11 Piping Hot Facts About Pop-Tarts

Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

They’ve been making a hot breakfast possible for anyone who owns a toaster for over five decades, but even if you’ve munched through box after box of Frosted Strawberry and Brown Sugar Cinnamon, you may not know all of the sweet inside scoop on Pop-Tarts. 

1. A Competitor’s Business Blunder Made Them Possible

Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts are breakfast icons, but the company’s cereal rival Post actually had the idea to make a toaster pastry first. In early 1963, Post announced a line of shelf-stable pastries called Country Squares diners could heat up in their toasters. The idea was promising, but Post had made a critical error in its announcement: Country Squares were months away from being ready to go to market. Rather than springing the new breakfast treats on an unsuspecting Kellogg’s, Post gave the competition a chance to develop an answer to Country Squares. Kellogg’s began scrambling to make a pastry it could rush onto store shelves. 

2. Kellogg’s Brought in an Expert to Perfect the Product. 

If Kellogg’s was going to beat its rival to the breakfast-pastry punch, it would need to round up some baking help. Naturally, the company turned to Keebler. In September 1963, Bill Post, the manager of Keebler’s Grand Rapids, Mich. Plant, started working on what would become Pop-Tarts. Post, the son of Dutch immigrants, had been working at Keebler since his 16th birthday. If anyone had the baking know-how to quickly create a toastable treat, Post was the man. 

3. Bill Post’s kids played a key role in the taste testing. 

Before Pop-Tarts were Pop-Tarts, they were just product samples that Post would bring to his kids. As he recounted to Northern Express in 2003, Post first realized these particular pastries might take off when he shared them at home: “I used to bring a lot of samples home, and they‘d turn up their noses at some of them. But they‘d say, ‘Bring those fruit scones home.‘ That‘s what we called them at first, fruit scones. ‘Bring some of those home, will you, Dad?‘” 

4. Cleveland Got the First Taste of Pop-Tarts. 

After Post’s children helped convince him that Pop-Tarts were ready for store shelves, Kellogg’s tested the pastries in the Cleveland market in late 1963. They were an instant hit, and four flavors of Pop-Tarts – strawberry, blueberry, brown sugar cinnamon, and apple-currant – rolled out nationally in 1964. As Post remembered in 2003, the success of the Cleveland test convinced Kellogg’s to boost the first national production shipments from 10,000 cases to 45,000 cases of pastries. The entire run sold out anyway. 

5. They Come in Pairs for a Reason 

In her book Better Than Homemade: Amazing Foods that Changed the Way We Eat, Carolyn Wyman solves a Pop-Tart mystery. If the serving size for Pop-Tarts is just one pastry, why do they always come packaged in pairs? Bill Post revealed that the decision had more to do with economics than portion control. The machines needed to wrap Pop-Tarts in foil weren’t cheap, and when the pastries were still unproven commodities, Kellogg’s didn’t want to make any unnecessary investments. By doubling down on how many tarts went into each packet, the company could cut its machinery budget in half. By the time Pop-Tarts were a hit, consumers were used to the double packages. 

6. The Original Pop-Tarts Were Subtly Different from Today’s Tarts. 

Fans of modern frosted Pop-Tarts might mistake those first batches from 1964 with any of the legions of knockoffs that have sprung up in the intervening decades. The original Pop-Tarts had rounded corners instead of the square ones we’re now used to, were marked with a long diagonal score to facilitate splitting, and didn’t feature frosting. The scoring eventually fell by the wayside because it made it more difficult to see the fruit filling in each half of the Pop-Tart.

7. The Holes Are an Important Design Feature. 

An Ad Week story from June revealed the way in which those “docker holes” are a crucial part of every Pop-Tart’s makeup. Without the holes, steam would collect in the pastry as it toasted, resulting in a soggy Pop-Tart.

8. Kellogg’s Brass Was Skeptical of Frosted Pop-Tarts. 

After Bill Post’s triumphant national introduction of Pop-Tarts in 1964, he elevated the treats into the breakfast staple we know and love with the addition of frosting in 1967. The first prototype frosted versions were the result of sending regular Pop-Tarts through a machine used to ice cookies. When Post’s boss was concerned that frosting wouldn’t be able to withstand a toaster’s heat without melting, Post walked into a meeting carrying a toaster to demonstrate the durability of the sugary stuff. Kellogg’s execs gave him the go-ahead to start frosting the entire Pop-Tart line just minutes after the meeting ended. 

