The untold truth of SpaghettiOs

In 1965, moms had a problem: Kids could not eat their spaghetti without making a total mess. If only there was a pasta that came in a smaller, more kid-friendly shape. Perhaps if there was something in tomato sauce with optional bits of meat, they wouldn't have to worry about it, right? As luck would have it, executives at Franco-American (then a division of Campbell's Soup Company) certainly thought so, including one by the name of Donald Goerke. "We were looking for something that would target into kids," he said, "make the product more exciting, hopefully get mothers to serve it more often." And with that, the culinary marvel known to the world as SpaghettiOs was born.

Calling it "the neat, round spaghetti you can eat with a spoon," SpaghettiOs were an immediate hit. Not only were they tidy, but they were thin enough to withstand the canning and reheating process without becoming gummy. To this day, they remain one of the best selling canned foods in America, and the one food everyone gets nostalgic about. So pull up a bean bag, put on some Saturday morning cartoons (which aren't just for Saturdays anymore) and check out the untold truth of SpaghettiOs.

The inappropriate SpaghettiOs tweet that totally backfired

If you ask most people, national tragedies aren't really something companies should be using as marketing opportunities. However, on the 72nd anniversary of Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the one that killed more than 2,400 people and launched the U.S. into World War II, Campbell's decided it would be a good idea to trot out its cartoon mascot named TheO (get it?) on to the official SpaghettiO's Twitter page to encourage their canned pasta-loving followers to share the day with them. "Take a moment to remember #PearlHarbor with us," read the caption, as TheO gleefully hoisted an American flag in the air like an astronaut about to stab it into the moon. 

Unfortunately for Campbell's, this not-so-thinly-disguised attempt at self-promotion landed with a resounding thud. "Really invokes the warfare and death of that moment," one person tweeted. "Dear @SpaghettiOs:" tweeted the comedian Patten Oswald, "Genuinely afraid to scroll back & see what you Tweeted on the 50th anniversary of JFKs assassination." Realizing their mistake, Campbells deleted it 13 hours later. "We apologize for our recent tweet in remembrance of Pearl Harbor Day," they explained. "We meant to pay respect, not to offend." Uh oh, little too late.

Eating SpaghettiOs can get you thrown in jail

It's pretty hard to get busted for felony possession of methamphetamines when you have, in fact, no methamphetamines on you, but that's exactly what happened to a 23-year-old Georgia woman named Ashley Huff. In 2014, Ashley was pulled over for a routine stop when policemen came across a spoon in her car with a "clear, crystal-like substance" on it. She claimed it was SpaghettiOs, and that she had thrown away the can. The police said it was meth, and hauled her off to jail. And there she sat, waiting for the crime lab to test the spoon residue, but crime labs take time. Two weeks later they still had no answers, so they let Ashley go on the condition she regularly attend appointments made by the court. 

Well, she didn't. After missing one appointment, Ashley ended up getting thrown back in the clink for over a month, until the lab analysis finally came back showing they had found nothing but sauce on the spoon. So what made them think it was meth? He "found it strange,"  the arresting officer wrote in his report, "that she would eat SpaghettiOs with a metal spoon while riding in a vehicle, and then put the spoon back in a bag." 

Lesson learned: If you're going to eat SpaghettiOs on-the-go, dispose of all the evidence.

SpaghettiOs once recalled thousands of cans

When you hear about a food recall, your first thought might be to wonder what kind of inedible filth made its way into the product. Salmonella? E-coli? Roach carcasses? After all, it has to be a pretty serious situation to merit an entire recall. A simple warning definitely wouldn't do if there's something going around that's about to kill everybody. So when Campbell's announced in November of 2015 that it was recalling more than 350,000 cans of SpaghettiOs, you'd think people would be relieved it was only because the cans contained ostensibly harmless bits of red plastic (an item whose presence some people might excuse completely, mistaking it for an ingredient). But do you know what can happen when you swallow small bits of plastic? You can choke. To death.  

In attempt to put everyone's mind at ease, Campbell's pointed out the plastic was "food grade" and therefore harmless to the digestive system, but the fact remained it was still a potential choking hazard. Luckily, it never came to that. But let it serve as a reminder to chew your SpaghettiOs... well. 

SpaghettiOs didn't change their recipe for 50 years — until this

Over the years, SpaghettiOs have come in various shapes. Nineties kids might remember TeddyO's, the SpaghettiOs with added teddy bear shapes, or SportyOs, with skateboards, roller skates, and bicycles. Where's WaldOs had Waldo heads, hats, striped shirts, and canes. A to Z SpaghettiOs taught you the alphabet.Remarkably, the SpaghettiOs recipe stayed the same. Until 2015, that is, when Campbell's hit the mother lode of licensing agreements and came out with — dun, dun, duhhh — a Star Wars series.

