This whole concept of drinking Tang and Kool Aid as a thirst quencher is rather weird, don’t you think? Let me explain what I mean. It all started with juice, which is, squeezing fruits to get the extract out of it. But now – we evaporate sugar cane juice to get sugar, add a bunch of ingredients that we dissolve in water back again to get the taste and feel of juice.
Isn’t this a corollary to touching the nose from the other side? How did we get here? Let’s look at the history before diving into the ingredients.
History of Tang and Kool Aid
The reason I want to talk about the history is because, this product was invented in a time gap between fresh juice and technologically advanced bottled juice.
Drinking orange juice regularly was not something common in cultures until the last 100 years. Back in 1916, there was an abundance of orange harvest in California, USA. In a brilliant way to market the fruit, an advertising copywriter called Albert Lasker, created a campaign called “Drink an orange” for the California Fruit Growers Exchange.
As a result, a country which barely drank orange juice in the 1920’s made orange juice as the 2nd highest beverage consumed, after coffee, by 1930’s. As humans do, however, no one wants to sit and juice oranges everyday. The technology for packaging shelf stable orange juice, however, was not quite there yet. During the off-season only canned concentrated orange juice was available and people were not super thrilled about using it.
So, in 1927 Edwin Perkins invented Kool Aid and in 1957 William A. Mitchell invented Tang. These powdered drinks were basically like soft drinks without the carbonation – Sugar flavored water a.k.a imitation juice.
Now, we get to the 1960’s. Tang didn’t initially do quite well in sales. But NASA was looking for a way to flavor its bad-tasting water. Why was the water given to astronauts bad-tasting? According to an engineer who worked for NASA:
There was a particular component of the Gemini life support-system module which produced H2O. This was a byproduct of a reoccurring chemical reaction of one of the mechanical devices on the life-support module. The astronauts would use this water to drink during their space flight. The problem was, the Astronauts did not like the taste of the water because of some of the byproducts produced. So Tang was added to make the water taste better.
Tang saw this as an opportunity to make the product look cool. So, back in 60’s, if you were a space geek, which most of the kids at the time were, you drank Tang!
However by 1980’s, the orange juice technology got better. Juice that was “100% juice” could be made by flash pasteurization, de-aeration tanks and other technological advances. So Tang sales started going down in the US.
At this point, you would expect these product to fizzle out because of better products becoming available. But, by the early 2000’s, Kraft (Parent company of Tang) start looking at developing countries as a way to expand. They advertise heavily, invented new packaging (drink packets for school lunches) and pumped up the environmental aspects (does not use bottles). And now, these products are all the rage in India and South America.
I will show you the details for Tang Orange. Using this template, you can extrapolate for other flavors.
Front of Package
Notice 3 things in the front of the cover:
Since Orange is mentioned in front, they have to say how much orange in the back
- Source of Vitamins and Iron
A great selling point – but let’s see how much…
- No Artificial Flavors
On the left in smaller font “Added orange fruit powder and flavor”
- Acidity Regulator: INS 330 – Citric Acid
- Orange Fruit Powder (0.8%) – Since they mentioned Orange in the front, they have to mention its amount in the back according to FSSAI rules
- Anticaking Agent: 341iii – Tricalcium Phosphate
- Stabilizers: 415 – Xanthan Gum, 466- Carboxymethyl Cellulose, 1400- Modified Food Starch
- Food Colours: 171- Titanium dioxide, 110 – Sunset Yellow, 102 – Tartrazine
- Sweetener: 960 – Stevia sweetener
- Mineral: Ferrous Citrate
So, a lot of additives. However, you must know that all the additive ingredient limits are all within the limits recommended by the FSSAI.
However, the ingredients that bothers me the most are the artificial colors. Studies have linked artificial food dyes to: Hyperactivity, including ADHD, behavioral changes like irritability and depression, hives and asthma, etc.
Here’s the nutrition label for Tang Orange juice
Couple of things I want to point out:
- For every 17g of Tang, 15.8g is Sugar, which I guess is not surprising, since it is a juice. But that is almost 4 tsp of sugar per serving. I am not sure how they are getting a low 31.6% as their RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) since the AHA says it is 24g of sugar for women and 36g of sugar for men. And in both cases it will be 65% and 44% of allocated sugar for the day – quite high!
- They highlight Tang as great in Vit A, B, C and Iron is several parts of the package, but never reveal the RDA levels. I mean, how is a normal person supposed to know what 90 micrograms of Vit A or 6 mg of Vit C means to the body?
Vit A – 10%
Vit C – 6%
Vit B12 – 8%
Iron – 13%
Anything below 20% RDA is not really that great a source. These are not off-the-chart numbers. These are very normal numbers.
Front of the package
Notice the front of the package:
- 35% less sugar than leading regular sodas
Leading sodas? – Ok, that’s very comforting, I guess??
- Good Source of Vit C and E (Let’s see how much in the back…)
- Grape, Artificial Flavor (Since they don’t actually use grape, they have to mention the source)
- Super cute graphic – I really mean it – it is so cute!
- Citric Acid
- Ascorbic Acid
- Vit E Acetate
- Artificial Flavor
- Calcium Phosphate (to prevent caking)
- Red 40, Blue 1
Basically, it is Kool Aid = Sugars + Acidity+ Flavors + Colors+ Anti-caking +Vitamins
How much Vitamins? It has 10% Vit C and 10% Vit E rRDA.
Guess how much Vitamin C one small actual orange has? It has 51mg – which is 85% RDA, much much more than Kool Aid or Tang!
Products like Tang and Kool-Aid do have their advantages. Like – if you become an astronaut! And, of course, if you were camping, or travelling and did not want liquids to weigh you down. But otherwise why?
Why not drink 100% juices or coconut water? Why not take a multi-vitamin with water?
Ok, one can certainly argue that all juices are sugars anyway. What difference does it make if it is from a fruit or if it is from cane sugar? It is all metabolized in the body in the same way…. While that is a fair argument, do we really want to rely on building lego blocks of chemicals in a lab/factory to satisfy our taste buds, when there is already a great alternative – a shelf stable juice – that comes from an actual fruit?
If you are going to have that sugar anyway, why choose a product which is reverse-engineered to imitate a naturally occurring product? Do we need all the artificial coloring that has proven to be harmful in the long term to the health of kids? That’s my opinion, but you all have to decide for yourself.
Hope this history and analysis was helpful to you. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!!