9. Unfrosted Pop-Tarts Pack More Calories Than Frosted Ones. 

Princeton sophomore Spencer Gaffney kicked off years of confusion and curiosity with a 2009 blog post in which he unearthed a strange fact: Frosted strawberry Pop-Tarts contained 200 calories each, while the unfrosted versions were a stouter 210 calories a pop. How could skipping the sugary frosting result in a more calorically dense breakfast treat? Earlier this summer, Quartz finally solved this enduring riddle. The crust on unfrosted Pop-Tarts is just a little bit thicker than it is on their frosted brethren, which results in a net gain of calories if you grab the seemingly healthier option. 

10. They Can Generate Terrifying Flames. 

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Since at least the early 1990s, Pop-Tarts have been blamed for causing numerous house fires following toaster mishaps. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 2001 that the pastries had been implicated in at least 17 fires and explained that the heat of a toaster could ignite the corn syrup in the filling, which would then cause the crust to burst into flames. This finding jibes with a playful 1994 “study” in which pastries that weren’t ejected from a toaster shot 20-inch flames. While these fires are uncommon, they demonstrate why Kellogg’s clearly warns consumers not to leave an unattended tart in the toaster. 

11. You Can Buy or Make Fancy Fresh Baked Versions Now. 

It feels like there is at least one small company out there making an artisanal version of any snack you can think of, and Pop-Tarts are no exception. Since 2012, Brooklyn-based Megpies has been making gourmet versions of the venerable toaster treats for discerning eaters. The company offers handmade takes on familiar flavors like strawberry, blueberry, and cinnamon brown sugar alongside newer combos like salted caramel apple. You can order them online here, or if you’re feeling industrious, you can grab a recipe and try making your own.

12 Strange-But-Real Ice Cream Flavors

ipekata/iStock via Getty Images
ipekata/iStock via Getty Images

I scream, you scream, we all scream for … horse flesh ice cream? Okay, so maybe “we all" don’t. But some people do. A lot of people, in fact. Lobster, foie gras, and ghost pepper, too. Next time you’re craving an ice-cold cone, why not step out of your vanilla/chocolate comfort zone to try one of these 12 strange-but-real ice cream flavors.

1. Horse Flesh

There are two dozen attractions within Tokyo’s indoor amusement park, Namja Town, but it would be easy to spend all of your time there pondering the many out-there flavors at Ice Cream City, where Raw Horse Flesh, Cow Tongue, Salt, Yakisoba, Octopus, and Squid are among the flavors that have tickled (or strangled) visitors' taste buds.

2. Pickled Mango

As one of the country’s most decorated ice cream makers, Jeni Britton Bauer—proprietor of Ohio-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams—is constantly pushing the boundaries of unique treats, as evidenced by her lineup of limited edition flavors, including last summer's Pickled Mango (a cream cheese-based ice cream with a slightly spicy mango sauce made of white balsamic vinegar, white pepper, allspice, and clove) and this year's Goat Cheese With Red Cherries.

3. Corn on the Cob

Since opening Max & Mina’s in Queens, New York in 1998, brothers/owners Bruce and Mark Becker have created more than 5000 one-of-a-kind ice cream flavors, many of them adapted from their grandfather’s original recipes. Daily flavor experiments mean that the menu is ever-changing, but Corn on the Cob (a summer favorite), Horseradish, Garlic, Pizza, Lox, and Jalapeño have all made the lineup.

4. Foie Gras

New York City's OddFellows takes the "odd" in its name seriously, and has become synonymous with experimental flavors. Since opening their doors in 2013, they've concocted more than 300 different kinds of the cold stuff—including a Foie Gras varietal.

5. Pear and Blue Cheese

“Salty-sweet” is the preferred palette at Portland, Oregon-based Salt & Straw, where sugar and spice blend together nicely with flavors like Strawberry Honey Balsamic Strawberry With Cracked Pepper and Pear With Blue Cheese, a well-balanced mix of sweet Oregon Trail Bartlett Pears mixed with crumbles of Rogue Creamery's award-winning Crater Lake Blue Cheese. Yum?

