Ever wonder how foods we eat every day get their names? This week, we’ll dive into the origin stories of ketchup and Rocky Road ice cream with the help of Science Diction, a podcast from Johanna Mayer and Science Friday about the science stories behind everyday words.
Ketchup started as a far different product from what’s on the shelves today. It used to be a luxury product, with a rather fishy origin. And it caught the attention of an early government experiment known as The Poison Squad. Those developments led to the creation of modern ketchup, a completely different condiment.
The origins of Rocky Road ice cream are full of rumors and intrigue. Two companies both laid claim to the name. And it turns out, the name is worth fighting over: linguists have discovered that that particular name creates very specific, and delicious, associations in our brain. We’ll find out why, while trying to get the “scoop” on who really invented the flavor.
Music courtesy of Science Diction.
Photo courtesy of FDA.
DAN PASHMAN: In the early 1900s, there was a strange dining room in the basement of the Department of Agriculture. It had sparse white walls, white china, two round oak tables with white tablecloths, 12 straight-backed chairs. And propped up at the entrance, there was a hand-painted sign that said, "None but the brave can eat the fare". Every day, 12 young, healthy men would put on their suits and bow ties, march into that dining room, and dig into meals laced with borax or salicylic acid, or even formaldehyde. They were called The Poison Squad, and the meals that they ate in that basement dining hall would completely transform America's most iconic condiment, ketchup.
DAN PASHMAN: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. This week’s episode is a special collaboration with the podcast Science Diction. It’s a show about words and the science stories behind them. And they’re currently in the middle of a whole season about food words. Later on we’ll hear why the name Rocky Road actually makes that ice cream flavor taste better. But first, Ketchup.
DAN PASHMAN: One of my grandmothers was very short and she always told the story that for high school graduation her classmates got her a bottle of ketchup to encourage her to grow, to catch up. But I don’t think that’s where the word comes from. For the real story, I’ll turn it over to Science Diction host, Johanna Mayer.
JOHANNA MAYER: At the turn of the century, food regulation in the United States was just not a thing. Manufacturers were making all kinds of...substitutions, shall we call them, and you could never be completely sure why you were eating. Strawberry jam could be mashed up apple peels, grass seeds dyed red. And black pepper? That could be anything, bits of coconut shell, rope, a little bit of floor sweepings. And even if you were getting the food that was on the label, you didn't know what else was in it. Milk, for example.
JOHANNA MAYER: Yes, there was some actual milk in there, but milk producers would often cut it with lukewarm water. Sometimes they would even toss in a squirt of purified cow brains to make it look like there was a layer of cream on top. And if that wasn't bad enough, it was not unusual to spike milk with formaldehyde. They figured, hey, works on dead bodies. It'll probably keep milk from spoiling, too. As for ketchup, all sorts of trashy fillers were blended up in there, pumpkin rinds, apple trimmings, you name it.
JOHANNA MAYER: So this is the sorry state of food regulation when along came a man named Harvey Wiley. He was the chief chemist at the Agriculture Department. Wiley was absolutely devoted to food purity. He once told a reporter that he ate bread that was bread, meat that was meat, butter that was uncolored and unsalted. And Wiley was appalled at all of these stunts that these food makers were pulling, especially the preservatives. He wanted to show people just how bad they could be.
JOHANNA MAYER: So in 1901, he rounded up a group of volunteers, young, healthy men, mostly low paid clerks in the Agriculture Department, and he fed them three meals a day, good quality food, actually, roast beef, oysters. The catch was that half the time, they'd be getting the same meal, just with a little Borax or salicylic acid or whatever preservative they were testing that week.
JOHANNA MAYER: Wiley's crew quickly became something of a pop culture phenomenon. Newspapers called them The Poison Squad. They wrote all about these "healthy specimens of manhood who were sacrificing their own stomachs to protect the public." Someone wrote a song about them that oh so cleverly rhymed poison squad with gruesome wad. Believe me, we tried to find a surviving copy, but alas. These experiments were really just about food additives, getting the bad ones out. But they ended up having an unintended side effect. They forever changed ketchup. Americans eat $800 million worth of ketchup every year, hot dogs, burgers, french fries, eggs. In the U.S., we put that stuff on everything.
