The old story goes that if you put some in a bowl and poured milk over it you’d get as much nutrition from eating the cereal box as you would from the cereal itself and milk. It was anecdotes like this, along with several others that set young food scientist McRuthers Carson on a path that may well make him a millionaire by the end of the year and a billionaire in the next two. Freshly graduated from the University of Illinois Carson took a job with Hostess foods, and three years later, well the Ding Dong is dead, along with the Suzie Q, The squiggled cupcake and the long thought eternal Twinkie. Finding himself unemployed after such an auspicious start was disheartening, and failing to find a new position in the industry after nine months McRuthers, or Mac as he prefers to be called, was feeling about rock bottom when another chance anecdote he heard while with friends at the pub set his wheels to spinning.
In World War II hundreds of thousands of cargo shipments were ferried here and there around the globe, some by air, some by rail, some by ship. The machines of war needed grist for their mills, ammunition and arms, uniforms, fuel, cannon fodder and food and sundry supplies. It was a fact that some of these shipments were lost, rail cars overturned, planes went down, ships sunk. It was also a fact that some of these shipments were found. Crates of seamed nylons and chocolate bars fell off trucks in France and the bewildered GI’s that found them soon learned to trade them for winks and smiles. One of the more curious tales of lost and found during the war involves a village of Tongans on a remote island in the Pacific that found a pallet of petroleum jelly on the beach, gently lapped by the waves. It was completely foreign to them but it wasn’t long before one of the more intrepid, and, we assume famished, ate some and found it acceptable. In no time they were spreading it on poi, frying up parakeets and monkeys with the stuff and before one can say, pass the plantains please, the substance became an important part of their diet. It was soon ate up. But incredibly, the United States Navy came by, needing to use the place as a seaplane base, and resupplied them with as much of the heavily viscous substance as their little hearts desired. (Tongans are a small people unlike their burly neighbors the Samoans.) Then the war ended, the US Navy absconded and things were looking grim for the Tongans dietary staple until the US State department decided a forward looking radar base was needed in that neck of the woods and lo, the Tongans were again resupplied and still are to this day.
What could this anecdote have meant to Mac, the unemployed food scientist, mulling his situation over that single beer last autumn? It was nothing less than an epiphany. Before Mac received his pink slip from the Hostess company his research was dedicated to making delicious food less fattening. The poor Twinkie was getting a bad rap, after all it is not always the item eaten that is the problem it is the number of items eaten as well. Fat makes food taste good, taste is more than just taste, it’s also texture and tingle and temperature and several other subtle factors we lump into the taste category. But fat is a big one, it carries the chemicals with taste and texture to the bodies receptors, the taste buds, and it is an evil culprit it the game of caloric intake. Fats are fatty, and they make us obese. The body likes em, it saves them up for later in the abdominal apron for hard times. But no one really wants an abdominal apron so food companies have long searched for a fat substitute, something that delivers taste but doesn’t stick around. Carson, was familiar with Olestra, a Proctor & Gamble additive an fat substitute that initially held great promise but got some bad press when side effects like growing a nose on the back were discovered. Mac, or Carson, knew he was onto something with the story about the Tongans and petroleum jelly. There was an ongoing study of their odd diet that contained data for over fifty years of it’s consumption through several generations with no ill effects. Petroleum jelly is merely a more solid form of mineral oil, and a rock is usually composed of several minerals. Eat a rock and it passes right through you, same with petroleum jelly.
It wouldn’t make McRuthers Carson rich to have simply stumbled upon the fact that one can eat petroleum jelly with no ill effects. What is making him wealthy, $785,000 in investor funds in his fledgling snack foods company, is his ability to add flavor to the stuff, he holds a patent on that and on a special clarification process for the basic product, which differs from plain petroleum jelly in a few key ways. And he’s figured out a way minimize it’s use in the production of food so even the most squeamish among us will fork over a couple of bucks for something that tastes as good, or better than a bag of Chili Cheese Fritos and has less than ten percent of the calories. Carson is currently in negotiation with the Frito-Lay Company to supply their test kitchens with quantities of both the unadulterated base product and some of his own varieties including butter, sesame, smoked, olive, basil and garlic flavored oils.