By: Boris Throbaum
“It must have been 1953, right after my sophomore year at Fairleigh Dickenson,” said the retired Exxon executive. “I got an internship with General Foods in their food coloring division. I majored in chemistry and it was a good fit.”
“What did you work on?” I asked.
“The first summer, our objective was to find the color for the shit that would later be called Tang. I thought the stuff tasted horrible but GF thought they could sell it and I worked on the color.”
“In lay terms, our readers probably don’t understand a lot about chemistry, can you describe what you did?”
“Well,” he continued, “ in the laboratory, we developed different compounds that would likely not make people sick that ranged in hue from a sort of a sandy very pale yellow to a natural juice color all the way to a shockingly bright orange that we all kind of laughed at.”
“And…” I prompted.
“We got sent up to Harlem, right across the street from the AT&T building on the west side to see which colors the customers preferred.”
“Because, as our boss explained it, if any of our colors make anyone sick, no one really cares if its only negroes (the word he used at the time) so we were minimizing risk.”
“We spread out the drinks in different colors all the way from least colorful to most. Most of the pitchers contained some color of the Tang mix, one contained actual orange juice and a couple had the juice but watered down a bit.
“Except for those with real juice, all tasted identical, that was sort of our control in the experiment.”
“What did you learn?”
“We had to go back to Jersey and work on some more colors.”
Nearly 100% of the tasters chose the brightest colored drinks. It didn’t make sense, real fresh squeezed juice versus the crap we built in the lab in Jersey, where people do believe in better living through chemistry but this made no sense. Tang tastes like shit but people overwhelmingly chose the brightest color.
“So, we went back to the lab and came up with even brighter colors and back to Harlem with an array that contained really delicious fresh squeezed juice in its natural color and a variety of brighter shades that ran all the way to LSD 25 orange, a color that looked as though it came from the Manhattan Project.”
“And what happened?”
“Are you just stupid or have you never seen Tang?” Asked the retired oil man. “The blacks picked the nuclear orange and the taste tests went the same around the rest of the country. People, it seems, don’t give a shit about taste when they can get their drinks in a brighter color.
“We were so proud when NASA picked Tang as the beverage to send to the moon.”
“What happened after your electric tang tests?”
“I went back for my junior year and the following summer we worked on making Lipton Noodle Soup as orange as we could.”