JOHANNA MAYER: Except ketchup, and the name itself, didn't come from the U.S. at all. It came from East Asia. And the original ketchup didn't include the one ingredient that we think of as the most integral, defining, essential thing that makes ketchup ketchup. It had no tomatoes. The original ketchup was fish sauce.
JOHANNA MAYER: It's a little murky precisely when and where ketchup as fish sauce came to be. And there's no single original ketchup mother sauce recipe. But we do know that for centuries, people have been making these fish sauces all over East and Southeast Asia, the kinds you'd probably associate with Thai and Vietnamese food. And one of the places that made these sauces was the Fujian province of China, where they speak a dialect called Hokkien. And in Hokkien, fish was [NON-ENGLISH]. Sauce was [NON-ENGLISH]. I needed a little bit of help with the pronunciation.
ALAN LI: I don't really know the offhand pronunciation because it's just not in use anymore.
JOHANNA MAYER: This is Alan Li, a linguist and a native Hokkien speaker. Even though the word for this fish sauce isn't around anymore, Alan gave it his best shot.
ALAN LI: I guess it's something like ketchup.
JOHANNA MAYER: Sound familiar? Fish sauce. Ketchup. Ketchup. Or catsup. Hokkien doesn't use the Roman alphabet, so English speakers just kind of guessed at how to spell it. Catsup and ketchup are two different versions of that. So theory goes the word started in Hokkien, and from there, the sauce and the word traveled.
ALAN LI: In Malay, it's [NON-ENGLISH], although in modern Malay, it generally refers to soy sauce. If you go to a supermarket in Malaysia or somewhere around here, you would see words like [NON-ENGLISH], which means salty, [NON-ENGLISH], ketchup, which is soy sauce. But you also have other variants like [NON-ENGLISH], which is the sweetened soy sauce, and [NON-ENGLISH], which is like fish sauce, literally, and that may have been its origin.
JOHANNA MAYER: So in Malay, ketchup can be kind of a soy sauce, sometimes fishy, sometimes kind of sweet, vaguely close to its roots. But here, how did fish sauce turn into a sugary tomato pulp? Well, from China, ketchup traveled the globe, and like a lot of borrowed foods, it changed beyond recognition. At some point British sailors bought it from Chinese merchants in Indonesia, brought it back to the Western world. Probably added a nice little kick to all that bland food they were eating on ships. But it was also an opportunity to sell and market the stuff back home as a fancy delicacy from overseas. And you know what happens when you have a fancy schmancy imported product-- knockoffs. The original fish sauce had this salty, tangy flavor and what we would call today umami. And when ketchup landed in Britain, they swapped a bunch of Western ingredients to give it a similar punch, just cheaper and more local.
JOHANNA MAYER: And let me tell you, it was nothing like the stuff that we did our fries into today. If you were to spoon a dollop of catch up onto your plate in mid-18th century Britain, you'd be looking at a dark, thin, runny sauce. Some versions of ketchup contain beer. Anchovies were a staple for a while. What made ketchup ketchup was the umami kick that all of those ingredients were trying to deliver, like the original fish sauce. And you know what else has umami? Tomatoes. So eventually, they threw those in, too. In 1812, we see our very first recorded tomato ketchup recipe. A horticulturist named James Mease instructed the ketchup cook to slice the tomatoes thinly, sprinkle on some salt, beat them well, and after a half hour simmer, top it all off with the dash of brandy and cloves. He called this his recipe for Love Apple Catsup. Yeah, they used to call tomatoes love apples. I kind of wish that name had stuck.
JOHANNA MAYER: By the time Harvey Wiley and the Poison Squad hit the scene, ketchup had very much arrived stateside. An article in 1896 called tomato ketchup "the national sauce of America". And the reporter is deeply enthralled with it, like weirdly. He wrote, "The skill of the French cook is surpassed in this instance. If he wants real tomato ketchup, he must buy it in America." And the ketchup business was good, but thanks to Harvey Wiley, manufacturers, like a lot of food manufacturers, were in a bit of a pickle. They needed to get their ketchup to customers without it spoiling. But here was this scientist making a big fuss about preservatives possibly poisoning people. And they were especially unhappy when you zeroed in on sodium benzoate.
