Like the Loch Ness monster, the deep-fried Mars bar has often been regarded as a Scottish myth.
But a study published Friday in a medical journal confirms that Scots consume thousands of the battered bars each week, and that more than a fifth of fish and chip shops — which specialize in deep-fried food — sell the strange sugary delicacy.
The study was conducted by Dr. David Morrison, a consultant in public health medicine in Glasgow, and Dr. Mark Petticrew, associate director of Glasgow's Medical Research Council Social and Public Health Sciences Unit.
They decided to investigate after the treat was mentioned by television host Jay Leno on NBC's "Tonight Show."
"We live in Scotland but we'd never actually seen deep-fried Mars bars for sale," said Morrison. "We thought they might be fictitious. But the Scottish diet is a major health issue and it's important to know what the facts are. We can now confirm that there is no doubt — the deep-fried Mars bar is not just an urban myth."
At more than 400 calories per bar, the snack isn't health food. But then, Scotland isn't noted for healthy lifestyles.
Parts of Scotland have the highest incidence of heart disease, cancer and strokes and the lowest life expectancy in the developed world.
Morrison and Petticrew, whose report appears in this week's issue of The Lancet medical journal, called nearly 500 chip shops across Scotland to inquire whether they sold the bars and discovered that 22 percent are proud to offer them, and another 17 percent have done so in the past.
One shop reported selling up to 200 a week.
Children are the main consumers and some shops reported being asked to deep-fry other candy bars, including Snickers and Cadbury's Creme Eggs.
Reports of the deep-fried Mars bar emerged in 1995, when a chip shop in the northeastern Scottish fishing town of Stonehaven said it was selling the delicacy.
News reports said the bar was the result of a bet between the shop's owner and his portly best friend.
The original shop, The Haven, is now the Carron Fish and Chip Bar, run by Calum Richardson.
"They are not my cup of tea but some weeks we sell as many as 300," he said. "I suppose people like them because they are different. At first it was a novelty but not any more."
The Carron charges $1.35 for a deep-fried Mars bar. Or for $3.29 you can have the supper: deep-fried Mars bar with French fries.
By Sue Leeman