Translating a character into a pasta shape isn't easy. It takes what they call "pastabilty," and according to a representative of SpaghettiOs, "C-3PO and Chewbacca don't have as distinctive facial features as the other characters, so were not very 'pastable,'" they explained of the Star Wars characters. "Having a lot of lines is difficult because when pasta cooks, it swells, so the shape can be lost, making the character unrecognizable. We tweaked the pasta dough recipe and our production techniques to make sure that each character held its shape after cooking." Apparently they worked it out, because not only did C-3PO and Chewy get the SpaghettiO treatment, so did Yoda, R2D2, and Darth Vader. 

A retro recipe for SpaghettiOs Jell-O grosses everyone out

Experimenting with different food combinations is literally the definition of cooking. Everyone from four-star chefs to college kids away from home for the first time have mixed and matched different edibles in the hopes of emerging with something palatable, and as fate would have it, some seemingly disgusting food combinations are actually quite amazing. Apple pie with cheddar cheese, for example. Or popcorn with hot sauce. (Hey, don't knock it 'til you try it). But two great tastes don't always taste great together, and Jell-O with SpaghettiOs is definitely one of them. 

When the recipe for this retro-themed monstrosity first appeared on Shared Food's YouTube channel, it wasn't exactly well received. "I don't want to live on this planet anymore," one commenter said. "I'm calling child protective services on whoever posted this." another chimed in. "This meal is child abuse." The arrangement of raw Vienna Sausages in the middle certainly doesn't do it any favors. It's like the food version of an ugly sweater contest. When they posted the video to their Facebook page, one person said they vomited on their keyboard. Thanks, but we'll pass on this one.

One bartender made a SpaghettiOs cocktail

Bartenders love a challenge. Just ask Steve Gleich, bar manager of Chicago's Luxbar, who was tasked with creating a drink using a food item — in this case, SpaghettiOs — that has no business being near alcohol as part of The Chicago Reader's Cocktail Challenge series. (He should consider himself lucky. He could've been the guy who had to use snails.) Not one to just throw some vodka in the can and call it a day, Steve created the Uh Oh, a saucy spin on the Bloody Maria.

At first, the thought of having to use SpaghettiOs sounded like a nightmare. "It's so processed," he said. "There's so much artificial flavoring in there." Not to mention a whole lot of pasta, which never made it into the Uh Oh. Instead, he added fresh tomato juice to the SpaghettiOs can to water down the sauce, strained it out and mixed it with a little watermelon juice to temper the processed flavor. We don't know if not using the pasta was considered cheating as far as the cocktail challenge went, but once he added tequila and a few other ingredients to the tomato mixture, he at least ended up with something drinkable. He did use the can as a glass, along with a fresh sprig of mint, a sprinkle of paprika and a pasta straw. Yum?

The famous SpaghettiOs jingle is based on a love song

You know you have a successful ad campaign when the words become part of common American vernacular, and there's no better example than the famous refrain from the SpaghettiOs song. Car trouble? "Uh oh, SpaghettiOs." Late to work? "Uh oh, SpaghettiOs." It's one of the catchiest slogans ever written for a TV commercial, and Campbell's still uses it today.

What you may not know is that it's based on a love song recorded in 1958 by teen idol Jimmie Rodgers called "Oh-Oh I'm Falling in Love Again." Seven years later, when Campbell's commissioned him to write a few words about their circular pasta, Jimmie "borrowed" the tune from his bouncy hit single, changed the words ("Oh-oh, I'm falling in love again" became "it's the neat, new spaghetti you can eat with a spoon"), and made marketing history. Jimmie Rogers also sang the SpaghettiOs song in early ads, and for years afterward, he would even close his own shows with it. 

This actress took a bath in SpaghettiOs, and it went exactly how you might think

Out of all the food products out there you could possibly take a bath in, SpaghettiOs has to be one of the grossest. It's squishy, it's sticky, and it we imagine it would smell awfully, well, awful. This is something Colleen Ballinger, actress and creator of the now-defunct Netflix series Haters Back Off, found out the hard way. 

Colleen plays Miranda Sings, an appallingly obnoxious, untalented, wannabe YouTube star who, during an extremely nauseating fantasy sequence, submerges herself in a bathtub full of what looks like five large paint buckets worth of SpaghettiO's. And we're talking her whole body, including arms, legs, and most of her head. "It wasn't my favorite part," Colleen admits, even though she had come up with the idea herself. "In the writers room, they said, 'You know, what you write, you will have to end up doing.' It was a surreal moment to be sitting in a bathtub full of SpaghettiOs and being miserable but thinking, Oh my god, this is a dream come true to have this show.'" One thing's for sure, the girl definitely has guts. 

