Texas Primer: Big Red

It’s caffeinated, carbonated, and sickly sweet. And that’s not all that’s good about it.

Drinking Big Red soda pop is as much a part of growing up in Texas as souvenir chameleons at the State Fair, the first dip in the Gulf of Mexico, or a visit to the Alamo. I was twelve when I had my first sip, almost too old to fully appreciate the candy-flavored, carbonated sensation gurgling in the back of my throat. I had walked barefoot to Brooks’ Drugstore, my neighborhood hangout in Fort Worth, gingerly avoiding tar spots simmering in the street on a hot August afternoon. Once I was inside, my eyes were drawn to the refrigerated cooler that contained some bottles of the reddest liquid I had ever seen, a red like the color of a fire engine speeding through hell but more intense. I sampled one, and it even tasted red—not like the cherry, raspberry, or strawberry flavor I expected but something like liquid bubble-gum. I had stumbled on the secret of Big Red: It’s a flavor you can’t quite put your finger on, shrouded in mystery, sweet to the point of overkill, and addictive enough to make you crave another. Many years later I cut through the romanticism of that first gulp to discover that the flavor is actually a combination of lemon and orange oils, topped off by a dollop of pure vanilla for a creamy aftertaste. The red is nothing more than FD&C red 40 food color. But the drink’s


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