Thursday, May 24, 2007

Joy Juice Deconstructed

Sometimes when I'm browsing in a grocery store (or a 7-Eleven even) I stumble on a product that stops me in my tracks. It can be something utterly unappealing (see: Sweet Corn Ice Cream), a product so mysterious I'm unable to begin to guess what it is, or, as was the case today, something that brings a huge smile to my face.

I was checking out the selection of cold drinks at the Japanese superstore Isetan this afternoon. What I really wanted was a can of soursop juice, but when I saw the words "Kickapoo Joy Juice" I knew I'd found something special. The can even said it was "The Original Joy Juice Recipe." I didn't know there was more than one.

I had to try it. How bad could something called "Joy Juice" be? I know, it could have been truly terrible, a blend of unknown ingredients aimed squarely at the Asian palette.

The Original Joy Juice Recipe

As you can see from this photo, Kickapoo Joy Juice is the color of radiator fluid. It is a carbonated citrus drink that contains a hint of ginger. It's sweet and syrupy, but I was quite happy to drink the whole can.

Where did this beverage come from? And why is it called "Joy Juice"? A quick Google search provided some answers. (What did we do in the days before Google?)

Kickapoo Joy Juice is manufactured by the Monarch Beverage Company, based in Atlanta, Georgia. The drink is only distributed in Malaysia, Brunei and Bangladesh -- talk about niche marketing!

I dug a little deeper and found a connection to American cultural history. In the comic strip world of Dogpatch, home of Al Capp's "Li'l Abner," there was a concoction called "Kickapoo Joy Juice," a "liquor of such stupefying potency that the hardiest citizens of Dogpatch, after the first burning sip, rose into the air, stiff as frozen codfish."

It gets even better. Another search revealed that Capp probably based Kickapoo Joy Juice on a nineteenth century patent medicine called "Kickapoo Indian Sagwa," the product of a snake oil manufacturer Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company of Connecticut. According to, the concoction was a mixture of "Soda Bicarb, Gentian Root, Mandrake Root, Cubebs Rubarb Root, Senna Leaves, Aniseed Red Cinchona Bark, Yellow Dock Root Dandelion Root, Burdock Root, Sacred Bark, Licorice Root, Aloes, Alcohol Glycerine, and Water." Mmmm.... alcohol glycerine.

That's a long way from the ingredients of "Kickapoo Joy Juice," which, according to, are "carbonated water, sugar, permitted food conditioners, flavoring, perrservative and color (tartrazine)." Mmmmm.... tartrazine.

What a long strange journey! Who knew a can of soda could bring so much joy?

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Blogger Chris said...

Excellent research Matt ! Kickapoo has been in Malaysia for at least three decades (the limits of my memory). The closest that I've found to it outside of Malaysia is Mountain Dew. :)

Your next assignment : the origins of A&W Root Beer.

11:39 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

There's a boogaloo (salsa) song called Kickapoo Joy Juice.

10:14 AM  

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