A penthouse apartment on New York’s upper westside sometime in early 1966, one of my first Manhattan parties, a Louisiana kid not long out of high school gawking at hip, sophisticated New Yorkers and sipping on vodka and Seven Up. Most of the people there were in the television industry, either the creative or business end and my own entry card through a friend who wrote news for one of the network programs. I was introduced to a commercial producer working at Benton & Bowles, one of the bigger advertising agencies, entertaining the three or four standing around him with a story about the brand new product he was currently producing a commercial for. It was something called Cool Whip, and in a stage whisper audible around the room he announced that it was a faux whipped cream made from the thick black liquid distilled from wood or coal—in other words, tar.
I’d like to think that like me, others in the room also took his descriptions with a grain of salt. It was too hard to imagine whipped cream-like puffs of white coming from a pitch black goo associated with road construction. This was at a time before a list of ingredients was mandatory, days when the general public didn’t pay much attention to those details, but hearing of the connection between a dessert topping and tar was a little scary.
Cool Whip came out the freezer-oriented Birds Eye division at General Foods, invented in 1966 by a food chemist named William A. Mitchell. It was developed as an almost completely nondairy dessert topping, one that could be frozen for transport across the country. By 1967 it was in grocer’s aisles across the country, quickly becoming popular with shoppers. Offered in big plastic tubs as well as an eight ounce container, within three months, Cool Whip was number one in the US whipped-topping market. Several years later the rights to manufacture Cool Whip were transferred to Kraft Foods. Sales of the topping gained momentum during the 1970s when commercials featuring Marge Redmond began to appear. In the commercials Redmond played the kindly ‘Mrs Tucker’ who ran a bed-and-breakfast that served guests Cool Whip on her homemade desserts.
Product popularity does little to sway some consumers who worry about food with a list of ingredients like Cool Whip. A 2007 article in Wired Magazine gave readers a not so pretty picture of just what makes up the well-known whipped topping. They began by calling it ‘a delicious blend of sugar, wax and condom lube.’ The main ingredient in Cool Whip is water, but being a whipped product it contains a high percentage of air. Corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, basically sugar by another name are big ingredients, along with hydrogenated coconut and palm kernel oil, added to give the topping a whipped cream feel in the mouth. Then there is Polysorbate 60, a major ingredient in sexual lubricants and Sorbitan Monostearate the ingredient that keeps the topping solid, but one also used sometimes as a hemorrhoid cream. There are also the Guar Gums and Xanthan for thickening and the Sodium Caseinate to help oil and water mix. Even though the Sorbitan Monostearate is there to keep the Cool Whip from liquifying, the topping will melt if the temperature reaches 253° Fahrenheit, or if it is placed in the microwave on high for 35 seconds.
It may be a delicious dessert topping, but some have devised out of the ordinary uses for Cool Whip. There are those who use it to shine shoes, as well the leaves of plants. Others have found it to be excellent for easing sunburn pain. Hard to understand the idea behind rubbing Cool Whip in the hair, leaving it on for thirty minutes, then rinsing and shampooing as usual, but some do. Some women have found it excellent for removing make up, and more than a few men use it as shaving cream.