Top Secret Recipes
June 26, 2000 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Top Secret Recipes is a site that aims to reveal the secrets of almost any popular restaurant's items. They have McDonalds Shakes, Orange Julius, Hot Dog on a Stick (complete with video), and Girl Scout Cookie Thin Mints. Oh my god, they actually reverse-engineered McDonalds' Secret Sauce. Be careful with the knowledge of that last one, you could be killed just for possessing it. If food is considered a restaurant's intellectual property, how does this site continue without being sued silly?
posted by mathowie (22 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
TGI Friday's is discontinuing my favorite menu item (Chop House Salmon), so I checked this site for the most unique component: Balsamic Caramelized Onions. No luck, although it did claim to have their Jack Daniel's Sauce.
posted by harmful at 12:28 PM on June 26, 2000

Probably because the Digital Millennium Copyright Act doesn't apply to food, Matt. These recipies are generally trade secrets, and sensible, offline IP law means that once a trade secret has been let loose, it's not a secret any more. The recipie for Coke is a trade secret; if someone sprung it loose and gave it to you, you'd have every right to publish it or make your own based on that recipie. (If Coke had patented their recipie, the patent would have expired over fifty years ago, and the generic brand soda I get at Safeway would taste just like Coke, instead of mostly like Coke. You can't trademark a taste.)

This site sounds similar to the fun book Big Secrets and its assorted sequels. One of the books figured out what the secret herbs and spices in Kentucky Fried Chicken was (salt, pepper, and MSG, apparently).

posted by snarkout at 12:32 PM on June 26, 2000

maybe the restaurants (and whoever else) aren't too worried about people going to all the trouble of recreating supposedly secret recipes in their own homes when they could drive a few blocks, pay a few bucks, and pick up the real thing instead. doesn't the fast food industry count on human laziness to keep it in business anyway?

besides, I've been making my own version of orange julius for years. unless someone can prove that the secret recipes site somehow obtained *actual* recipes, which I don't think they did, there's not much ground for legal recourse. or can you sue someone for an approximation?
posted by rabi at 12:35 PM on June 26, 2000

Good grief. No soup for you!
posted by harmful at 12:43 PM on June 26, 2000

This has been done before, in a book called "Big Secrets".

Both of them took on the Big Mac sauce and I'm quite certain they both got it wrong, because to me it tastes like there's a bit of mild horseradish in the sauce and neither of them mentioned it.

What it comes down to is that they're just guessing. They didn't steal any trade secret, they're just speculating about what it might be. There's nothing illegal about that.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 12:44 PM on June 26, 2000

I actually own the first book in this series (have for quite a while) and I can tell you that my experience with the Twinkie recipe indicates that they aren't all exact matches. Actually, my understanding is that you can't patent a recipe (although you can protect the formatting, as in a cookbook or something) which may account for the secrecy surrounding things like the Coke recipe (said to have been spilled several different times - with several different recipes - which don't taste like Coke) or the KFC recipe. I have one of the Big Secrets books too... I don't remember which one, but it has Freemasons and Scientologists in it.
posted by CrazyUncleJoe at 12:48 PM on June 26, 2000

what're you talking about coke is a trade secret? have you ever looked at the ingredients? now if only I can find some xanthan gum...
posted by starduck at 1:38 PM on June 26, 2000

Geez starduck, it's not like Xanthan Gum is hard to find.
posted by plinth at 2:07 PM on June 26, 2000

Starduck, good luck finding a value pack of "Artificial Flavors." The key question is what flavors. It's easier than it might have been, of course, since Coke doesn't have cocaine in it any more.
posted by snarkout at 2:36 PM on June 26, 2000

I think that this says it all: "Xanthan contributes to pleasing mouth-feel."

posted by feckless at 2:40 PM on June 26, 2000

Just knowing the ingredients doesn't mean you know the recipe- so don't rush out to buy that xanthan gum just yet.
posted by dogwelder at 3:13 PM on June 26, 2000

Completely bogus. In the particular case of the milkshakes, McDonald's uses a translucent liquid thickening agent (presumably organic) that the "top secret recipe" fails to mention. I know this because it's the same stuff used to make the aliens slimy in the Alien movies -- no joke. Lots of industrial food additives find their way into filmmaking. Not just the ketchup of yore and apocrypha.
posted by highindustrial at 3:59 PM on June 26, 2000

"Use of saccharin in this product may be hazardous to your health. This ingredient has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals"

needless to say i'm not a big diet coke (R) fan

the main 'nasty' in the mcdonalds thickshake is carrageenan, its some sort of seaweed protein (i think), and it falls into the 'cant prove its harmful to humans, cant prove it isn't' category of food stuffs

its all here in black and white (and pdf)

posted by sawks at 5:47 PM on June 26, 2000

"Cola" flavor does not derive from the cola bean; in fact, there is vanishingly small amounts of cola bean extract in Coke. Coca leaves contribute even less.

The general flavorings that actually matter are well known in the industry, which is why competitive products can be made which taste very similar.