SpaghettiOs has had some funky flavors, and one got really bad reviews

Let's face it, SpaghettiOs are kind of plain. Awesome, but plain. The pasta doesn't really taste like much, because pasta never does. It's really all about the sauce, which, not for nothing, also doesn't taste like much. So the powers that be decided that if they wanted to keep this SpaghettiOs thing going into the next century — an amount of time that was, quite frankly, way longer than anyone imagined this concoction would survive in the first place — they would need to get clever and add a few new flavors. It's called "line extending," the long established branding strategy of switching up a product just enough so as not fall into a dissimilar category. Line extending is why we have Gummy Savers and Hershey's Chocolate Milk. In the '80s it gave us PizzOs and CheesOs. And in 2013, bizarrely enough, CheeseburgerOs. 

We shudder to think about what makes pasta and tomato sauce supposedly taste like cheeseburgers. The two have nothing to do with each other. One YouTuber claims "they literally smell like vomit diarrhea." (Again, two different things.) Another one says, "it almost feels like a dumbed-down SpaghettiO." We're just glad they tasted this so we didn't have to. 

What's with that weird SpaghettiOs texture?

Have you ever noticed that SpaghettiOs have a bit of a weird texture? It's entirely possible you haven't, because that's just what SpaghettiOs are, right? But compare your dish of delicious Os to "regular" pasta, and you'll find there's definitely a little bit of gumminess going on there.

If your plate of spaghetti bolognese tasted like this, you'd toss it and head off to Little Caesars

So, what's the deal? According to The Washington Post, it actually has to do not with how they're prepped or made, but with how they're canned. Check out the ingredient list, and you'll see the first one is water. That's because all that water is needed for the canning process. When SpaghettiOs are packed into the can, they're just dry Os. Then, that very watery sauce cooks the pasta as it's going through the canning process, and that's why it has that distinctive texture They're cooked in the can. There's a bonus to doing it this way, too: it helps infuse the flavor throughout the whole O... and, now you know!

SpaghettiOs are not as unhealthy as you think they are

SpaghettiOs might have been the best thing ever when you were a kid, but chances are good that now that you're an adult, they've become something of a guilty pleasure. But here's the weird thing — they're not nearly as bad as you're expecting them to be. One serving (which is a perfectly reasonable cup of Os) has just 170 calories, 1 gram of fat, and .5g of saturated fat.

We know, right?

SpaghettiOs actually got a 21st century makeover, and it's likely you didn't even notice. In 2009, Campbell's announced they were going to be lowering the sodium in the SpaghettiOs by around 35 percent. Then, in 2010, they confirmed that each serving of Os contained a full serving of vegetables, as well as five essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin A. There's also a full serving of grains in each one of those servings!

There is still a ton of sodium, though: 600 mg per serving. But still, you could do worse!

You can turn that can of SpaghettiOs into cupcakes

Wait! Hear this one out! If you're looking for something super fun and unique for that birthday cake — or that "this day was terrible, I need some cake" cake — reach for a can of SpaghettiOs.

For real. FoodBeast made their SpaghettiOs cake with a box of yellow cake mix and one can of SpaghettiOs. While you'll have to adjust for texture and add more or less water, it can definitely be done — and it's weirdly delicious.

And for SpaghettiOs' 50th birthday, Campbell's (via Brand Eating) came out with a recipe for red velvet cupcakes that used SpaghettiOs sauce as the liquid for the cupcakes, and the Os as a component in the topping (which also included strawberries and sugar). Weird? Definitely, but it's also a conversation piece, for sure. 

And it's not like there's no precedent for this. According to Campbell's, the idea of a tomato-based spice cake dates back to the 1920s, and their official version — which uses their tomato soup — was first published in October 1940. By 1966, they'd adapted the idea to use boxed cake mixes, and using SpaghettiOs is, well, basically the same general idea. (It's also just yummy!)

SpaghettiOs were requested as a last meal on Death Row

Think you love SpaghettiOs? Thomas Grasso certainly did — the convicted killer requested them for his last meal as he sat on Death Row.

According to The Oklahoman, Grasso was scheduled for execution on March 20, 1995, after being found guilty of the murder of two senior citizens, one on Staten Island and one in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Although originally ordered to serve a 20-year sentence in New York first, he was ultimately sent to Oklahoma and executed well before those 20 years were up... but not before he requested a last meal of steamed mussels, a double cheeseburger from Burger King, a strawberry milkshake, pumpkin pie, a single mango, and a tin of room-temperature SpaghettiOs — the kind with the meatballs. 

Before he died, The New York Times says he issued several messages and poems — and his last words were a complaint: "Please tell the media, I did not get my SpaghettiOs, I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this."