Posts filed under ‘Science’

Donate Candy to Science

Skittles density rainbow. Courtesy Loralee Leavitt

What to do with all that Halloween booty? You could eat it all. Or you could do candy science!

Check out Candy Experiments for ideas on dissolving, melting, mixing, and floating your way through the candy bucket. And if you happen to learn a little about solutions or acids or matter phase along the way, ooops! Blame the Candy Professor.

Candy Experiments is the work of Loralee Leavitt, a mom with a science background, curious kids, and too much candy on her hands. It’s real science, folks! Loralee’s candy science has been featured at the USA Science and Engineering Festival and featured in national publications. Great work on the candy front, Loralee!

November 1, 2010 at 8:27 am 1 comment

Three Course Meals Coming Soon to a Gum Near You

Every time gum has more than one flavor, somebody starts talking about Willy Wonka. You know the scene: against Wonka’s express instructions, the unfortunate Violet Beauregard, ugly American chewing gum fanatic, pops that experimental stick in her mouth and enjoys the taste of luscious tomato soup followed by succulent roast beef, only to swell up like a super-size blueberry when the pie course comes along. What if? we wonder, as we chew thoughtfully on Stride Shift, hoping to capture the Wonka Magic as berry fades to faded mint.

Well, meat and pie lovers seeking full-meal gum satisfaction need dream no more, according to a recent report in The Telegraph (UK).

Actually, this story of invention and mastication begins in the pharmaceutical lab. For some time, drug makers have been using nanotechnology to create “microcapsules”: protective shells around the drug molecule that do not dissolve immediately in the stomach, allowing the drug to pass to the colon undigested.

Mad food scientists got wind of these slowly dissolving capsules and got to tinkering. If theses capsules can delay the release of drugs, could they be jiggered to delay the release of flavors?

Here’s the idea, according to food scientist Dave Hart of the Institute of Food Research (Norwich, UK):

“Tiny nanostructures within the gum would contain each of the different flavours. These would be broken up and released upon contact with saliva or after a certain amount of chewing – providing a sequential taste explosion as you chew harder.”

State-side, physicists at the University of Massachusetts have already begun to figure out how encapsulate flavor molecules in microcapsules. The Wonka future is now.

I’ve got to say, my first reaction to this story is: so this is what the finest scientific minds of our age are working on? I’d better get moving on that Chinese language class…

Gum. It’s getting more exciting every day.

October 25, 2010 at 8:56 am Leave a comment

Burn Some Sugar, Kill Some Germs

Back before anti-bacterial soap and sanitizing hand gel and Lysol disinfecting cleaner, how was the average germophobe supposed to get rid of the darned germs? After all, you can’t see them, so it’s not like you can just pick them off your sweater like so much lint.

Anthrax Bacteria

Bacteria were first identified under the microscope in the late 1600s, but it wasn’t until the 1870s that scientists began to associate these little buggers with disease, But even as scientists were fleshing out the “germ theory of disease” in the 1880s and 1890s, ordinary folks had their own ideas about what made you sick. A big contender was bad air. So one way of trying to help the sick get better was to fix the air in the sick room.

In some parts of Europe, people believed that burning sugar might do the trick. For a long time, doctors just watched their patients with their burning sugars and chuckled and shook their heads. It wasn’t really scientific, and it obviously wasn’t going to help, but at least it wasn’t hurting.

Then in 1908, Professor Trilbert of the Pasteur Institute at Paris decided it was time to actually test the burning sugar idea. He discovered something interesting: burning sugar gave off a gas called formic acetylene-hydrogen, a gas claimed to have with powerful antiseptic properties.

Trilbert reported on his experiment: After he burned some sugar under a glass bell, he put open glass tubes of the  bacilli of typhus, tuberculosis, cholera, and smallpox in with the gas. Within half an hour all the microbes were dead, according to his reports. He even suggested a try-at-home experiment: if you put some burning sugar in a closed vessel with rotten meat, the rotten meat smell would disappear. So the sugar gas definitely was doing something.

