Candy Fortification: Synthetic Vitamin A
In the 1950s, vitamins were all the rage. Prior to the work of the chemists, the usual way Americans took their vitamin A was in cod liver oil. But what if instead, people could get their vitamin A from something yummy, say, candy?
Everybody needs vitamin A. So it was a potentially lucrative project for the chemical industry to develop a synthetic, stable form of Vitamin A. The prize was enormous: the military and the government were very interested in increasing the nutritive value of foods that could be stored and transported easily. In particular, the U.S. Army was interested in fortifying Army rations including candy, peanut butter, milk powder, and crackers with a palatable, stable form of vitamin A.
In 1952, Pfizer developed a technique of gelatin stabilization that minimized the deterioration of the vitamin, and contributed no objectionable taste or odor. They tested chocolate bars fortified with the gelatinized vitamin A and found 92 percent retention after four weeks storage at 45 C (they don’t specify, but these must have been the modified military chocolate, as ordinary chocolate would have gotten pretty melty at this temperature, equivalent to 113 F).
How much chocolate was consumed with vitamin A supplementation we don’t know. But we do know that synthetic vitamin A in amounts in excess of the RDA is pretty toxic. It’s usually called “retinol,” and today it is more familiar as a skin treatment than as a food additive. On the other hand, a candy bar that could prevent vitamin A deficiency and treat your acne flare ups might be pretty useful.
Source: “Vitamin A Fortification Research,” Candy Industry 12 February 1952.