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The Shocking Origins Behind Pink Lemonade

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On a scorching day, the sight of a bright-pink glass of lemonade can be a godsend for the thirsty. The combination of sweet and sour accents excites your tongue as the pink aesthetic attracts your eyes.

Pink lemonade has been everywhere in our lives, from fast food restaurants to bottles on grocery store shelves. We went nuts as a kid seeing a self-serve container of pink lemonade at our local In-N-Out. Even years later, it’s the only fast food spot we can find that serves the option readily.

Have you ever wondered, however, where the beverage came from and gives it its distinctive pink hue?

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There have been two major accounts of how the light-crimson beverage came to be, states the Huffington Post. Both origins, if you can believe it, left us a little less enchanted with the drink. At least, until the next 100-degree Californian day.

How the Hot Dog Found Its Bun,” a book by author Josh Chetwynd, claims that there are two alleged inventors of pink lemonade.

The first was a salesman named Pete Conklin, who sold concessions at Jerry Mabie show, which was the equivalent of Coachella for circuses, back in 1857. One day, he ran out of water to make lemonade with. Instead of closing up shop until he replenished his supplies, he went over to the dressing room of one of the circus’ bareback riders. The woman had just washed her pink tights in a water vat, leaving the liquid with a pink color.

Conklin took the vat of pink water, threw in some tantric acid and pieces of lemons and decided to rebrand the water as “fine strawberry lemonade,” doubling his business and creating a new drink as he did so.

Conklin’s story was also confirmed in Joe Nickell’s book “Secrets of the Sideshows.”

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Pink Lemonade’s second origin, accounts Smithsonian Mag, churns our stomachs a little less.

A New York Times article from 1912 spotlights circus promoter and saloon keeper Henry E. Allott as the inventor of the beverage.

While Allot was mixing a batch of lemonade, he accidentally dropped some red cinnamon candies into the liquid. A unique rose tint resulted from the incident, creating a beverage that sold surprisingly well.

Because Allott said he created this as a teenager, it places his claim about 20 years after Conklin’s tale of used underwear.

Though there’s no way of telling which story, if either, is the definitive birth of the popular drink. We can assume, according to Chetwynd, that the drink was either created or at least popularized by the circus.

Today, in a time of fewer circus folk and more FDA regulations, pink lemonade is made a little differently. The beverage is colored with more natural ingredients like cranberry juice, raspberry juice, crushed strawberries, or red food dye.

Thankfully, no nasty underwear water.

A hundred years from now, while humanity sits on porches strewn across one of the TRAPPIST-1 planets, we’ll be sippin’ on lemonade squeezed fresh from genetically-modified pink lemons. Until then, we’re more than happy with our present addition of strawberries and food coloring in our pink lemonade.

By Peter Pham

Pete's favorite foods include pizza, tacos and pretty much any kind of breakfast. He'll usually snap a photo or two while his food cools down.

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