Discontinued Orbitz Soda Was A Scientific Marvel

In 1996, Clearly Canadian Beverage Corporation, known for its fruit-flavored sparkling waters, unveiled an unusual drink product called Orbitz. The clear, non-carbonated flavored beverage was filled with floating balls of colored gelatin that appeared to be in suspended animation, drawing less than favorable comparisons to a lava lamp. It's easy to categorize it among the soft drinks you forgot existed, because it didn't stick around very long. If you blinked, you may have missed it. Yet these floating spheres of gelatin once intrigued scientists enough that they tried to determine how the effect worked.

A team of chemical engineers attending an annual meeting of the Society of Rheology in 1998 put their heads together to understand why Orbitz gelatin chews stayed inert unless the bottle was shaken, at which point they would float around. They figured out that the liquid in Orbitz was more viscous at rest than in motion, which explained why the gelatin balls could sit suspended in the drink when motionless. One scientist ran tests to uncover the secret, eventually discovering that when you shake the beverage the viscosity becomes similar to water, explaining why the spheres moved.

It tasted like cough syrup

The scientist attributed the phenomenon to two of Orbitz's ingredients — xantham gum and gellan gum — additives that are typically used as thickeners or stabilizers in various food products. Their lengthy molecules kept the gelatin balls rooted in place like a spider web unless shaken, at which point the molecular bonds would break, causing the balls to spin around the bottle freely.

Despite being regarded as a scientific marvel, the general public quickly lost interest in Orbitz, and the product was discontinued by 1999. Multiple reasons were given for its failure to resonate with consumers, such as the fact that people were weirded out by the same chewable gobs of gelatin that so fascinated scientists. Mostly, people just hated the taste, which some likened to cough syrup. The viscosity and thickness didn't help matters either. 

Of course, even '90s snacks that stopped being made because they were abject flops can eventually inspire nostalgia, and Orbitz developed a cult following of its own. There are still bottles available for purchase on eBay, but nearly 25 years past its discontinuation, you'd be prudent to just enjoy the novelty factor. One brave soul even taste-tested an old bottle of Orbitz so you don't have to. Spoiler alert: The experience wasn't pleasant. Orbitz may have never taken off as a soft drink, but as an oddity and a scientific curiosity, it proved compelling. And that's at least something.