Tang! The space-age drink that's still a worldwide staple

From the Space Needle to the famous "moon girl look," space exploration has influenced decades of architecture, culture and trends.

Posted: May 2, 2021 8:06 PM


When you think of Tang -- if you think of Tang at all -- you probably think of its association with the United States space program in the 1960s.

After all, "Tang was chosen for the Gemini astronauts," as a 1966 advertisement for the classic orange drink stated. Gemini was NASA's second human spaceflight mission in the lead-up to the moon landing.

The beverage always will be connected to the golden era of midcentury space exploration, but NASA actually did not invent Tang.

Tang debuted in 1957 as a vitamin C-packed breakfast drink. Its selling point was that the powdered mix was shelf-stable, and it was promoted as a healthier and more convenient alternative to fresh orange juice. (And while it certainly may be more convenient than juicing oranges to order every morning, the first two items on Tang's ingredient list are sugar and fructose.)

But General Foods, Tang's original parent company, had contracts with the military for producing rations and other food items, such as instant coffee. ("Mad Men" fans will be pleased to know that General Foods, later incorporated into Kraft Foods, also owned the Burger Chef brand from 1968 to 1982.)

Thanks to these connections and the aforementioned shelf-stable, "just add water" capability of Tang, NASA sent the drink mix into space with John Glenn on his famous orbit of Earth in 1962.

General Foods' advertising strategy shifted to capitalize on the popularity of all things outer space, and Tang henceforth became marketed as the astronaut's drink of choice, as seen in this collection of Tang advertisements through the decades.

But Tang isn't just a space age relic. It's still popular across the globe, from South America to Asia, and produced in a number of flavors -- including pineapple, mango, lemon, calamansi and its newest Filipino flavor, Coco Plus Buko Pandan. Tang is also one of the most popular drinks during Ramadan in the Middle East, according to Mondelez International, the food corporation that now owns the brand.

Not only that, but home cooks around the world have been showing their ingenuity by using Tang in dishes that go far beyond a simple stir-it-up breakfast drink.

Whether you're jonesing for a blast from the past or looking for something new to experiment with, grab a canister of Tang and make these fun and slightly retro recipes.

Tang Creamsicle pie

This nostalgic dessert has graced the tables of many a church potluck and community picnic since the 1960s, and its retro charm endures. The sweet throwback is one of those no-bake recipes familiar to anyone who grew up reading recipes off the back of a box.

The formula here is simple: Beat together Tang mix, cream cheese, condensed milk and whipped topping until fluffy, then chill in a graham cracker crust. Spoon on even more whipped topping to take it over the top.

Make a semi-homemade Creamsicle pie this summer for a refreshing treat — vintage apron optional.

Frothy Tang orange drink

For an Orange Julius-style drink that will take you back to the '80s, trust the guys from Big Gay Ice Cream to come through with a cool and frothy Tang-infused milkshake that hits the spot. You'll be transported to your favorite mall food court with just a sip; better grab a hot pretzel for the full effect.

Want to make this drink into a cocktail? Just blend in 2 tablespoons white rum or orange-flavored vodka per serving.

Takeout-style orange chicken

Believe it or not, a Tang-boosted version of chicken in orange sauce is one of the official recipes promoted by Tang Pakistan. The addition of the fruity drink actually makes sense for this sauce, enhancing the sweet and sticky aspects that make the dish a Chinese American classic.

When you're craving those crunchy coated bites, you can make the Tang-approved recipe or simply replace the orange juice in your favorite copycat takeout orange chicken recipe with Tang.

Tang ice pops

If there is one technological innovation that makes families' lives better every summer, it's the humble yet life-changing ice pop mold, which lets us create any flavor of fruity treats imaginable.

Stir up a pitcher of Tang and pour into any style of mold that fits your fancy. Traditional bomb pop or double stick-style molds, silicone squeeze molds, or push-up pop molds will all do the trick.

If you'd like to add fresh fruit like chopped peaches, sliced strawberries or whole blueberries to your pops, fill the molds with fruit and then pour the liquid in. For a creamier treat, blend Tang with vanilla or coconut Greek yogurt before pouring.

Tang and lemon ice cream

No ice cream maker? No problem! This recipe for lemon and orange Tang ice cream uses a simplified method called semifreddo, Italian for "half-cold." By making an easy egg-free custard, then partially freezing, blending, then freezing again, the ice cream results in a soft and mousselike texture.

If you love the flavor of orange sherbet but the consistency of soft-serve custard, this might be your ideal dessert.

Friendship tea

Probably the most well-known Tang recipe, this hot beverage is another one of those community cookbook staples. It's also frequently referred to as Russian tea, but it bears little resemblance to the strong tea served with lemon and sugar that was the drink's original inspiration.

Instead, this citrusy sweet tea mix has become an American standard. The proportions change from recipe to recipe, but standard ingredients include instant tea powder, lemonade powder, Tang, and frequently cinnamon, cloves and/or nutmeg for extra spice.

Make a jar of homemade tea blend to keep in your pantry for chilly days.

There's even Tang beer

Magnify Brewing in Fairfield, New Jersey, created a beer brewed with Tang as one of its limited-edition releases in April. Big Pulp, a smoothie sour-style beer, also features real mango, pineapple and peach in its ingredient lineup. The vibrant color and juicy flavor are deceptively reminiscent of the tropical orange drinks of the 1980s and '90s, making this a grown-up version of an after-school treat.

As these recipes prove, Tang is an enduringly popular ingredient in kitchens around the world. Even after all these years, Tang remains, to quote another vintage ad, "for spacemen and earth families."

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