It’s that time of year again, and whether you think you're ‘too old’ or not, large amounts of sweets are being consumed by individuals across the nation. Among the various sugary creations being bought and sold, one in particular remains popular year on year that comes in the form of popping candy. Love it or hate it, you’ve probably tried it and wondered at some point as to how it works and what causes the famous ‘popping’ sensation occurring in your mouth. Unfortunately it’s not magic, but science that is the explanation behind the calorific bombs that come in small, colourful packets.
(A common brand of popping candy. Source: thesweetclub.co.uk)
The sweet itself originated in 1957, and was the brainchild of a Chemist named William Mitchell, who was working for the American food company, General Foods at the time.The candy burst onto the market in 1975 and still remains to this day, being sold under many brand names such as Magic Gum and Fizz Wizz. The sugary item was recently popularised by chef Heston Blumenthal, who favoured the sweet for its ability to create peculiar sensory experiences.
Primarily popping candy is a hard candy, meaning it consists of flavouring, corn syrup, water and sugar (sucrose). To make hard candy you simply boil these ingredients together, turning it into a sugary molten mess. The mixture is then allowed to cool and you are left with a slab of hard boiled sucrose that can be broken up and eaten as sweets.
On the surface, popping candy appears to look like any other hard boiled sweet, so what do they add to this mixture that makes popping candy behave the way it does once you put it in your mouth? The answer comes in the form of Carbon Dioxide. When the sugary mixture is at boiling point, high pressure Carbon Dioxide pressurised to 600 psi (pound-force per square inch) is added to the mixture. The amount of Carbon dioxide added roughly equates to 10-15ml of gas per gram of sugar. For those that aren't sure as to how much pressure this is, car tyres are usually pumped to around 35-40 psi and its 7 times the pressure inside a champagne bottle! Once the molten mixture has been exposed to the high pressure gas, it is allowed to cool. Upon cooling the gas tries to escape and in doing so forms large bubbles, these bubbles explode, shattering the candy into many tiny pieces. However, a few small bubbles, each one containing Carbon dioxide pressurised to 600 psi still remain locked inside a sugary cage.
Now you’ve probably already guessed that these little bubbles have something to do with the ‘popping’ that occurs, and indeed they do. Once the candy is placed into your mouth the enzymes in your saliva and warm temperatures in your mouth begin to dissolve the sugars present in the candy itself. The sugary walls imprisoning the trapped gas then break down and the gas is released in one quick explosion, giving the characteristic popping sensation.
Now the popping sensation has been explained, a myth surrounding the famous candy needs to be cleared up. It is rumoured, that eating copious amounts of popping candy followed by fizzy drink can cause your stomach to ‘explode’. Rest assured that if you were planning on having a sucrose fuelled binge with popping candy and Coke this halloween, your stomach is safe. The amount of Carbon Dioxide released from the candy is one tenth of that from a mouthful of the drink. The worst that is likely to happen is that you burp in the face of the boy or girl you were trying so desperately to impress by swallowing a whole packet of popping candy in one go.
So now you finally know the science behind these mysterious sweets, you can go crazy this halloween and consume popping candy to your heart’s content. I would say however that copious amounts of popping candy are exceptionally bad for your teeth, so for the sake of dental hygiene, please, please try and restrain yourselves. Or at least brush your teeth after.