Was all of this real? Hard to say. We need a house chemist here at Candy Professor. The best yours truly is able to discern, Trilbert’s “formic acetylene-hydrogen” is supposed to be some kind of derivative of formic acid. Formic acid is a powerful preservative and antibacterial agent used today in livestock feed. It gets its name from the ants, from whose bodies this chemical can be distilled. However, I cannot find “formic acetylene-hydrogen” anywhere in the digisphere, except with reference to Trilbert’s work. Did he discover this amazing sugar by-product? If he did, no one ever after was able to reproduce the results.

Real or (as we now suspect) entirely imaginary, Trilbert’s discovery was widely reported in American journals and magazines in 1909 and 1910. Good Housekeeping Magazine reported on Trilbert’s work in 1910.  Readers of that magazine expected to be informed of the very latest in domestic science, and now burning sugar was added to the arsenal of the scientific household. Good Housekeeping included a practical tip on how to create the burning sugar gas effect at home: just sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar over a pan of hot coals, and wave it around the room. Here was a new way for mother to keep the family well, or rather an old superstition dressed up with a fancy scientific imprimatur.

Too bad it didn’t work. Imagine, instead of the hospital smells of Vicks and Lysol, if your sickroom was filled with the lovely aroma of caramel. Maybe just the happy thoughts of candy would be enough to fight off the nasty colds

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    Sources: “Sugar as a Disinfectant,” Confectioners Journal, Dec.1908 p. 81; Good Housekeeping Magazine, March 1910, p. 413.

    March 24, 2010 at 8:47 am 1 comment

    Tough Tootsie, and How It Got To Be That Way

    Durable. Rugged. Stands the test of time. That’s what you expect from radial tires. Not so much from candy.

    But that’s the Tootsie Roll. Built to last. Tootsie Roll Industries describes the candy’s peculiar durability as “its non-perishable quality and resistance to extreme weather conditions.” I’ll say. It’s pretty amazing that a candy renowned for surviving under war conditions should end up near the top of America’s favorite treats.

    How, you might wonder, did the Tootsie Roll get to be that way? Because if it weren’t for that non-perishable resistance, Tootsie Roll would have been just like any other chewy American candy of the early 1900s.

    The secret is in the patent. U.S. Patent number 903,088, awarded to Leo Hirschfeld on November 3, 1908 with the unassuming name “A process for making candy.”

    Normally a candy like taffy would be made by boiling the sugar mixture to a certain temperature, then pulling it on forks as it cooled, which would incorporate tiny air bubbles,  making it lighter in color and creating that chewy texture. Once it had cooled, you could cut it into pieces and wrap it.

    What Leo figured out was that if you baked the candy at a low heat for a couple of hours after you pulled it but before you shaped it, the texture would be transformed from regular sticky taffy to the particular and peculiar texture of Tootsie Roll. The second cooking would cause the candy to rise like a cake, and become more light and porous. And it would make the candy a little tough, Leo admitted: “while tough in a measure it is not unpleasantly so, and will after a reasonable length of time thoroughly dissolve in the mouth.” That sounds about right.

    Beecause Hirschfeld patented this process, no one else could do it. The patent was a very big deal in 1909. Tootsie manufacturer Stern & Saalberg Co. made sure everybody knew they had sole legal right to the Tootsie Roll process, and that they would prosecute anyone who tried to steal it. If you didn’t know, you could read it plainly at the bottom of their first known ad (shown here), which appeared in Confectioners Journal in May 1909:

    The process for making Chocolate Tootsie Rolls is Patented. We have $50,000 laid aside to protect our rights.

    The name “Tootsie” was also a registered trade-mark, protected by U.S. Patent and Trademark law. And in case you forgot, the patent was right there on the label of every single Tootsie Roll. The print is a little fuzzy, but it says “Tootsie Reg. U.S. Pat. Office” all over the label.

