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What Do Orange Crush and Root Beer Pop-Tart Taste Like?

Boxes of Pop-Tarts sit for sale at the Metropolitan Citymarket in New York.
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Boxes of Pop-Tarts sit for sale at the Metropolitan Citymarket in New York.

Soda for breakfast?

Now that Kellogg's has launched Orange Crush and A&W Root Beer flavored Pop-Tarts, it's a thing. And my co-workers and I had to try it.

Reactions for the Orange Crush included: "fruity, juicy, crispy," "abnormal orange," "like the orange jelly you get in a chocolate cube," "sickly sweet," and "like orange marmalade."

Reactions for the A&W Root Beer included: "Like root beer in a Tootsie Roll," "tastes like the counter at CVS smells, because of the chewing gum that's there," "chemical," "tastes specific, not just sweet," and "better than orange."

However appealing or unappealing these tastes sound, creating them is not simply a matter of pouring soda into a vat of Pop-Tart filling.

"Both flavors are made with ingredients that taste similar to A&W Root Beer and Crush Orange," said Shawn Jackson, a Pop-Tart PR rep. "Pop-Tarts worked closely with Dr. Pepper Snapple Group to give fans the flavors they crave most."

What commonly happens in these kind of flavor mashups, said Gavin Sacks, associate professor of food science at Cornell University, is that one company may provide the other with some flavoring agents as a starting point. Or none at all. Then they may work with a specialized "flavor house" in the $5.7 billion flavor and fragrant industry to tweak the flavoring compounds using a mix of "smart chemistry and intuition."

Tobjy Thompson is a senior flavorist at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), one of the top three flavor firms. The primary character of root beer, he said, is its wintergreen flavor, commonly recreated using artificial methyl salicylate.

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For things like A&W Root Beer, on the creamier, sweeter and light side of root beer, "it's going to have things like vanilla extract to tone it down, to tone down the harshness," he said.

One clue to the Orange Crush flavor is the "orange oils" found in the ingredients list on its Pop-Tart box.

But, "Orange oil alone is not going to be full orange, because that's mostly from orange peel," said Thompson. "You need to incorporate fruit juice character, that's where some of the water components in the juice aspect, we will add those into the oil itself so it comes out as fruity juicy profile."

If this science all has you reaching for an artisanal Pop-Tart, these scientists want you to remember something very important.

"Everything is made of chemicals. People are not used to hearing [the names of] those chemicals," said Vince Tursi, a bakery application specialist at IFF. "Even if you analyze milk or vanilla extract, it contains 400 or more ingredients, and they're all chemicals."

Instead of focusing on the food processing or any foreign-sounding ingredient, Sacks wishes people would look at something staring them right in the face on the nutrition label.

"It's the sugar that concerns me most," said Sacks. "This sounds more like a dessert than something that should be the major component of a meal."