JOHANNA MAYER: It seemed to them that this preservative was harmless enough. Sodium benzoate is the salt of sodium and benzoic acid. Now benzoic acid might sound scary, but it naturally occurs in cranberries and in some milk products, and the compound sodium benzoate seems like an ideal preservative. It was odorless, mostly tasteless, and it was cheap. But if you think Harvey Wiley is going to let this one slide, think again. If this preservative was going to fly, it had to pass The Poison Squad test, and it didn't. Every single member, save for one, had bad side effects—inflamed throats, stomach pain, weight loss. Only three out of the 12 were able to stick it out through the sodium benzoate experiments. The others got too sick, had to quit.
JOHANNA MAYER: But I don't want to throw sodium benzoate under the bus here because the dose makes the poison, right? The quantities of sodium benzoate that The Poison Squad were eating were way bigger than what you would find in a regular old squirted ketchup. And later tests by other researchers just didn't back up the Poison Squad's findings. To this day, the FDA considers sodium benzoate quite safe in small quantities. But even though sodium benzoate eventually got the green light, back at the turn of the century, one ketchup maker took note of Wiley's Poison Squad experiments, and he decided, if that's what it's doing to people, no way, not for my ketchup. You may have heard of him. His name was Henry J. Heinz.
JOHANNA MAYER: Heinz was a businessman through and through. At the tender age of eight, little Henry went door to door with a basket, peddling surplus from his family's garden. By age 10, he'd upgraded to a wheelbarrow. He grew up to look like the absolute classic vision of a 19th century wealthy white dude, wispy white hair, big old mustache, three-piece suit. And for a wealthy 19th century businessman, Henry Heinz was ahead of the curve. His employees got free life and death insurance. They had access to on site cafeterias and medical stations. There were even roof gardens at his factory. And Heinz staked his reputation on purity, cleanliness, and transparency. By cleanliness, I mean he had laundry services for his workers, even an in-house manicurist to keep their nails pristine. But the Heinz Company, like pretty much everybody else, had been using preservatives, sodium benzoate included. And when Henry Heinz heard about these Poison Squad experiments, he decided that these additives, they just didn't really vibe with his pure ketchup ethos.
JOHANNA MAYER: So here's Henry's challenge. How do you make a ketchup that stays fresh and red and is equally scrumptious, all without preservatives? Well, there's a concept in food preservation called hurdle technology. If you want to keep food from spoiling, you don't necessarily need one potent preservative in there. Instead, you throw up a bunch of little hurdles, each of which make it tough for microbes to live there. Like you make food more acidic, boil it, reduce water activity by adding lots of salt or sugar. Each of these hurdles on their own won't be enough, but all of them together, that's too much for a little microbe. Hurdle technology is a relatively new term, but even without knowing it, people have been using this combination punch approach for centuries. And that's basically what Heinz Ketchup was doing. After a whole lot of testing, thousands of experimental batches, Heinz Company scientists came up with a brand new recipe with a lot more vinegar to boost the acidity and plenty of salt and sugar. And there was one more thing.
CLIP (CHILD): Your ketchup's coming out a lot smoother than ours does.
JOHANNA MAYER: You might remember Heinz "Anticipation" ads. The ketchup comes out so slow because it's so thick. But it's worth the wait.
[MUSIC - "ANTICIPATION"]
JOHANNA MAYER: Heinz's secret to making thick, slow-moving ketchup was to use fresh, ripe tomatoes. Most manufacturers used unripened ones. Definitely more expensive, but besides sounding more appetizing, fresh tomatoes had more pectins, which are long chains of carbohydrates that help gel food. So whereas ketchups could be kind of runny, Heinz was thick with pectins. Mmm. Once Heinz reformulated, they launched a major advertising campaign touting their ketchup as pure and wholesome. I think of ketchup as just about the most non-fresh, indestructible condiment that could survive the apocalypse just sitting in my refrigerator. But whatever Heinz was doing, people seemed to dig it. In just a couple of years, they went from selling five million bottles a year to 12 million. And although a lot of ketchup brands, honestly, taste pretty much the same these days, Heinz still dominates.
