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Pop Culture For Pop-Tarts

Born in 1986, this '80s baby and '90s kid remembers the colorful and naughty side of millennial youth.


In the season 2, episode 8 of Father Ted titled Cigarettes and Alcohol and Rollerblading, Father Dougal says "Ted, I'd love a Pop-Tart."

And this is a sentiment most people have when they're craving a breakfast treat on-the-go. These sugary pastry pockets resembling giant, fruit filled ravioli, have been a fun snack since their debut in 1964.

Since then, they've been a staple in pantries, a favorite for television and movie characters, the body for the famous Nyan Cat meme, and back in the late 90s, they were the subject of a procott, when Sailor Moon fans bought cases of Pop-Tarts in a fruitful venture to convince Kellogg's to sponsor new episodes of the anime on Cartoon Network's Toonami block, resulting in the remaining episodes of Sailor Moon R making air, and opening the door for Sailor Moon S to debut in 1999.

People enjoy the fruit, cream and frosting filled pastries at breakfast, between meals and sometimes as a base for ice cream and pie related dishes.

And yet, Pop-Tarts have not been without their own controversies and urban legends.

One source of playful controversy seems to come from a few of their flavors. While most Pop-Tarts are delicious hot or cold, some flavors, such as grape, peanut butter, P.B.J. and pretzel have divided consumers.

Even more controversial flavors have been Jolly Rancher and A&W Root Beer, which angered some health groups, who never liked soda and candy being marketed as breakfast options for kids to begin with.

Another controversial flavor? Pizza.

Yes, pizza.

In 1971, Pop-Tarts experimented with a variation called Presto Pizza, which just like regular Pop-Tarts, could be toasted, microwaved or eaten cold, but it disappeared from shelves almost as quickly as it had debuted.

But the most controversial Pop-Tarts are the ones loaded with artificial flavors, food dyes and sugars, with the worst being high fructose corn syrup. These unhealthy ingredients are so terrible in fact, that most countries only sell a very limited selection of Pop-Tart flavors.

In Europe, the only flavors available are Chocotastic, Apple Blast and Strawberry Sensation, all three of which are frosted, which isn't just good news for those who love the crunchy sugar shells, but also good news for dieters, because for some unexplained reason, frosted Pop-Tarts are lower in calories than frosted.


A popular urban myth is that Pop-Tarts were originally marketed as dog food, and because of this rumor, many unfortunate dog owners have found themselves emergency rushing their pets to vets, after falling for the ruse and erroneously feeding their dogs the toaster pastries.

Under no circumstances should you ever feed a dog a Pop-Tart, as the ingredients humans enjoy in these treats are highly toxic to dogs.

The rumor comes from a conflated history of breakfast treats and packaging.

In the early 1960s, Post invented a special manufacturing process, in which moist food wouldn't dry out right away if it was kept in special foil pouches. They had successfully tested the method on a brand of dog food, and then they worked on using a similar process of human food, creating a toaster pastry.

Folks confuse the foil pouch dog food with Pop-Tarts because of this invention, but contrary to popular fiction, there is no Pop-Tart variety for dogs.

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Instead, we have toaster pastry theft.

In 1963, Post produced a detailed press release about their invention, Post Country Squares toaster pastries, but the pastries were not ready for manufacture right away. Post needed more time to perfect the recipe.

Kellogg's used this as a chance to steal the design, creating Pop-Tarts and getting them to market in 1964, shortly before Country Squares hit the market.

A combination of Kellogg's cutthroat advertising and Country Squares lower quality taste led Post to re-branding Country Squares as Toast'em Pop Ups and changing the recipe yet again.

Because of this, many people still believe that Toast'em Pop Ups is a cheap knock-off of Pop-Tarts, when in reality, it's the other way around.

In 1971, Post gave up the brand to the Schultz and Burch Biscuit Company, which expanded the line by the late 90s to seven flavors and started selling the treats not only in the same stores as Pop-Tarts, but also in lower income areas across America and Canada where Pop-Tarts are not always available.


Knock-off Pop Ups

While Pop-Tarts are a knock-off of Country Squares/Toast'em Pop Ups, many companies have tried to knock-off the knock-off with their own pastries.

Howard Johnson tried to get into the grocery aisles in the 1970s with their Corn Toasties, a cornbread-based treat that came in plain cornbread and fruit filling varieties.

Nabisco tried Sooper Kookies, a chocolate and chocolate-chip breakfast pastry that later inspired the chocolate chip flavor of Pop-Tarts.

Birds-Eye took a break from vegetables to offer European cultural appropriation with Danka, a pastry that was meant to be a fusion of French, Danish and German pastries, with the blatant misspelling of "Thank you/Danke" in German and an ad campaign that comes across as racist and misinformed.

In 1994, Pillsbury delighted with a frozen variety called Toaster Strudel, with advertising sometimes aimed at teenagers and tweens instead of just kids.

To combat the frozen treats, Kellogg's tried to fight back with Pastry Swirls, but this wasn't the only time it looked as though Kellogg's was fighting with their own Pop-Tart popularity.

Over the years, Kellogg's combated themselves with Danish Rings, the aforementioned Presto Pizza and Danish-Go-Rounds.

Quaker Oats produced Toastables while Nature's Path produced their own, organic varieties, aimed at jaded adults who are tired of artificial flavors, bright colors and deceptive marketing practices aimed at impulsive kids.


A Mascot That Keeps Popping Up

With the same colors as Hamburger Helper's Helping Hand, Milton, a white, sometimes pale silver toaster with red trim, debuted in the 1960s to help sell kids and moms on the idea that Pop-Tarts have "a lot of good" inside of them.

Kids were told that Pop-Tarts were the coolest way to have breakfast, while moms were coaxed into making Pop-Tarts a "wholesome" part of their children's breakfasts, because at the time, Pop-Tarts had as many as six whole vitamins, plus iron back in 1975, while the 2020s would see varieties with 7-8 vitamins depending on the flavor, along with a touch of protein and a few minerals.

Pop-Tarts on their own were so popular that Milton wasn't really needed, but while he doesn't always appear in TV ads, he never truthfully went away.

Milton pops up on all kinds of memorabilia, though since the late 1980s, his merchandise is mostly aimed at adult collectors.

Milton does have his own Funko Pop figure, a fitting line for such a popular breakfast treat.

As for the Pop-Tarts themselves? They have a merchandise line all to themselves, with everything from tiny figures to plush toys to apparel.

Despite the controversies that have popped up over time, Pop-Tarts remains a popular part of many Americans' daily routines.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Koriander Bullard

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