tracks, lead singer Paul Stanley’s stage banter, and the propulsive fury of early singles “Deuce” and “Strutter,” in which the band’s energy soars in response to the sound of thousands of screaming fans. The physical record was an accomplishment of its own. A double album with a gatefold sleeve, it featured handwritten notes from the band, a glossy eight-page booklet, and a centerfold collage of in-concert photos.

Alive! was released on September 10, 1975. Five days later, Aucoin sent Bogart a letter of termination: Kiss was leaving the label. In desperation, Bogart, who’d recently mortgaged his house, cut Aucoin and the band a check for $2 million to retain them. Then everyone sat back and watched the Billboard chart.

The result was unprecedented. Alive! peaked at No. 9 and remained on the charts for the next 110 weeks, becoming the band’s first record to sell more than a million copies. By the end of 1975, major rock bands from Blue Öyster Cult to REO Speedwagon suddenly found themselves opening for Kiss. Today, Alive! has sold more than 9 million copies, making it the biggest selling Kiss album of all time.

Alive! rescued both Kiss and Casablanca from oblivion. The band’s next three albums—Destroyer (1976), Rock and Roll Over (1976), and Love Gun (1977)—were all certified platinum. In 1977, Kiss topped a Gallup poll as the most popular act among American teens. The late ’70s saw a superstorm of Kiss merchandise, including Kiss makeup kits, pinball machines, Marvel comic books, and even a made-for-TV movie called Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

But Alive! also changed the music industry. “Shortly after it hit, just about every hard rock band issued live albums,” says Greg Prato, a writer for Rolling Stone and the author of The Eric Carr Story, about Kiss’s short-lived drummer Eric Carr. “Some of those albums were the best live rock recordings of all time: Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous, the Ramones’s It’s Alive, Queen’s Live Killers, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same, Cheap Trick, At Budokan.”

What makes Alive! a masterpiece, though, is how it captures the essence of Kiss—a hard rock band that was meant to be seen, or at least heard, live. “The emphasis on a live album is the experience itself, specifically how close the record translates and interprets the experience of actually attending the show,” says author and Kiss fan Chuck Klosterman. “[Alive!] jumps out of the speakers. It feels like a bootleg of the highest quality.”

Ultimately, Bogart’s excessive spending habits, along with his prodigious cocaine use at Casablanca HQ, led to his ouster from the label in 1980. By that point, he’d become the reigning king of disco, breaking such acts as the Village People and Donna Summer. He died of cancer two years later at age 39, having just created Boardwalk Records and signed the then-unknown rock goddess Joan Jett. In the decades after his death, the iconic metal band he’d helped bring to the top continues to tour, even making an appearance on American Idol in 2009. For 40 years, Kiss has been sending drum kits aloft (albeit with a different drummer), performing in fully painted faces, setting stages on fire, all in an effort to recapture an impossible sound. With Alive!, Bogart had created a chimera. It was a record that could never exist in real life: part raucous energy, part polished studio overdubs, a “live” masterpiece better than the best live act in rock history.

This piece originally ran in Mental Floss magazine.


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