JOHANNA MAYER: So here is this thing that so many of us eat every single day that farts out of squeeze bottles and doubles as fake blood and is sometimes confused for a vegetable, a condiment as American as diners and fast food that started off in East Asia and used to be fish sauce. Ketchup. So remember that song that I mentioned earlier that rhymed poison squad with gruesome wad? It's called Song of the Poison Squad, and it was written by someone named SW Gillian. We just couldn't let the world exist without a copy, so here you go.
[MUSIC - "Song of the Poison Squad"]
[LYRICS] Oh, we're the merriest herd of hulks that the world has ever seen, we don't shy off from your rough on rats or even from Paris green. We're on the hunt for a toxic dope that's certain to kill, sans fail, but 'tis a tricky, elusive thing and knows we're on its trail. For all the things that could kill we've downed many a gruesome wad, and we're still gaining a pound a day, for we are The Poison Squad.
DAN PASHMAN: So that’s the story of ketchup. Coming up?
CLIP (MAN): Rocky Road? Hehe.
DAN PASHMAN: Who came up with the name of this iconic ice cream flavor? That turns out to be a subject of much debate. Johanna looks into it, and explores the science of why certain words make foods taste better. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
DAN PASHMAN: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. You gotta make sure you check out last week's show with the one and only Guy Fieri.
CLIP (GUY FIERI): I like your questions because your questions aren't the same bullshit.
DAN PASHMAN: Ever since he was 10, when he ran his own pretzel cart, Guy has been building food businesses. He tells me about learning to enjoy success, and what people don’t get about him.
CLIP (GUY FIERI): I think everybody thinks that I live on a yacht that shoots off rockets at midnight, every night.
DAN PASHMAN: That episode is up now, get it wherever you got this one. Ok, back to the show. Now, reasonable people can disagree over what ice cream flavor is best. I could never pick just one. I mean, it really depends on more factors than I have time to list right now. But I think one ice cream flavor name does reigns supreme: Rocky Road. For the story of that name, here again is Science Diction’s Johanna Mayer.
JOHANNA MAYER: A few years ago, Alissa Greenberg was sharing an ice cream sundae with some friends at Fentons Creamery in Oakland, California.
ALISSA GREENBERG: They have the kind of sundaes that are dripping down the sides and are covered in fudge and whipped cream and that are almost obscene.
JOHANNA MAYER: Fentons is an Oakland institution, leans really hard into the nostalgia factor-- vinyl booths, an old-fashioned soda fountain, black and white photos hanging on the wall. So Alissa picked up the menu.
ALISSA GREENBERG: And on the little blurb in the back of the menu for Fentons, it says, "The birthplace of Rocky Road. Rocky Road was invented here." And I was like, wait, what?
JOHANNA MAYER: The Rocky Road, chocolate ice cream, nuts, mini marshmallows. Inventing this American classic? Truly a claim to fame.
ALISSA GREENBERG: And then I googled it. And Google said that Dreyer's invented Rocky Road. And I was like, oh, the game is afoot.
JOHANNA MAYER: So it's Dreyer's, this major ice cream brand now owned by Nestle, versus little Fentons Creamery, both claiming that they were the ones who invented Rocky Road. And I get why companies would want to claim Rocky Road as their own. It's not just the flavor, because anyone could take nuts, chocolate, and marshmallows, throw them all together in an ice cream, and call it Muddy Street or Poorly Paved Driveway. But it probably wouldn't inspire the same devotion. There's something about that name, Rocky Road. It is just that good. Both Fentons and Dreyer's have pretty straightforward stories for how they invented Rocky Road. In Dreyer's' version, it was William Dreyer himself who, one day in 1929, decided to make an ice cream with nuts, chocolate, and marshmallows.