It turns out that "cola" is what food engineers refer to as a "fugue", which is a mixture of flavors which, in proper relative concentration, taste like something else entirely and not like any of the primary components. Most people don't know what they actually are, but I'll reveal them here:

Cola == vanilla + cinnamon + citrus
plus sweetness

"citrus" is a mix of oils from the peels of several different citrus fruits, most prominently lemon. (This is distinct from the juice, which is an entirely different flavor and not used here.)

Once you know this, if you concentrate while tasting the stuff, you can actually pick out all three. In particular, I find it easy to pick out the cinnamon.

By the way, "Root beer" is the same kind of thing only there are just two flavors involved.

One is wintergreen, and I'm pretty sure that the other is vanilla but I'm not certain.

Of course, in both cases they use vanillan (synthetic) instead of vanilla (natural) because it tastes just the same but costs about a tenth as much and the supply is more reliable.

On the other hand, there are beverages whose flavors are the result of up to hundreds of different components all mixed together, with the ratios being extremely critical. The canonical example of this is claret. There's been an enormous amount of basic research so far into just what it is that differentiates vin ordinaire from vin sp├ęcial (pardon my french), because everyone would love to know what the difference is so they can raise the quality of their wine. The commercial value of such knowledge is almost incalculable. Unfortunately, progress has been very, very slow. But they have learned a lot, and over the course of the last forty years, clarets from California have gradually improved to the point where they achieved world class about twenty years ago. And now in blind taste tests, a fine claret from California is as likely as not to defeat the best French wines.

Using gas spectrometers they have identified literally hundreds of different chemicals as part of the flavor of a fine Cabernet (yum!).

One of the difficulties is that most of taste is smell, and our senses of smell turn out to be by far the most complicated senses we have. There's only one kind of nerve involved in implementing hearing; there are but three in sight (B/W and two colors corresponding to electric green and electric pink).

Touch involves six (hot, cold, rough, light pressure, heavy pressure, sharp and I can't remember the last one), taste (as such, discounting the effects of our noses) appears to involve five (sweet, salt, sour, bitter, and recently discovered fat).

But it's been determined that there may be as many as a thousand different specific sensors involved in our senses of smell, and that may even be an underestimate. When you take a sip of wine, vapors rise up your throat and into your nose, and that's where most of the experience lies. How many hundreds of different sensors are all going off simultaneously to express the true flavor of a fine wine from Mondavi?

[Sorry for getting geeky. I see I've wandered more than a bit.]
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:15 PM on June 26, 2000 [2 favorites]

I thought the fifth taste was umami, or savory, which responds pretty well to MSG or the natural equivalent found in tomatoes and meat. I could be wrong.
posted by daveadams at 8:11 PM on June 26, 2000

Actually, this is fascinating, as I never tend to think about what I'm actually eating while I'm eating it, or what the processes that make up "tasting" are.

However, I think Coke should release the Freud Memorial Centennial version of their beverage, with that added "pep" thrown in for good measure.
posted by solistrato at 8:13 PM on June 26, 2000 [1 favorite]

They've been working for a long time on trying to develop a fat substitute for food, which could be mixed into fake icecream and chocolate and equivalent things which would have all the texture and flavor of fat without actually being fattening.

The problem they've had is that none of them actually tasted right. Finally someone did some research and found out that we actually have a fat sensor in our tongues. (I may have this wrong; I got this story from a friend of mine, so in fact it may be an urban legend.) So Dave, you could be right after all.

In the meantime, don't ever eat those fat-free potato chips you've seen advertised, because whatever it is that they're using instead of fat to process them stays in your gut and gives you the runs; it's sort of like making brownies using mineral oil. (Come to think of it, I haven't seen an ad for those chips for a long time.)

posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:36 PM on June 26, 2000

i have a book that's similar to "big secrets" that explains coke and pepsi. coke is orange based and pepsi is lemon and that's why they taste different.

going off on a tangent, i think coke is IT and i can't believe those pepsi commercials when they do the blind taste test and people choose pepsi. in this day and age is there anyone who can't tell the difference? do they think we're morons? even if you like pepsi better than coke, there *is* a marked difference in flavors.
posted by centrs at 1:00 AM on June 27, 2000

Steven, could I encourage you to be a geek more often?

Your post on food and the senses was the most fascinating thing I've read for a while. Keep it coming. :)
posted by Georgina at 4:00 AM on June 27, 2000

Dave's right: umami is the Japanese word for the taste. The Japanese have known about it since 1908, and the receptor was recently identified. "Savory" and "meaty" are decent approximations, but my friends and I call it "tastiness flavor." It's also noticeable in good parmesean cheese.
posted by snarkout at 11:47 AM on June 27, 2000

Along the same lines as Steven's post, sometime when you get to mix your own soda, try mixing equal parts Root Beer and Orange Soda. When I first tried this I thought I had one of those ice cream bars with the funny orange coating. It is a somewhat unique taste, not quite what you'd expext from the mixture of the two.
posted by mutagen at 12:04 PM on June 27, 2000

This post *definitely* gets the award for coolest thread of the week. And, as propinquity always works, I would have had no idea I'd be interested. One vote against *too* much customizability.

The flavoring is called 'Merchandise 99X', if my memory (from _The Real Coke, The Real Story_, a book about the New Coke fiasco) serves me correctly.
posted by baylink at 8:37 PM on June 28, 2000

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