When you think of technology, you probably think of computers and jet engines and such. But there are other feats of engineering that are equally sophisticated, just less obviously so. Instant Kool-Aid, for example.
There are two fundamental problems in creating a small tablet that quickly turns a glass of water into a fruity drink. The first is finding a way to disperse the ingredients without forcing an impatient customer to stir them. The solution is sodium bicarbonate and citric acid, a mixture perhaps best known as the plop-plop, fizz-fizz of Alka-Seltzer. These chemicals react with water to form carbon dioxide gas, breaking up the pill, dispersing its contents, and leaving behind just a small amount of sodium citrate, a harmless substance found in citrus fruits.
The second problem—making the drink sweet enough—is more difficult. It would take far too much ordinary sugar to fit in a small pill. This part of the problem was solved in 1879 with the chemist Constantin Fahlberg's discovery of the first artificial super-sweetener, saccharin. Instant Kool-Aid (introduced by Kraft as Kool-Aid Fun Fizz last year) incorporates a more recently developed sugar substitute, aspartame, better known as NutraSweet. Aspartame is 200 times as sweet by weight as cane sugar and represents a very high level of sophistication in chemical engineering; it was discovered by a chemist who was assembling proteins into a polypeptide while trying to design a new treatment for ulcers. All the sweet needed for eight ounces of Kool-Aid fits in a pinch of aspartame.
The drink innovation I'd really like to see, though, still remains tantalizingly out of reach: a pill that heats a cup of coffee. Self-heating coffee does exist, but only in bulky containers that keep the chemicals that do the heating separate from the coffee you drink. Sadly for coffee lovers, no one has yet figured out how to make a mixture that fits in a pill and wouldn't poison you if you tried to drink it.
This isn't new! It's the same as FIZZIES. I drank it when I was a kid...I'm 60 now. I know it didn't have aspartame in it then, but I believe they tried to bring it back a few years ago with aspartame.
I am appalled at the lack of concern by Mr. Gray for the ill effects of aspartame, of which he fails to make mention in his glowing review. Google aspartame healthy or not, and get about 1,710,000 results. Some good, some bad. To err on the side of caution is the thinking man's approach. Only fools rush in.
One such result:
Expert Panel: Aspartame Sweetener Safe
Sep 11, 2007 – An expert panel says it's confident there's no health risk from aspartame ... Not so, says Michael F. Jacobson, PhD, executive director of the ...
And the list goes on and on. I just think if Mr. Gray mentions something as potentially harmful as aspartame he should say something about that. Lots of readers take what he says to heart (I am one of them).
My dear Mr. Gray, you really don't have to wait for a pill to heat up your coffee. I believe they already make electric and battery operated mugs to keep your coffee hot at your desk or while your on the run ! Everything you said in your article is pretty true and when I was young, we used to call them fizzies. The real sad part of your article is that you left out the safety of your health in using aspartame ( soon to renamed to AminoSweet ). Without going into a lecture and pointing my finger at you, please for your own sake and those of your readers, pick up the paper book by a Dr. Joseph Mercola called Sweet Deception. The contents are quite scarry but will inform you or anyone concerned about their health or those of their family about artificial manmade sweeteners. Believe me, a little research is worth the effort.
In all sincerity
@starduster if aspartame is so bad for you then why is it still allowed in stores. if you have such a beef with it then don't take it out on the people who use it; take it out on the people who make it and allow it.
the FDA is simply not doing it's job when it comes to making sure that the stuff we eat is of a higher quality and will not kill us. we see this every time they have a new pill that surprisingly gives you cancer ten years later. or in the case of aspartame they simply choose not to disallow it even though it might be harmful. meanwhile they do a darn good job of obfuscating the price of implants and stuff like that; you ever wonder why hospital bills cost so much? you mainly have the FDA to thank for that.
also your .GIF is messed up...
to mars or bust!
Speaking of carbon dioxide gas ...
I was discussing holiday gifts arriving by mail with my landlord, which led to Omaha Steaks, which led to m mentioning that putting a block of O.S. dry ice in the kitchen sink and running the hot water faucet was a lot more interesting than just letting the block sublimate on its own. This led to the question: what would happen if a block of dry ice was placed in a microwave oven, and the oven turned to high power? I considered emailing a certain tv show, but being a long time subscriber of PopSci, and fan of your column, I thought of you. So, care to hit start?
My imaginative future coffee pill for Theodore Gray
1. Cayenne pepper for the feeling of heat.
2. Artificial sugar if you like sugar in your coffee.
3. Artificial creamer if you like creamer too.
4. Artificial coffee, for the requested coffee.
5. Sodium bicarbonate & citric acid.
Squish into a pill.
8 ounce glass of water.
Of course, the cayenne pepper may taste ok or it may make your coffee taste like crap.
You can experiment with this at your home, prior to making it into a pill.
If hot water from a tap is available, just omit the ingredient Cayenne pepper.
Yes Fizzies... Been Done.
150 times sweeter than sugar. Natural and no calories.
If we switched to this, people lose weight and sugar can be used for fuel production.
What is our goal here?
1. Caffeine in a pill and a hot glass of water.
2. Something called coffee in a glass of hot water.
3. An actual good flavor natural cup of coffee
with sweet aromas.
