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Little White Lab Rat: The Postum Showdown

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 18, 2013

A long post about a trivial subject. What do I think this is, anyway? The Bloggernacle?

Little White Lab Rat has returned! I, your intrepid guide to Mormon cookery of the past, have recovered from a series of rather unfortunate recipes, and am here to bring you most welcome news.

Postum is back!

This Word of Wisdom-friendly hot drink, a 20th century Mormon staple, marketed as “The Truly Soothing Hot Beverage. Ease into your day with POSTUM – made from a special blend of roasted grains, POSTUM is a delicious, naturally caffeine-free alternative to coffee or tea,” disappeared from grocery shelves six years ago, leaving fans bidding atrocious amounts for leftover half-bottles on eBay, and unhappily testing and rejecting the available alternatives. But it is back!

Or … is it?

When I saw the recent Deseret News article, I scurried down the icy sidewalks to my grocery store, at great risk to my graceful pink tail and my elegantly pointed and bewhiskered nose, anticipating the all but forgotten pleasures of a cup of Postum and a piece of toast for a late supper. Alas! My local store, the only one within walking distance, carried approximately 17,318 varieties of coffee, tea, and cocoa, but no Postum.

I took my disappointment to the airwaves (well, to the pixels of Facebook). Friend Arleigh sought to assuage my grief by bringing me a sample of Roma, an alternative, and quite tasty, but not the familiar drink shared so many mornings or evenings with my mother. But then Friend Diana found the real thing – or what claimed to be the real thing – in another store, and rushed to bring me a bottle on Wednesday. I paused long enough in my haste to sample this new Postum to take a photo of my first cup:

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That first cup of Postum took me by surprise. It did not taste the way I expected it to. It was … sweet … very sweet … for one thing, and the flavor seemed to be drowned to nothing after I added the milk that had been a standard part of my well-remembered Postum ritual. But maybe I was so out of practice that I had misjudged the proportions of Postum, sugar, and milk.

I tried again on Thursday morning. And again on Thursday evening. And finally I had a cup that seemed almost – but not quite – right: Three times the recommended amount of Postum, no sugar, and a very little bit of milk for the smooth mouth feel.

But I was puzzled. Despite the claim on the bottle’s label that this was “original,” it is most definitely, certainly, absolutely, NOT the same drink as my old beloved Postum. Not only was it sweeter than I remembered, it was a more reddish color, and its dry texture was different, less granular, more, well, “fluffy.”

This morning, between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. when I could not sleep – but not for fretting over the Postum question, I assure you – I decided to stage a showdown between this new Postum and … cue music … my last, hoarded, partial bottle of Postum stashed in my cupboard since 2007. Yes, I was one of those, hanging on to this bottle as a relic. I hadn’t made a single cup since learning that Kraft had ceased to make Postum, at first because I wanted to ration it, and later because, well, because I feared it would be too stale or rancid to drink safely.

But in my role as the fearless Little White Lab Rat, I would, at last, make and drink a cup of the really truly authentic Postum to compare to the new stuff.

An aside:

When I shared my glee on FB, BCC’s John C mocked me – mocked me, I say! – with the comment, “That tea set strikes me as way too fancy for Postum” to which I responded, “I’m not so fancy that I can have multiple sets of china to suit the formality of my beverages.”

That, dear readers, was a lie, now about to be exposed to my shame. As will be seen below, I am so fancy as to possess more than one set of china. In my defense, how could I not have assembled the set of china used below, when every piece of this set – a pattern issued only for ten years, with my birth year smack in the middle of that time – has this mark on the bottom? I ask you, how could I not have hunted out such a set for my very own?

Back to the important matters at hand –

Here are the two bottles, new Postum on the left, historic Postum on the right. Oddly, both claim to contain 8 oz. (227g for the new, 226g for the old), yet the new bottle is both shorter and of smaller circumference than the old. You’ll note that both claim to be “Original” – the classic product was offered in two varieties, its original formula and coffee flavor, explaining the “original” on that bottle. Since the new Postum is available in only one variety, I have to think that its “original” is a claim to being the restoration of the classic product.

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The ingredient list on both bottles is identical: “Wheat Bran, Wheat, Molasses, Maltodextrin (from Corn).” Same instructions for making. The old product has 3g of carbs per serving, the new stuff 2g.

Here’s a side-by-side sample of the dry product (in this post, the new is always on the left, the old on the right). The color and texture differences are visible.

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I made each sample according to the bottle directions, with one teaspoon (rounded) of Postum – as nearly identical as I could measure.

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And I added 8 oz. of hot water to each cup, and stirred. I did not add sugar or milk to either sample.

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You’ll notice a color difference. The old Postum had more foam – just as I remembered it – but the color of the liquid beneath the foam was virtually the same. The new Postum did not dissolve as readily as the old variety. Even after the cup was emptied, undissolved residue clung to the cup.

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Then I sipped alternately from each cup.

Verdict? The new stuff is definitely sweeter – loads sweeter. I think there is much more molasses, proportionally, in the new formula than the old. Aside from sweetness, the flavor of the new stuff was different, weaker. I tried to discount a certain off-flavor in the old stuff, due, I’m sure, to its being years beyond its expiration date, but the difference in flavor was not due solely to that. The older stuff still tasted like grain, the newer stuff like molasses.

