Pass the Hoax, Please | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

Pass the Hoax, Please

If I were you, I wouldn’t eat any “green tea” ice cream today. The old wasabi switcharoo is a classic April Fool’s Day prank. Less painful but equally deceptive food-related hoaxes have proliferated like rat droppings on soda cans in the era of e-mail. Of course, urban legends have been around a l...

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A widespread urban legend warned of combining Pop Rocks and soda.

If I were you, I wouldn’t eat any “green tea” ice cream today. The old wasabi switcharoo is a classic April Fool’s Day prank.

Less painful but equally deceptive food-related hoaxes have proliferated like rat droppings on soda cans in the era of e-mail. Of course, urban legends have been around a lot longer than Yahoo! (remember how simultaneously ingesting Pop Rocks and soda was supposed to have killed Mikey, the kid from the Life cereal commercials?). The Food2 blog has a list of the Top Ten April Fool's Day Food Pranks in history, including the Swiss Spaghetti Harvest. These days, hoaxes and urban legends seem to spread farther and faster than ever.

As a general rule, the more times an e-mail has been forwarded, the less likely it is to be true. But just to be sure, here’s the scoop on some of the more frequently circulated food rumors:

The $250 Neiman Marcus cookie recipe—This is the story about a woman who bought a cookie recipe from Neiman Marcus (in the 1980s, it was Mrs. Fields) for what she thought was $2.50. When her credit card statement revealed the price was actually $250, the woman decided to get revenge by spreading the recipe far and wide. This one is FALSE, if relatively harmless; the accompanying cookie recipe is supposed to be delicious.

Scientists proved you can cook an egg between two cell phones! Um, no, you can’t—FALSE.

Don't bother stocking up on Twinkies to get you through a natural disaster. The common assumption that these sugar torpedoes will last indefinitely is FALSE, though they do have an unusually long shelf life of about 25 days.

One I hadn’t heard, but which is apparently TRUE, is that a freighter carrying tapioca once sank after a fire broke out and the resulting heat combined with the water used to put the flames out cooked the tapioca.

Another TRUE one is that Coca-Cola originally contained cocaine, in very small doses. In fact there are a lot of rumors about Coke. It is FALSE that a tooth will disintegrate if left in Coke overnight—it will eventually dissolve the tooth, but so will orange juice or anything containing sugar and phosphoric acid. And, sorry, disaffected teens of the world, mixing Coke and aspirin will NOT get you high. Please don't try to use it as a contraceptive, either—that myth is dangerously FALSE.

To sum up, e-mail is a great way to keep in touch with friends, but not so good as a source of information. Speaking of e-mail hoaxes, check out the Gmail sign-in page today, which claims to be offering a new service called "Gmail autopilot" that automatically replies to all your e-mails with the perfect "prompt and insightful" response. If you believe that one, better look at the calendar.



About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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