A Saturday Morning Spoonful That Was Terror to Taste Buds

Cod Liver Oil and Castor Oil


   If it tastes bad it must be good for you, right?! Consider the three words that struck terror in taste buds of a generation of children: Cod Liver Oil.

If you grew up in the 1920s, cod liver oil was the sine qua non of Saturday mornings. Forget cartoons, back then Saturday mornings started with Cod Liver Oil.

   “It tasted like liquefied fish,” he explained, remembering one other important detail, “And oh no, adults didn’t take it, but all the kids in the neighborhood did.”

   “It was awful,” laughed Jack Dunne, 82 of Whitefish, who bears long lasting scars due to the weekly spoonful—to this day he despises fish, something he attributes to the awful taste of the stuff.

   In the early 1900s, children, particularly impoverished children in big cities were susceptible to rickets—a disease caused by lack of sunshine and an improper diet—notably a lack of vitamin D. The disease caused severe bone deformities and was rampant in northern U.S. cities.

   But in the 1920s, scientists developed an understanding of vitamin D, a vitamin that your body can create (with the help of sunshine) or that can be supplemented. Enter cod liver oil and its dread cousin, castor oil. A cottage market for castor and cod liver oil was born almost overnight—and the news (aided by national advertising campaigns) that small doses could fend off rickets was so pervasive, virtually all children who grew up in the 20s have recollections of the two oils.

   Jack Dunne suffered through both cod and castor oil—recalling that castor oil was the first on the market.  Castor oil could be nasty stuff to the digestive tract of kids—so not only did every child in his neighborhood receive a dose, it ruined their Saturday mornings.

   “They put the castor oil in orange juice and gave it to us Saturday morning. You couldn’t go anywhere afterwards for two hours. Most of us hate orange juice as a consequence of castor oil,” Dunne recalled.

   But it was one of those things that kids just accepted as a fact of life. Not however, without a bit of a fuss.  

   “It was good for me, I guess,” considered Id Knutson, who can recall that the cod liver oil in their house came from Norway, “I got a piece of bread after a spoonful, I couldn’t have taken more than that. But mother had to chase me all over the house.”

   Despite long-term after-effects such as a distinct distaste for fish, orange juice and all things associated with the oils, both Knutson and Dunne admit that there might have been something to the concoction.

   Noting that he rarely gets sick, Dunne grudgingly conceded, “Perhaps in the long run in was a good thing.”

  These days, milk is now fortified with vitamin D and fish oils are available in capsules—something that should cause a collective sigh of relief for generations of children.