4. A buzzer on my desk that summons a domestic to bring a cup of coffee.
5. A topic for a writer to write about at POPSCI, prior to going home early.
Googling "Holiday biscuit eats owner" gives almost 9,000,000 hits; just because you get a lot of results for a search, doesn't mean that qualifies the search as a valid argument point. Anyway, this isn't a glowing review for aspartame, but an article about something that happens to contain aspartame. You're kinda arguing similar to someone complaining that no-one mentioned the polluting qualities of gas in an article about cars.
I have to agree with the statements about the aspartame. There are many scholarly and medical research papers regarding the effects it has on the human body, especially the liver. Do read up on it, don't blast someone because you haven't edeucated yourself on the subject yet.
Off the top of my head and effects of chemicals on the body, it with my life experience and observation of people, some people are more sensitive to chemicals and others are not. My grandfather lived to his upper 80s and was a lifelong chain smoker of camel cigarettes. For him little negative effects, but I still believe the cigarettes are bad for health.
So, this same thought process could go along with many chemicals and yes aspartame. Of course, I am just opinionating in general.
See life in all its beautiful colors, and
from different perspectives too!
Sorry u got flamed Theo... I'm in agreement that the innovation (despite when it occurred) is pretty neat. We've come a long way in that century. So far in fact most people can't recognize it.
As for Aspartame, I don't think it is going to kill us... I'm sure I've put worse things in my body. Although I do admit I don't like the stuff. It's probably just my imagination but I swear every time I consume it I get a headache. But that's no worse than my wife has done to me so I don't think I'll be heading any lynch mobs against the FDA for approving its sale.
Thanks for the fun article in retrospection of an advancement most people take for granted. If anyone here does think this a silly thing. I challenge you to make some of these in your kitchen.
I think that good ol' fizzies must have used the now evil saccharin. I always wondered why they disappeared, and that would explain it.
They did try a comeback, but you were supposed to add sugar. I tried them once -- not good.
Don't think that I'll try the Aspartame, never liked it in anything.
Aspartame is indeed 11% methanol (wood alcohol), which the human body
quickly turns into formaldehyde via the ADH enzyme, concentrated in
many tissues: liver, kidney, brain, retina, skin, muscle, lung,
prostate, breast, womb, fetus -- forming cumulative micro lesions and
a wide variety of symptoms, and binding to and disabling DNA, RNA, and
Other methanol (formaldehyde) sources include wood and tobacco smoke,
dark wines and liquors, fruits and vegetables heated in sealed metal
and glass containers, and aspartame, as well as a variety of products
ranging from medicines to new carpet, drapes, and furniture to mobile
People vary enormously in individual vulnerability.
Folic acid may protect some people.
Prof. Woodrow C. Monte (retired, Nutrition, Arizona State University)
Download free Chapter 12 of the book "While Science Sleeps", re
methanol, formaldehyde, birth defects, autism type diseases, with 100
mainstream full text research paper references.
To all of you fear-mongering aspartame haters out there, please read the following article:
Aspartame is perfectly safe. That is a fact.
I agree with starduster, but it's not only aspartame. It's the whole array of chemicals we have to ingest with every kind of food. I say "have to "because we don't have any control over the production of our food. The producers / manufacturers only aim at longer shelf life and maximum profits. Their ignorance even puts the wellfare of their own offspring at risk. The long term impact (read several generations down the road) on our genetic makeup is simply unknown. No immediate ill effects of a massive dose of a chemical (preservatives, antibiotics, antioxidants, taste enhancers, dyes, etc.), injected into animals don't guarantee safety for humans. Also, in addition to the straight chemical formula of a chemical there's also the stoichiometric, or spacial, formula, which really defines the bioactivity of the substance. What IS known however is an increase in cases and types of cancer, birth defects, etc. And that's the final outcome that has to worry us.
Of course, politicians are ignorant of scientific matters. That's why they are politicians in the first place. Their advisors paid off by BIG FOOD (Monsanto, General Mills, Nestle, Cargill, etc.). All of them manipulators of the genetic makeup of crops and the consumers / victims.
Only asking: do those people, and their shareholders, really think that they and their offspring are immune to the possible ill-effects of the poison they put into their products? How callous can you get?
I really enjoyed this article. It's good to step back and appreciate the breakthroughs that allow us to live the lifestyle we have and take for granted. It doesn't always have to be about gadgets/gizmos. Science is much broader than that. So this was "refreshing", pun intended. :-)
It seems the author has a desire to make instant hot coffee from a pill. Then it seems the readers are more in the positive or negative effects of artificial sugar. Lastly, the blogger fgfdgfd has the artificial belief we POPSCI readers have a desire to click on his link. I think fgfdgfd should take a pill and stop fantasizing, lol.
"Kool Aid" starts with the letter K. It is artificially colored water that has been flavored with a lab's worth of chemicals. Is it just aspartame that is in question when it comes to health here? hahahahaaa....
Either way I find the stuff nasty
@purfus: "It's probably just my imagination but I swear every time I consume it I get a headache. "
Not just you. I can't go near the stuff. Even a few sips of a diet soda and my temples start to throb. Half a can and I have to go sit down for half an hour until the pain subsides. No joke.
The "it must be fine because its in the store" arguement is extremely weak. You have tobacco, alcohol and a lot of other products on the shelves that are not only unhealthy but do extreme harm to you body.
I don't get it. Why not just mix some kool-aid powder with an alka-seltzer tablet if you want to goof around.