I won’t be drinking any more of the old stuff. It’s definitely stale, and I don’t think milk and sugar would correct for that.

The new stuff isn’t bad. Even apart from the staleness of the old, I suspect most samplers would prefer the new to the old, simply because it is sweeter. But I’m also sure that preference would be exactly the same as samplers’ preference for Pepsi over Coke: when you have only a small taste, people prefer sweet. But over the course of drinking a full bottle of soft drink, or a full mug of Postum, the preference for sweet passes and your tongue starts hunting for other, subtler flavors.

I’m disappointed. I really am. New Postum is drinkable, and I’ll probably keep drinking it – triple strength, and with milk. But new Postum is not old Postum – the new manufacturer, Eliza’s Quest Foods, has not been able to duplicate either the recipe or the process. They’re marketing nostalgia, and a caffeine-free hot beverage, but not Postum.



21 Comments »

  1. I’m disappointed to hear this, Ardis. I’ve been drinking 4-6 cups a year of the old and stuff (mainly just when I get major congestion) and am now down to my last 1/3 of a bottle. I don’t find that it has gone stale yet, but my mind may be deceiving me in that regard.

    Comment by Wm — January 18, 2013 @ 9:29 am

  2. I suspect you’re right that the molasses:grain ratio. Molasses is heavy, so that would make the new formula more dense than the old variety,hence the smaller bottle (of the same weight.)

    And it can’t be ground as finely, explaining the texture in the can and the residue in the empty cup.

    Comment by The Other Clark — January 18, 2013 @ 10:20 am

  3. Have you ever tried Pero as an alternative? I grew up on it and it’s readily available. I’ve only tried Postum once or twice and definitely preferred Pero, but that’s likely habituation.

    Comment by Christopher Bradford — January 18, 2013 @ 10:40 am

  4. This doesn’t surprise me. I remember Coke, Pepsi and Dr. Pepper having a more distinct taste. The new process (corn syrup, etc.) seems to have changed the taste a little. I’m sure the formula for the old Postum has been lost over time or maybe the new tasters in the lab didn’t like the old taste and changed it up a little. Not everyone liked Postum, but as for me new Postum is better than none.

    Comment by Mex — January 18, 2013 @ 10:46 am

  5. I think you should still try it, Wm, if you liked the old Postum. My memory may be off, or my tastes may have changed.

    TOClark, that very useful information for understanding why the differences exist — it may not be all in my head!

    I do drink Pero from time to time, Christopher. I have a box in my cupboard right now. It’s good, but doesn’t replace Postum for me (that nostalgia thing just won’t go away!)

    Agreed, Mex, it’s better than none for me, too, at least after experimenting with proportions. I have no plans to give it up again!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 18, 2013 @ 11:04 am

  6. With that china, you are on the path to your own BBC series, Parshall Abbey. I’ll look for the Postum here, but getting Safeway to give up Starbucks shelf space for New Postum (is that like New Family Search) might be wishful thinking. Since I was never a big fan of Postum in the first place, its value for me is totally nostalgia, as both of my parents loved it. BTW, for nostalgic Pepsi drinkers, there is Throwback Pepsi, which is still made from cane sugar, not corn syrup, and tastes much better than regular Pepsi or regular Coke. You can also get Mexican Coke (no pun intended) at Costco, made from cane sugar, but the price is high. The only cool thing is that it still comes in 16oz glass bottles.

    Comment by kevinf — January 18, 2013 @ 11:35 am

  7. I’m sure I’ve said in other discussions of this kind that my entire memory of Postum was from having it a time or two with my grandparents. My grandmother would serve it as a Sunday evening meal along with toast and home-bottled peaches.

    Comment by Amy T — January 18, 2013 @ 11:39 am

  8. “In my defense, how could I not have assembled the set of china used below, when every piece of this set – a pattern issued only for ten years, with my birth year smack in the middle of that time – has this mark on the bottom?”

    When I first read (glanced quickly without comprehension) I thought that you were stating that this set had your birth year on it, so when I look closer at the image and found 5772 I had to assume b.c. – tee hee! Love ya Ardis, and I TOTALLY Agree how could you not have a set of china that is literally your namesake!

    My parents and Grandmother (grandpa just went for the coffee) were big Postum drinkers. I could never find a taste for it, too bitter, so I might like the new stuff. Will have to see.

    Comment by Cliff — January 18, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

  9. Well, here’s a bit of Mormon culture I’ll have to take y’alls word for it. My parents never drank the stuff and we didn’t live close enough to Salt Lake that we saw my grandparents all that often, so I have no idea if they drank it or not. I’m pretty sure I won’t see it on the shelf in my local grocery store anytime soon.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — January 18, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

  10. Cliff-
    That date would possibly make Ardis a pre-Adamite. And I don’t think we want to open that up.

    And I used to drink Postum when I was a teen. Some LDS guy I used to work with introduced it to me on “coffee” break. We may try the new stuff, but I would have to add just a little White Satin sugar.