    Detail of wrapper from early Tootsie Roll ads (1909-1912)

    There is no candy like a Tootsie Roll, then or now. Pretty smart, that Leo Hirschfeld.

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  • February 5, 2010 at 8:32 am 9 comments

    Eat More Candy! or not?

    Extreme close-up of mid adult woman eating a chocolate candy bar

    Happy New Year! If your New Year’s Resolutions include a more nutritious diet, you are probably planning to cut down on candy.

    Of course, in different times there have been different ideas about nutrition. Early food science in the late nineteenth century introduced the idea of the “calorie” as a measure of the energy content of food, and recognized three major components of the diet: protein, fat, and carbohydrate.Back in the early 1900s, this food science provided an outstanding rationale for eating more candy.

    For example, one food expert wrote:

    It will be seen that candy has a high energy value–higher than meat, fish and vegetables. From a laboratory point of view, half a pound of chocolate creams, supplemented by a small bag of peanuts, contain all the dietetic elements that are essential for a wholesome and nourishing day’s diet. Three meals can be obtained from the chocolates and peanuts, and the body’s needs be met and the appetite satisfied.

    The craving for sweets also could be framed in scientific terms suggested by ideas of “instinct” and evolutionary utility. A physician offered this explanation:

    Sweets are the necessities of childhood and youth, hence Providence has wisely implanted in the young an insatiable desire for sugar. Without this element largely mingled with its food the healthiest born infant would die in a month. In vain would it nestle on its mother’s bosom, in vain its exposure to the warm sunshine, and in vain the softest blankets and warmest furs to encase its body. For the warmth which sustains human life comes from within, and must be generated by the internal combustion of carbonaceous food as found in all sweets and fats. It is the most inveterate of all prejudices in civilized life that sweets hurt children. On the contarary, they are a prime necessity, and to deprive them of those, if made pure, is downright barbarism.

    Where science led, advertising followed. One candy shop asked:

    Are you eating Candy Enough? The hunger for sweets is natural. The normal man or woman who is not eating a reasonable amount of candy daily is not being properly fed. Recognizing the wholesomeness of the candy DEMAND, we have equipped our store to meet it with a wholesome SUPPLY.

    For us in the twenty-first century, candy is clearly an indulgence, a treat, a little something extra. But the story of candy in the twentieth century was often dominated by a struggle to persuade or prove otherwise, that candy was wholesome and nutritious food. Is it?

    Sources: “Pure Candy is Healthful–Sound the Slogan,” Confectioners Journal Oct 1916, p. 86; “Infancy Dependent Upon Sweets,” Confectioners Journal May 1915, p. 68; Viedts advertisement, Confectioners Journal October 1916, p. 83.
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  • January 4, 2010 at 8:17 am 2 comments

    Candy Fortification: Synthetic Vitamin A

    Spoonful of dietary supplements

    In the 1950s, vitamins were all the rage. Prior to the work of the chemists, the usual way Americans took their vitamin A was in cod liver oil. But what if instead, people could get their vitamin A from something yummy, say, candy?

    Everybody needs vitamin A. So it was a potentially lucrative project for the chemical industry to develop a synthetic, stable form of Vitamin A. The prize was enormous: the military and the government were very interested in increasing the nutritive value of foods that could be stored and transported easily. In particular, the U.S. Army was interested in fortifying Army rations including candy, peanut butter, milk powder, and crackers with a palatable, stable form of vitamin A.

    In 1952, Pfizer developed a technique of gelatin stabilization that minimized the deterioration of the vitamin, and contributed no objectionable taste or odor. They tested chocolate bars fortified with the gelatinized vitamin A and found 92 percent retention after four weeks storage at 45 C (they don’t specify, but these must have been the modified military chocolate, as ordinary chocolate would have gotten pretty melty at this temperature, equivalent to 113 F).

    How much chocolate was consumed with vitamin A supplementation we don’t know. But we do know that synthetic vitamin A in amounts in excess of the RDA is pretty toxic. It’s usually called “retinol,” and today it is more familiar as a skin treatment than as a food additive. On the other hand, a candy bar that could prevent vitamin A deficiency and treat your acne flare ups might be pretty useful.

