Praise the Lord and pass the boogie board: MTN DEW Baja Blast is back on store shelves as of this week. Like the rest of the world, The Takeout is obsessed with this flavor, which originated as an exclusive MTN DEW/Taco Bell partnership and spawned an ever-growing line of other exclusive partnerships, like the newly-launched MTN DEW Purple Thunder. But good relationships are built on curiosity, and our staff’s curiosity led us to a MTN DEW quagmire this morning: What is a “Baja” flavor, exactly?
Per a press release sent to The Takeout, MTN DEW has declared 2022 “the Summer of Baja.” The brand is bringing Baja Blast to most major retailers, in addition to Baja Blast Zero Sugar, a Baja Blast energy drink, and two more “Baja-inspired” flavors: MTN DEW Baja Mango Gem and MTN DEW Baja Gold, the later of which features “a bright island pineapple flavor.” (Baja California is more of a peninsula, but okay.)
All of these drinks sound delicious—but what characterizes a “baja” flavor beyond a vague suggestion of peninsular vibes? Rather than frantically Google “WHAT MEANS BAJA,” I started at the source: a MTN DEW spokesperson. They told me the following via email:
“Baja Mango Gem, Baja Deep Dive and Baja Gold lean into the tropical nature of the original Baja flavor, while giving back to DEW Nation’s love of trying new ones.”
Well. Alright. Unfortunately, that doesn’t tell me much about the innate Baja-ness of Baja Blast. I get it, I get it; MTN DEW can’t reveal its flavor secrets. Alas, that leaves us to speculate.
Let’s start with the origins of Baja Blast. Baja Blast was first released in early August 2004 as an exclusive partnership with U.S. Taco Bell locations. Per a CNN article published at the time of the beverage’s release, the drink’s “Mexican-inspired tropical lime flavor” was formulated specifically to pair with Taco Bell’s menu.
But why “Baja?” I understand the appeal of product alliteration—but how Baja is this Blast, anyway?
Baja Blast is named for Baja California, a Mexican state off the southern coast of California. (Baja Blast is not to be confused with Baha Men, a Bahamian band that formed in New Providence, Bahamas, though both Baja Blast and Baha Men continue to delight.) But does the soda’s tropical lime flavor actually connect to Baja California’s rich culinary delights?
Eh, no. Not really. For one thing, limes didn’t originate in Mexico. You may have heard of the Mexican lime, which is a real thing—but it’s actually believed to have originated in the Indo-Malayan region. Perdue University’s horticultural department cites a 1987 paper explaining that the lime was “unknown in Europe before the Crusades,” though it was cultivated in parts of Europe by the mid-13th Century. The author adds that the lime was “undoubtedly introduced into the Caribbean islands and Mexico by the Spaniards, for it was reportedly commonly grown in Haiti in 1520.” Since then, it’s become naturalized in parts of the West Indies and Mexico.
But the drink is called Baja Blast, not Indo-Malayan Blast. So are there other elements of Baja California’s flavors incorporated into the beloved soda? To find out, I took a quick spin through the culinary internet to acquaint myself with the region’s favorite flavors.
There’s savory machaca, a traditionally dried meat that incorporates beef, pork—even stingray. Speaking of seafood: Baja California has plenty, offering up pan-fried lobster as a popular choice. (Puerto Nuevo, a seaside village just south of San Diego, is famous for being the “Lobster Capital of Baja.”) The region also has a rich culinary connection to sea turtles, as outlined in this article by anthropologist and marine biologist Michelle María Early Capistrán. Finally, Baja California has peppers aplenty, with bountiful crops that include the ubiquitous Anaheim and jalapeño peppers. And while Baja Blast does have a bit of a kick to it, it’s certainly not that kind of kick.
So, is there anything truly Baja about Baja Blast? Other than the product’s vague association with Mexican food, I’d say no. There is, however, a whole world of Baja Californian cuisine out there, drawing you in with the promise of buttery pan-fried lobster and zingy machaca. If you live in Southern California, you’re only a short drive away. Feel free to chug a Baja Blast en route.