One of the best things about traveling—well, at least, the kind of traveling we do—is getting to know foodstuffs that seem utterly normal to those who've always had them. On our most recent trip, a taco tour of Texas with a detour to New Mexico: amazing flour tortillas. Whataburger. Green chile on everything. And Big Red and Mello Yello. But here's the thing, as admitted outsiders. We get Mello Yello. Big Red, not so much.
If you grew up eating Gushers, drinking Slurpees, or consuming just about any substance advertised on Saturday morning TV, you have some sense of what "red," "yellow," and "blue" taste like.
Right? We don't know when it was decided that red would approximate cherry, yellow would be lemon-like (except in the case of banana, which is almost always a bad idea), and blue would taste like... well, blue. Like blue raspberry, which makes so little sense as a flavor—tasting neither like raspberries, nor blueberries, nor any one thing in particular. Still, if we say something's blue-flavored, odds are you can imagine it.
So when sodas call themselves Mello Yello and Big Red, they should live up to their names, right? Mello Yello does. Big Red doesn't.
In fact, this first occurred to us with a recent sip of Mello Yello, chasing down our 47th and 48th tacos. (More on that later.) It might not be our favorite of the lemon-lime family, but in trying to describe the flavor, we could only think of one thing: "This tastes yellow." It is citrusy, though lacking that nice, sharp crispness of a cold Sprite; it's almost more like Mountain Dew, though a little more refreshing. With a round but syrupy "body," though, there's not much carbonation to it. You could convince yourself that it's grapefruit, or lemon, once you get past the initial sugar. Sweet and generically citrusy? Sounds like yellow to us.
Big Red, on the other hand—we just don't get it. It's a soda with its devoted fans, so we'll concede that, growing up outside Big Red country, maybe we're just not made to appreciate it. But who decided that an un-fruity soda should be bright red? Tasting like a cross between bubblegum, bad cream soda, and the cloying strawberry syrup the Coke Freestyle machine seems to love, it's a little jarring that a sort of vanilla-like soda gets a bright red color. We're sure it's less strange to those who grew up drinking it—but in our minds, this isn't what red tastes like. Between the vanilla-cupcake and the bubblegum, more like pink. But "Big Pink" doesn't have quite the same ring, does it.
Any Big Red fans out there who can explain its appeal?
About the authors: Carey Jones is the editor of Serious Eats New York and co-editor of Serious Eats: Sweets. Follow her on Twitter (@careyjones). John M. Edwards is Serious Eats's fast-food bureau chief and eats 85% of the food Carey orders. Follow him on Twitter (@johnmedwards).