    Source: “Vitamin A Fortification Research,” Candy Industry 12 February 1952.

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  • December 7, 2009 at 7:54 am 1 comment

    Igniting Cough Drops

    Violent candies: It’s not about the taste, but about the action. Pop Rocks explode in your mouth. Extreme Sours of all sorts burn the skin off your cheeks. Wintergreen Lifesavers emit sparks when chomped in the dark. Dear candy, don’t just sit there; DO SOMETHING!

    How delightful it must have been for whoever discovered the igniting cough drop, back in 1913. One typically seeks such medicated confection for its soothing, cooling properties. One does not expect pyrotechnics.

    Woman Taking Throat Lozenge

    A popular cough lozenge ingredient in the day was chlorate of potash; mixed up with a little sugar, it promised a tasty and effective treatment for respiratory discomfort. But when you rubbed the lozenge on the igniting strip of a safety-match box, watch out! The lozenge would light up like a match and burn.

    It’s a cough drop. No, it’s a match. No, it’s a cough drop AND a match!

    Confectioners Journal called it “killing two birds with one stone.” One wonders how it could have been as tasty as claimed. Of course, in 1913 those chalky Necco-style wafers were popular, too.

    Source: “Killing Two Birds With One Stone” Confectioners Journal, Jan. 1914 p. 93

    More: Chemistry expert Anne Marie Helmenstine explains Candy Triboluminescence (those sparks from Wintergreen Lifesavers).

    November 13, 2009 at 6:53 am 2 comments

    Sweetose: Better Candy from the Chemistry Lab

    sweetose corn syrup

    The astro-turf group calling itself The Center for Consumer Freedom has once again taken up the high fructose corn syrup cause. New ads in national papers and TV stations are meant to mock those concerned with possible health effects of this corn syrup derivative, and to reassure the public that HFCS is just another sugar.

    All the corn dust kicking around got me interested in the whole history of HFCS. While I learn about that, allow me to share a little something with you this HFCS precursor: Sweetose.

    Sweetose was a “high-sugar-content” corn syrup manufactured by the A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company, of Decatur IL. In 1938, Staley patented an enzymatic conversion process that would transform regular corn syrup made up of the single sugar glucose into a sweeter syrup with different chemical properties, made up of glucose and maltose. In addition to industrial applications, Staley marketed Sweetose in consumer formulations as a pancake syrup and baking ingredient, similar to Caro syrup.

    The ad above is from 1950, from a candy manufacturer’s trade journal. Sweetose promises to add quality and sales appeal:

    Sample candy with and without Sweetose…discover immediately how this enzyme-converted corn syrup increases tenderness and intensifies flavors. And Sweetose prolongs freshness, too!

    The Staley patent expired in 1955. This opened up the field for others to experiment with enzyme conversion processes, leading to the development of the process that would produce high fructose corn syrup in 1957. But it was not until 1970 that Japanese scientist Dr. Y. Takasaki perfected an industrial process for HFCS production. HFCS was quickly adopted by the food industry, and here we are today.

    Sources: Staley advertisement, Confectioners Journal 1950; High-fructose corn syrup, Wikipedia; A History of Lactic Acid Making: A chapter in the history of biotechnology, By Harm Benninga (1990), p 414, Google Books.

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  • October 5, 2009 at 7:49 am 6 comments

    A Complete, Well-Balanced Diet

    Assortment of Vegetables, Spices, Grains, Nuts, Pasta and Fruit

    In 1951, food engineering was in its infancy. Imagination was the only limit to what the chemists might achieve. And what could be better than a candy bar that offered all the nutrition and sustenance of a complete, well-balanced diet?