ALISSA GREENBERG: But at the time, marshmallows did not yet come in small versions.
JOHANNA MAYER: They came in sheets.
ALISSA GREENBERG: So he took his wife's pinking shears and cut the marshmallows into four pieces, and then stuffed them in the ice cream. And ta-da! Rocky Road was born.
JOHANNA MAYER: Dreyer says the name was meant to, "Give folks something to smile about in the face of the Great Depression." According to Fentons, it was a candy maker on staff who came up with it. Story goes, one day he was making a candy bar with, you guessed it, nuts, chocolate, and marshmallows.
ALISSA GREENBERG: And he was like, you know what would be a great idea, is if I put this candy bar in the ice cream. And he did it and it was a hit. And the end. The rest is history.
JOHANNA MAYER: For over two years, Alissa tried to find out whose story was true. She turned up an alleged confession, a denial of that confession, just a whole lot of ice cream-fueled drama. More on that from Alissa later, because it turns out that people have a lot of feelings about Rocky Road.
[MUSIC- WEIRD AL, "I LOVE ROCKY ROAD"]
JOHANNA MAYER: Would Weird Al do a tribute to vanilla? No, because vanilla is the definition of boring. And it has a boring name to go with it. But Rocky Road sounds fun, playful, even somehow delicious, which it shouldn't! Is a road with rocks in it.
JOHANNA MAYER: But when it comes to food names, it's not just what the word means. It's how it sounds. It's something that linguists and food marketing types seem to understand very well.
DAN JURAFSKY: I was at my little grocery store here in San Francisco in my little neighborhood of Bernal Heights.
JOHANNA MAYER: Dan Jurafsky is a linguist. He wrote a book called The Language of Food.
DAN JURAFSKY: And I was just scanning the cracker aisle. And I noticed that every single cracker name had an "ih" in it. And I was like, something's going on here. So I started really from the cracker side. And I thought, well, what's the opposite of crackers? Well, that would be ice cream.
JOHANNA MAYER: Dan decided to run a little experiment. He went online, downloaded 81 ice cream flavors from brands like Ben and Jerry's and Haagen-Dazs. Then he went to a diet website, downloaded 600 cracker brand names. And he noticed a pattern. It had to do with the vowels.
DAN JURAFSKY: And I just counted how many of these ice creams versus crackers, which one had more front vowels like "ee" or "ih," and which one had more back vowels like "oo" or "ah." And there was a striking difference.
JOHANNA MAYER: Alright, so front vowels-- the "ee" in cheese, the "ih" in mint. Feel how your tongue moves when you make those sounds. You're kind of lifting it toward the front of your mouth. Cheese. Mint. Now say chocolate. Mousse. Those words are full of back vowels. Pay attention to your tongue again. Chocolate. Mousse. This time it's pulled more towards the back. Dan discovered that the cracker names had nearly all front vowels full of "ee"s and "ih"s.
DAN JURAFSKY: So that's your Cheez-Its and Wheat Thins and Crispy Triscuit Crisps and Chicken in a Biskit.
JOHANNA MAYER: But the ice creams?
DAN JURAFSKY: That's your back vowels. That's your Jamocha Almond Fudge, your Chocolate, your Caramel, your Cookie Dough, your Coconut, and your Rocky Road.
JOHANNA MAYER: So why would marketers choose to give back vowels to ice cream names and front vowels to crackers? Well, people seem to have these vowel-taste associations in their brains.
DAN JURAFSKY: You present people with hypothetical ice creams either named like Frish or Frosh and you see which one people like better. And they all seem to like the "o" one better than the "ih" one for ice creams.
JOHANNA MAYER: So Dan thinks we have this association. Back vowels-- rich, creamy, perfect for ice cream. Front vowels-- light and airy, just like crackers. Researchers have turned up all kinds of weird associations like this, that lemonade named Beelad sounds more bitter than one named Bolad, or that words with "z" just sound like they taste kind of bad, according to some studies, anyway. This phenomenon, it's called sound symbolism, where particular sounds conjure up particular meanings. And it doesn't just happen with sound and taste. It can happen with sound and vision.