    Comment by Grant — January 18, 2013 @ 6:34 pm

  11. This post is all sorts of awesome. “Eliza’s Quest Foods.” Heh.

    Comment by J. Stapley — January 20, 2013 @ 1:31 pm

  12. Have you tried Caro or Barleycup? Those are the alternatives on offer here. Available from healthfood stores.

    Comment by Anne (UK) — January 23, 2013 @ 5:52 am

  13. I think I’ll just stick to herbal teas. Thanks.

    Comment by Julia — January 27, 2013 @ 12:01 am

  14. I found the new Postem while searching for a perfected recipe. You are right, it is sweeter, but still very good. I mix mine: 3/4 cup Postum to 1/4 cup Pero. Just right.

    Comment by Elaine Mercer — April 26, 2013 @ 1:39 pm

  15. Alas, I too am disappointed with the new Postum “lite”. My first hint that this was not exactly the old stuff was the missing foam. It is as though Eliza’s bought the recipe, and maybe even some processing machinery, but not the people or know-how to duplicate the original “original”.

    Comment by Trail Master — May 14, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

  16. Did some poking around on postum.com. Sounds like they came up with their own recipe, then stumbled upon the rights to the name later.

    Comment by Laurie — October 26, 2013 @ 9:31 am

  17. I agree with the first comment that Ardis gave us. Everything said is how I see the differences between the two postums. I also have hoarded a bottle of the old. Using it only now and then in cold weather for comfort food. When my husband brought home the new jar this week I was ecstatic! After making a cup of each to compare the two, I was disappointed in the sweetness of the new jar. Definitely not the same formula, although the ingredients do seem to say they are the same. I will savor the rest of my old jar! — and probably switch out of desperation. Does anybody feel the cost is ridiculous? My husband paid over $12.00 for the 8oz jar! Really?

    Comment by Madie — November 6, 2013 @ 7:59 am

  18. I just wrote Eliza’s (June@postum.com) as follows:
    Hi. I’m down to my last jar of the old Postum. Your site notes that you developed the recipe yourselves and then got the name. Obviously there are many comparing the two: old vs. new. Here’s one site worth checking out: http://www.keepapitchinin.org/2013/01/18/little-white-lab-rat-the-postum-showdown/

    The verdict noted is that it is not quite the same, a little too sweet and too weak, both perhaps due to a higher molasses/wheat ratio. I’d bet that a huge fan group would be willing to buy more if you were willing to address those issues to get the strength up and the sweetness down. Also if you got it closer to the original that most people remember you could sell enough to get your costs down which would also generate additional sales. I know I’d buy it. Keep up the good work and good luck.

    Comment by Bill — March 29, 2014 @ 10:58 am

  19. We are Postum lovers and like many of you were surprised when Postum was no longer available. Our company has only tried to bring Postum back. We are not trying to trick anyone or sell a mock of Postum. While trying to replicate the formula we purchased the trade secret and found we were on target with Kraft.
    When we re-released Postum a year and a half ago, we listened to our customers who were saying it had a weak flavor and was too sweet. We continued to conduct research and development and found if we removed some of the moisture and made the particle size smaller, while continuing to use the same recipe, it produced a richer flavor. It did, however; produce a lighter color. We conducted flavor panels, and everyone who participated preferred the lighter color more condensed Postum saying it was like the Postum Kraft made. Our company is using the trade secret Kraft used. We also removed maltodextrin from corn from the formula because it not considered an “all natural” ingredient. This can be a concern for health food stores and many of our customers. We are releasing our next lots of Postum in April, and with more research, have been able to produce the great flavor with a darker color.

    Please feel free to contact us if you should have questions or concerns.

    Sincerely,
    June Rust
    President
    Eliza’s Quest Foods, LLC

    Comment by June Rust — March 29, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

  20. I was an avid fan of Postum until its demise and have longed for it since. However, in recent years I have gone organic and learned the dangers of GMO’s in corn, wheat and sugar (its ingredients). This knowledge has made me leery of returning to this beverage, old or new. The treated crops (from GMO seeds) grow in soil doused with RoundUp, a pesticide & herbicide which also depletes the soil of a thousands of micro-organisms. The resulting poor soil may contribute to the changed flavor even though the ‘recipe’ may be the same.

    Comment by Barbara — April 24, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

  21. Good morning, Ardis. I just stumbled onto your website this morning in my search about “Postum”. I found it very interesting and enjoyable. I was trying to find out if I can find Postum at a cheaper price than the $15.00 a jar that I am paying now. Any help there? The comments and thoughts about Postum were much the same as my own. I was extremely disappointed when Kraft stopped making Postum. When it went off the shelves, my wife later found (7) dusty jars on a nieghborhood store shelf and got them at a great price, but they are long gone now. I grew up with Postum and was greatly excited when it was produced again, but, disappointed when it didn’t taste the same. However, it’s close enough. I, like others, tried all kinds of alternatives and tried to force myself to stay with one but just couldn’t do it. My thanks to “Eliza’s Quest Foods” for bringing it back.

    Comment by Venice Holladay — September 29, 2014 @ 8:40 am

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