The Return of Doctor Dreadful

About a month after writing about hydrocolloid food toys I received this email from Robert Knetzger:

Liked your posting on kid’s food toys. Yeah, Incredible Edibles were yucky, but the big reason Mattel stopped making them was the fact that the even tho they were “sugar free,” the starch, needed in their formulation so that they firmed up from a liquid, was metabolized very quickly into sugar—not a good thing for diabetic kids. Mattel made a deal not to recall, but instead got to relabel all the toys on the shelves with food warning stickers. (Read about it here:

Yes, DrD food toys were cool—I know a little bit about it as I’m the inventor of the toy. Do you happen to know when Faran started his molecular gastronomy—could DrD have actually been the first with the alginate blobs and worms? Doctor Dreadful was marketed in Europe as ‘Professor Horribilus.’ Could it be…?…nah…

After TYCO was sold to Mattel, my partner and I re-licensed DrD to a small toy company, Funrise, who sold new versions of the toys for a few years.  Some of the formulations had improved flavors: mango and sour apple worms! bubble gum brains! I could send you some old samples to try.

And, yes, DrD is coming back this year!  Look for all new versions of the toys from Spinmaster toys in the fall.

My first reaction was “Doctor Dreadful reads my blog!” My second was “I need some of those samples.”

After assuring him that the spherification technique had been developed in 1942 as a method for producing artificial cherries (thank you, Modernist Cuisine timeline), I asked for some samples, which he promptly sent:

I realized that I no longer had my old Food Lab or the instructions, so I wold be unable to make any of the edibles. When I mentioned this to Bob, he replied:

Sorry it took me awhile to find this info.  All of the activities/experiments were calibrated to the plastic beakers and test tubes so I had to find the original food formulator notes that go wtih these pouched samples.

Equipped with the powders and the correct mixing formulas, I set out to recreate “clotting crud” and “foaming brains.” First up, the crud: I dissolved watermelon-flavored solution (calcium chloride) in a small bowl, and sour apple crud (sodium alginate and calcium lactate) in another.

You can see the results up top: single drops formed little spheres, dragging the dropper through the mixture while squeezing formed “worms,” and holding the tip in one spot while slowly extruding the solution made “eyes.”

I moved on to the brains, dissolving “foaming A watermelon” mix in a large bowl, and “foaming B” in a smaller one.

I slowly poured B into A, stirring the whole time, until I wound up with a bowl of thick, stable foam.

All that remained was for me to taste the fruits of my labors. If I had somehow been in denial about being an adult, a taste of the crud and brains quickly convinced me that I wasn’t a kid anymore. The stuff was incredibly sweet, but tasted just like watermelon or sour apple.

I also realized that making the stuff wasn’t particularly exciting — it had more of an air of a lab bench experiment than playing with a toy. That’s the genius of the Food Lab’s wacky containers: everything tastes better when you’ve extruded it through a series of pumps and tubes, or consumed it out of a plastic skull.

I’l be waiting for the Return of Doctor Dreadful this fall. Or, since it will be the third incarnation of the toy, the Return of the Son of Doctor Dreadful.

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8 Responses to The Return of Doctor Dreadful

  1. Ken Meltsner says:

    This is incredibly cool — way cooler than my Tootsie Roll extruder.

  2. Ryan says:

    I always thought the Doctor Dreadful things were pretty cool. A boy’s equivalent to the easy bake oven, if you will. I wonder how many kids got their first taste of “cooking” with those toys.

    Awesome post David!

    • David says:

      Thanks. I wish the Dr. Dreadful toy was available when I was a kid, I had to settle for Incredible Edibles, hardly an adequate substitute.

  3. Paul Riddell says:

    I was and still am an unrepentant fan of the old Mattel Thingmaker toys, particularly the whole Creepy Crawlers line. I inherited a gigantic set of the molds and leftover PlastiGoop from my uncle David when she shipped out for the Navy, and went berserk. My only regret was that (a) the zinc molds were particularly unsuited for food casting, and (b) at the tender age of eight, I had no idea what I could put in those molds.

    Move forward 37 years, and my boss asked me what I knew about casting chocolate. We got into a lively discussion on food-grade silicone molds, and other food materials that could be cast in such molds. Now, NOW, I know how to turn those Creepy Crawlers molds into molds for gelatin and chocolate, and I’ll be glad to share the results when I’m done.

    • David says:

      Make sure to give those molds a light coating of oil before trying to cast anything in them. The micro-pitting would prevent then from releasing.

  4. John says:

    Dr. Dreadful has returned! I picked up a Zombie Lab & Bug Lab from Target for my niece , she loved making the Bugs. It’s available at retail and online: WalMart, Target, Toys R Us, Amazon and Kmart.

  5. Nikki Blinston says:

    Can anyone let me know if DrD will be available in the UK. My son is desperate for the Bug lab.

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