6. Ghost Pepper

“Traditional” isn’t the word you’d choose to describe any of the 100 ice cream varieties at The Ice Cream Store in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. They don’t have vanilla, they have African Vanilla or Madagascar Vanilla Bean. But things only get wilder from there, and the shop’s proprietors clearly have a penchant for the spicy stuff. In addition to their Devil's Breath Carolina Reaper Pepper Ice Cream—a bright red vanilla ice cream mixed with cinnamon and a Carolina Reaper pepper mash—there's also the classic Ghost Pepper Ice Cream, which was featured in a Ripley's Believe It or Not book in 2016. Just be warned: you'll have to sign a waiver if you plan to order either flavor.

7. Bourbon and Corn Flake

You never know exactly which flavors will appear as part of the daily-changing lineup at San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe, but they always make room for the signature Secret Breakfast. Made with bourbon and Corn Flakes, you’d better get there early if you want to try it; it sells out quickly and on a daily basis.

8. Fig and Fresh Brown Turkey

The sweet-toothed scientists at New York City’s Il Laboratorio del Gelato have never met a flavor they didn’t like—or want to turn into an ice cream. How else would one explain the popularity of their Fig & Fresh Brown Turkey gelato, a popular selection among the hundreds flavors they have created thus far. (Beet and Cucumber are just two of their other fascinating flavors.)

9. Lobster

Don’t let the “chocolate” in the title fool you: Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium in Bar Harbor, Maine makes the most of The Pine Tree State’s most famous delicacy with its signature Lobster Ice Cream, a butter ice cream-based treat with fresh (again buttered) lobster folded into each bite.

10. Creole Tomato

The philosophy at New Orleans’ Creole Creamery is simple: “Eat ice cream. Be happy.” What’s not as easy is choosing from among their dozens of rotating ice creams, sorbets, sherbets and ices. But only the most daring of diners might want to swap out a sweet indulgence for something that sounds more like a salad, as it the case with the Creole Tomato.

11. Eskimo Ice Cream

If you happen to find yourself in an ice cream shop in Juneau, remember this: Eskimo ice cream—also known as Akutag—is not the same thing as an Eskimo Pie, that chocolate-covered ice cream bar you’ll find in just about any grocery store. Though the statewide delicacy has usually got enough fresh berries mixed in to satisfy one’s sweet tooth, its base is actually animal fat (reindeer, caribou, possibly even whale).

12. Cheetos

Big Gay Ice Cream started out as an experimental ice cream truck and morphed into one of New York City’s most swoon-worthy ice cream shops, where the toppings make for an inimitable indulgence. One of their most unique culinary inventions? A Cheetos-inspired cone, where vanilla and cheese ice cream is dipped in Cheetos dust.

Why Do People Get Ice Cream Headaches?

CharlieAJA, istock/getty images plus
CharlieAJA, istock/getty images plus

Reader Susann writes in to ask, "What exactly is the cause of brain freeze?"

You may know an ice cream headache by one of its other names: brain freeze, a cold-stimulus headache, or sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia ("nerve pain of the sphenopalatine ganglion"). But no matter what you call it, it hurts like hell.

Brain freeze is brought on by the speedy consumption of cold beverages or food. According to Dr. Joseph Hulihan—a principal at Paradigm Neuroscience and former associate professor in the Department of Neurology at the Temple University Health Sciences Center, ice cream is a very common cause of head pain, with about one third of a randomly selected population succumbing to ice cream headaches.

What Causes That Pain?

As far back as the late 1960s, researchers pinned the blame on the same vascular mechanisms—rapid constriction and dilation of blood vessels—that were responsible for the aura and pulsatile pain phases of migraine headaches. When something cold like ice cream touches the roof of your mouth, there is a rapid cooling of the blood vessels there, causing them to constrict. When the blood vessels warm up again, they experience rebound dilation. The dilation is sensed by pain receptors and pain signals are sent to the brain via the trigeminal nerve. This nerve (also called the fifth cranial nerve, the fifth nerve, or just V) is responsible for sensation in the face, so when the pain signals are received, the brain often interprets them as coming from the forehead and we perceive a headache.

With brain freeze, we're perceiving pain in an area of the body that's at a distance from the site of the actual injury or reception of painful stimulus. This is a quirk of the body known as referred pain, and it's the reason people often feel pain in their neck, shoulders, and/or back instead of their chest during a heart attack.

To prevent brain freeze, try the following:

• Slow down. Eating or drinking cold food slowly allows one's mouth to get used to the temperature.

• Hold cold food or drink in the front part of your mouth and allow it to warm up before swallowing.

• Head north. Brain freeze requires a warm ambient temperature to occur, so it's almost impossible for it to happen if you're already cold.

This story has been updated for 2019.

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