    Monsanto Chemical Co. thought it was possible. After all, they had already worked on emergency subsistence bars for the Army which were rough derivations from chocolate candy bars. The food scientists were learning the secrets of concentrated proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins. A Monsanto representative explained the principle:

    It requires no great stretch of the imagination to foresee that with current knowledge already in hand … a tailor-made bar could be achieved which would sustain life for a long period of time with essential elements. A ’meat bar’ is already under investigation. Peanut bars, contributing a valuable source of protein, have already been in commerce for some time. … If properly qualified scientists, chemists, and food technologists directed their attention toward developing the kind of product necessary for human sustenance, I am quite confident that a tailor-made, approximately balanced candy bar can be achieved.

    It’s probably a good thing that they decided to abandon this line of research. Imagine all those school kids opening their lunch boxes and pulling out “well-balanced candy bars.”

    Wait, I err. In the twenty-first century, we can buy “well-balanced candy bars” at any grocery or drug store. They come in convenient and delicious flavors like chocolate almond and caramel crunch. Look for them under the wholesome sounding name of “meal replacement bar” or “protein bar.”

    I do wonder what happened to the idea of “meat bars,” though.

    Source: “Candy Bar to Equal Well Balanced Diet Seen in Near Future,” Candy Industry, 17 July 1951, p. 3

    September 30, 2009 at 6:55 am 7 comments


    If you hope to create a smooth, creamy, or chewy candy, there is a particular kind of sugar you must add to your mix: glucose. In candy making, glucose creates long carbohydrate molecules that get all tangled up and prevents the other sugars from crystallizing. This is the molecular action that makes hard candies glassy rather than crystalline, and keeps grittiness out of butterscotch, caramels, and taffies.

    In the early 1900s Americans were becoming more aware of the techniques of food manufacture in the new food industries. One worry was “adulteration”: were the factories adding cheap or harmful substances to the food they sold?

    Commercial candy makers were under special scrutiny. They made chemically complicated concoctions, with strange and unfamiliar colors and flavors and qualities, and they sold them to children. Were the dyes and flavorings and ingredients really safe?

    Some weren’t, to be sure. But one that got everybody riled up was “glue.” Glue obviously didn’t belong in candy; yet there it was, right on the list of ingredients: “gluecose.”

    Dr. Cutler, a representative of the American Manufacturing Association of Products from Corn, explained the problem in a 1914 address to the National Confectioners Association:

    The word ’Glucose’ is derived from that of ’Glukos, ’which was the name given to starch which had been converted into syrup, for the reason that it was sweet. The English spelling of the word was ’Glucose,’ which very easily became misspelled ’Gluecose,’ hence the conclusion by uninformed people that it was a product of ’glue,’ and as glue is made from a variety of objects such as animal hoofs, old bones, fish, etc., ’Glucose’ naturally enough became blacklisted by many. … It was found that even physicians and school teachers were actually teaching and preaching about the dangers and impurities of ’Glucose’.

    Confusion about the relation between “glue” and “glucose” became so acute that the corn industry, the primary supplier of glucose, had to act. They went to congress to pass a law allowing glucose to be known henceforth by a name that would forever clear up the “glue” confusion, and would instead imply all that was wholesome and pure. So you won’t find glucose on the list of ingredients any longer. Look for this water-binding simple sugar under its common name: “corn syrup.”

    For the story of corn syrup’s rise as a sugar substitute, see my post Corn Into Candy: 1918

    Source: “Corn Syrup Education,” International Confectioner June 1914; Harold McGee, On Food and  Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen (1984).

    More on the science of Corn Syrup in candy making at Laura’s Candy Science Tuesday on Candy Dish Blog

    September 28, 2009 at 6:42 am 8 comments

    Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

    Welcome to Candy Professor

    Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

    (C) Samira Kawash

    All written contents protected by copyright. Except where noted, Candy Professor is my original research, based on archives, journals, magazines, newspapers, and other historical artifacts. You do not have permission to copy or re-post my content. If you want to refer to my work, please create a link from the blog entry and also write out the citation:
    Samira Kawash, "entry name,", entry date.

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