This morning I ventured out to the dreaded Wal-Mart to see if I could get my hands on a jar of Postum. Yes, Postum. It's a caffeine-free coffee substitute invented by noted cereal baron and whacko, C.W. Post in the late 19th century. (He also invented Grape Nuts, a cereal that contains no grape and no nuts. The man was a genius!) Post (a follower of another cereal barron, whacko, anti-masturbation crusader, and enema enthusiast, John Harvey Kellogg) considered coffee unhealthy and came up with a substitute made of wheat bran, wheat, molasses, and corn dextrin. All of this is roasted and ground up until it looks sort of like instant coffee. (In the South during the Civil War, the North cut off coffee supplies so it was common for people to roast things like grain, chicory, peanuts, acorns and brew them like coffee. My guess this is where Post got the idea from.)
I found it without much too much difficulty right there in the coffee and tea aisle. Postum! At last, victory was mine! So I grabbed a jar and made my way up to the checkout line to pay for it. No doubt I didn't impress the chunky goth-lite girl behind the cash register because the only people who buy Postum are older than your grandparents. Once the last of the people who remember WWII die off, Kraft Foods will probably dump Postum. But let's hope not.
So, this Postum, you ask, what does it taste like? At first I was afraid it would taste like off-brand dollar store instant coffee (or worse, Folgers) because that's kind of what it smelled like. But much to my surprise, Postum is actually kind of good. It does taste a little like cheap instant coffee, but it doesn't have that rank, burnt taste instant coffee always has. And it thankfully doesn't taste like Folgers instant. I like it. I can't say I'd want to give up real coffee for it or that I would want to drink it everyday, but I do like it. And I suspect it would go well with ice cream.
Addendum: This originally was a comment, but apparently it had too many links in it and Haloscan wouldn't let me post it.
The German coffee substitute I mentioned in my reply to Xolo's comment is called Pero, and it's actually Swiss, not German. Another Swiss one is Cafix.
There's a Bolivian one called Café de Cebada.
And on the herbal, healthfood side of things, there's Bambu, soy coffee, Teechino, and ramon nut coffee.
So there's a whole lot of coffee substitutes out there. No idea if any of these actually taste like coffee. Or if they go well with ice cream.
2/11/08 Addendum: Since Kraft announced back in December (or whenever) that they had discontinued Postum, my humble blog has had a sudden, and fairly large, increase in visitors, most of whom are looking for Postum. A quick check at Google shows this blog entry is the second listed website for Postum. I'm suddenly one of the internet's leading authorities on Postum. Sadly, there's no way for me to cash in on this.
Today I got an email from Seattle Bob who informed me had formed a brand new Yahoo group for Postum lovers. Just go to the Yahoo Groups page and type in Postum. Bob outlined the aims for his group in his email:
The purpose of the group is multi-fold:So instead of desperately reading my old blog entry, go join the Postum group!
1. To lobby Kraft to resume production. I think this is a dead issue. A Kraft employee posted on one site that they had already removed the production equipment from the factory, But if they see a niche demand, they may decide to sell the rights to someone else.
2. To keep this story in the media. I am encouraging people to contact news media, and keep the pressure on Kraft. I am hoping to creat a "New Coke" type marketing fiasco for them.
3. To encourage people to contact smaller food processors and suggest Postum may fit into their marketing plan, and ask them to approach Kraft to sell them the rights to Postum. This seems to be the best scenario in my opinion. Even if there isn't a large enough pot for Kraft, a guarenteed market of a couple million people would be a tempting "cash cow" for a smaller processor.
4. Discuss alternate products from other manufacturers, such as Pero and Cafix, although I have tried them both, and they are terrible! I think they try too hard to simulate the taste of coffee, and end up tasting like bad coffee.
5. If all else fails, to try to crack the recipe, and make Postum in small batches for personal consumption. CW Post originally made small batches for his sanitarium in an 1890's commercial kitchen, all the ingredients are listed on the jar, and are available in retail quantities, so it may be possible to hack the recipe.... you know, 12 monkeys typing. It is also another way of letting Kraft, and other food processors know there is an interest.
One interesting thing I've dug up on my own is an alleged recipe for homemade Postum. I have no idea if it's the same thing as what Kraft sold, but it's worth trying I suppose.
One last thing. I have a confession to make. Back in December I gave away my sole jar of Postum to my sister because it had been sitting around untouched for months. Now I'm kind of wishing I'd kept it despite being kind of sick of it.
2/18/08 Addendum: The madness continues. Now there's a post at Metafilter on the discontinuation of Postum. And there's a few interesting links. (Thankfully they left me out of it.)
9/28/11 Addendum: There's a site called Ersatzcoffee.com that sells a Postum substitute. I haven't tried it.