Friday, 14 November 2008


Shortly after doing my Blog posting on Gatorade I bought a ‘tube’ of Smarties and the question of ‘artificial colours’ raised it’s head again. I apologise to Gatorade if their blue one is not artificially coloured – after all, I discovered that the blue Smarties are naturally coloured.

Firstly, can I point out – for those who, like me, haven’t bought Smarties for years - that the tube is no longer a cylindrical cardboard one, capped with a colourful lid, which usually had a letter of the alphabet on it.
(Above photos by kind permission of Crispy Liz whose wonderful site about Smartie packaging includes some Smartie tube swaps for the real enthusiast).

I loved the old Smartie tube - when you were finished with the sweets you could give it a quick squeeze or karate-chop to fire the lid across the room at some speed. This usually resulted in one being told that it was "all very well until somebody loses an eye". No doubt if Nestle had continued with the old tube they would have had to put a health warning on it advising against doing that. They would also presumably have had to defend themselves against legal claims from parents of children who choked on the lids. I presume we never tried eating the lids because there wasn't any money in it in the old days.

In February 2005, the Smarties tube was replaced with a hexagonal design. The rationale behind changing the design was, according to Nestle, to make the brand "fresh and appealing" to youngsters; the new 'hexatube' is also lighter and more compact. Doubtless it is a lot cheaper to produce though the price did not drop - Nestle remarking simply that they were not putting the price up! I wouildn't quite agree with Helen from the UK who described it as "Quite simply the worst catastrophe to befall modern man". Nevertheless one does wonder where this trend will end - will Polos have their holes filled in? Are Marmite jars safe?

More importantly – though this wasn’t mentioned in the Wikipedia article – their new packaging is recyclable. Nevertheless, Smarties are not quite Smarties without their round tubes and little plastic lids. Over the last 25 years, Nestlé has manufactured five billion Smarties lids. Some lids are very rare and are now regarded as collectors' items. The last 100 tubes to leave the factory in York had a certificate inside them.

Nestlé Smarties have been manufactured since at least 1882, originally by H.I. Rowntree & Co. The tube shaped packaging has been in use since 1937. Smarties are no longer manufactured in York; production has now moved to Germany, where a third of them were already made.

Like the Earth, Smarties are oblate spheroids! They are just a bit smaller, having a minor axis of about 5 mm (0.2 in) and a major axis of about 15 mm (0.6 in). They currently come in eight colours: red, orange, yellow, blue, green, mauve, pink and brown.

In one of the earlier ranges of colours, there was a light-brown Smartie. This was replaced in 1988 by the blue Smartie. Before 1958, the dark-brown Smarties had a plain-chocolate centre, while the light-brown one tasted of coffee. The orange Smarties contained, and still contain in the UK, orange-flavoured chocolate. I had never realised that the chocolate in the orange ones was different – had you?

In 2006 it was announced that Nestlé were removing all artificial colourings from Smarties in the UK, owing to consumer concerns over the effect of chemical dyes on children's health. Nestlé decided to replace all chemical dyes with natural ones, but as they were unable to source a natural blue dye, the blue Smarties were removed from circulation, and white Smarties were introduced in their place. White Smarties were later removed from the range but no reason was given.

Now blue Smarties have been re-introduced using a natural blue dye derived from cyanobacteria from the genus Arthrospira (popularly but inaccurately known as Spirulina). This seaweed extract is cultivated around the world, and is used as a human dietary supplement as well as a whole food and is available in tablet, flake, and powder form. It is also used as a feed supplement in the aquaculture, aquarium, and poultry industries.

Violet Smarties are dyed with cochineal, a derivative of the Cochineal insect which is listed in the ingredients as carminic acid. Its presence means that Smarties are neither kosher nor vegetarian.

One of the parental revolts was against E numbers. In casual language in the UK and Ireland, the term "E-number" is used as a pejorative term for artificial food additives, and products may promote themselves as "free of E-numbers" even though some of the ingredients (e.g. bicarbonate of soda) do have such a code. I noted on the packaging that one of the current ingredients of Smarties is Copper complexes of chlorophyllins. That has the E number E411 (which puts it in the emulsifier, thickener, or stabiliser range) but I see that Nestlé choose not to use it on the packaging....

Smarties are not distributed in the United States, except by specialist importers. For the last 60 years, the Ce De Candy company has manufactured a hard, tablet sweet under the name Smarties, which is unrelated to the Nestlé product. M&Ms are pretty much the US equivalent of Smarties and are now available over here as well.

And finally –

Around 570,000 Smarties are made each day.

According to a BBC website 307 tubes are eaten per minute in the UK. Perhaps that is why they have redesigned the tube - to make it easier to eat. Even so, I suspect it must lead to a lot of people arriving at A & E to be attended to for choking.....

There is a poll on the Nestlé website that allows one to vote for their favourite colour. I voted for mine - yellow - it then showed the current voting. Yellow, it sems is the least popular. I hope they don't get rid of it. Perhaps I should begin a "Campaign to Save the Yellow smartie" before it's too late.

On average approximately 16,000 Smarties are eaten every minute in the UK. (Does this take into account the odd one that slips away and hides down the side of the setee?).

There are an average of 48 Smarties in each tube.

If all the Smarties eaten in one year were laid end to end it would equal almost 63,380 miles, more than two-and-a-half times around the Earth's equator. They would also melt quite quickly at the Equator!

Question - for GB - do they sell Smarties in NZ and, if so, in what packaging?

Kathryn Ratcliffe holds the world record for eating Smarties in 3 mins using chopsticks - she managed 138....

1 comment:

L'homme bizarre avec la barbe grise said...

I didn't know the answer off the top of my head 'cos I very rarely buy sweets. However the answer is in the affirmative and I am now sitting with a box on the desk. The cost was $1.37 (approx 50p).