JOHANNA MAYER: The most famous case is called the Bouba-Kiki Effect, discovered by a psychologist in the '20s. So when you show people two different shapes, one blobby and amoeba-like, the other kind of spiky, sort of like the pow symbol in cartoons, and then you ask them to say which one of those two shapes is bouba and which one is kiki, upwards of 98% of people will say that the blobby one is bouba and the spiky one is kiki. The results are astonishingly consistent, even across languages.
JOHANNA MAYER: We're not sure why our brains make these kinds of connections. Maybe we all have a little bit of synesthesia, that neurological phenomenon where the lines between our senses become kind of blurry, like some people see musical notes as colors. But whatever the reason, our brains do this kind of thing pretty often. So do companies think about sound symbolism when coming up with enticing product names? Absolutely. They can help but.
WILL LEBEN: It has totally ruined my ability to look at names in the way that a normal person does.
JOHANNA MAYER: I talked to Will Leben. He used to teach linguistics at Stanford. He's also the former Director of Linguistics at a company called Lexicon Branding. And Will's company is responsible for some of the biggest household names-- Blackberry, Febreze, Swiffer.
WILL LEBEN: So you know what, Swiffer is a sweeping product.
JOHANNA MAYER: I am very familiar with Swiffer.
WILL LEBEN: Just think about the sounds of it.
JOHANNA MAYER: First, Swiffer sounds like sweeping. Swiff, swiff, swiff. If you swapped out the F for, say, a V?
WILL LEBEN: It doesn't work, OK? It just has the wrong sound for the name.
JOHANNA MAYER: Swivver? Yeah, no. That is not going to clean my floors. Or you know Dasani Water? Lexicon Branding named that, too. And they chose that in part because it just sounds relaxing.
WILL LEBEN: N is just totally smooth. N's one of the smoothest sounds in the language.
JOHANNA MAYER: Will and I talked about all kinds of sounds-- zippy sounds, daring sounds, sounds that are luxurious, and sounds that are somehow insecure. And I had to know, what did Will think of the name Rocky Road?
WILL LEBEN: Rocky Road's a really amazing name for a bunch of reasons.
JOHANNA MAYER: First, those creamy back vowels. Then there's the hard "k" interrupting the flow.
WILL LEBEN: It almost sounds like a bump in the road. It's rocky.
JOHANNA MAYER: And road sounds smooth. So those two words together capture that combination of crunchy nuts and smooth, creamy base.
WILL LEBEN: So it shows really, well, they were daring, that they made a choice that caught on very quickly and has lasted almost a century.
JOHANNA MAYER: But who was this daring genius? Alissa Greenberg was determined to get to the bottom of these two competing claims. Who invented Rocky Road? Was it Fentons, the beloved Oakland creamery? Or was it Dreyer's, the beloved corporate ice cream behemoth? Which one was the marketing genius who came up with this mouthwatering name? Well, it was neither of them.
JOHANNA MAYER: Remember Fentons' story was that their in-house candy maker invented it by basically sticking a candy bar in ice cream? That candy bar was called Rocky Road. You can still buy it today. It's made by a company called Annabelle's. And they say that their founder invented it as early as 1918. Annabelle's, by the way, seems to be steering totally clear of this whole ice cream drama.
ALISSA GREENBERG: I think they're just like, whatever. You guys do whatever you need to do. Well just be over here making delicious candy bars.
JOHANNA MAYER: And you know what? I'm not so sure they can claim the name Rocky Road either because in Australia, there's a popular dessert also called Rocky Road. It's a chocolate bark with nuts and marshmallows. And according to completely unverified internet lore, Australians invented it in 1853.
JOHANNA MAYER: So really, neither Fentons nor Dreyer's can claim credit for the name Rocky Road. But Rocky Road ice cream was admittedly a pretty brilliant invention. At the time, ice cream just came in three old flavors-- vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry. Might seem obvious in retrospect, but back then, throwing in crunchy, chocolaty, gooey bits? Truly a stroke of genius. And Alissa Greenberg really, really wanted to find out just whose genius it was. The two alleged inventors were long gone, and tracking down an original, dated, forensically authenticated recipe from the '20s just didn't quite pan out. Investigative ice cream journalism is just woefully underfunded. But she forged ahead. And in her research, it seemed that all roads led to a guy named Ken Cook, who became president of Dreyer's. A Pretty flashy fellow.
ALISSA GREENBERG: Italian suits, alligator shoes, a miniature golf course in his backyard that he named after Rocky Road, and a Cadillac with a vanity plate that read, RCYRD.
JOHANNA MAYER: And the story goes that one day, Cook decided to share something with the guy who now owns Fentons, Scott Whidden.
ALISSA GREENBERG: Whidden says that Cook came to him and said—again, all alleged—Fentons invented Rocky Road. And I capitalized on it in our marketing because Fentons was not capitalizing.
JOHANNA MAYER: Which sounds like an astounding confession, that Dreyer's did steal credit for this legendary ice cream. But Whidden himself doesn't actually see it that way. He was great friends with Ken Cook. Way he sees it, Cook was just a showman telling a good story, even if that story happened to be untrue. Cook died in 1991, so he can neither confirm nor deny. But when Alissa asked some former Dreyer's employees about this, not a great reaction. When she called up one guy?
ALISSA GREENBERG: He said, "He's full of [BLEEP]." He said, "I knew Ken Cook as well as anyone in his career. And he had too much respect for Bill Dreyer to do something like that," basically. And then not long after that, he hung up the phone on me. Yeah, he was not pleased.
JOHANNA MAYER: And that was it. Alissa never got her answer. Maybe she just didn't care enough, because Rocky Road? She doesn't get it.
ALISSA GREENBERG: I mean, it is good. I guess I don't love nuts in ice cream. I think I love a good sort of ripple more than like....
JOHANNA MAYER: What? Alissa, are you not hearing that irresistible combination of creamy back vowels, crunchy Ks, and playful alliteration? Rocky Road is scientifically, linguistically delicious.
[MUSIC - WEIRD AL, "I LOVE ROCKY ROAD"]
JOHANNA MAYER: See? He gets it.
[MUSIC - WEIRD AL, "I LOVE ROCKY ROAD"]
[LYRICS] There’s just one flavor good enough for me yeah me. Don’t give me no crummy taste spoon I know what I need, baby I love rocky road, so won’t you go and buy half a gallon baby, I love rocky road, so have another triple scoop with me.
DAN PASHMAN: That’s Johanna Mayer, host of the podcast Science Diction. Remember they’re doing a whole season on food words and the science stories behind them. They’ve got a new one up now about Umami, and a bunch of other great episodes that go beyond food. It’s made by the same folks who make the excellent radio show and podcast Science Friday. So check out Science Diction wherever you get your podcasts. One final note from me: Years ago I had Weird Al here on the show. And I asked him about one key line in this song.
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Chocolate's getting old and vanilla just leaves me cold. Do you stand by those lyrics today?
CLIP (WEIRD AL): No. Not everything I write is autobiographical. In fact, I like Rocky Road. I wouldn't go as far to say that I love it. I don't think I actually had Rocky Road Ice Cream since 1982 or 83, when the song came out. And as part of the promotion for that song I have to participate in so many Rocky Road ice cream eating contests, that I think I've gotten my lifetime's share of Rocky Road ice cream.
[WEIRD AL, "I LOVE ROCKY ROAD"]
DAN PASHMAN: Want to see a pic of the apple crisp pie that Janie and I housed last week? Want to see the brunch spread I put together for the family? Want to see the house in my town that has a giant flag flying in front that simply reads “TACOS?” You gotta be following me on Instagram! That’s where all those pics, and videos and stories, can be found. Follow me on Instagram now, @TheSporkful. Please remember to check out last week’s show with the one and only Guy Fieri, it was a really great conversation, you don’t hear Guy talk like this very often. It’s up now. My thanks to Johanna Mayer and everyone at Science Diction -- Elah Feder, Nathan Tobey, Daniel Peterschmidt, Michelle Harris, Danya Abdel Hameid, and Chris Wood.