Posts tagged ‘chemistry’

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

Please Don’t Eat the Wrapper

Partially eaten candy bar

By the 1940s, advances in the candy industry were closely tied to the work of scientists and engineers working in industrial chemistry labs. Companies like Merck, Pfizer, and Monsanto were frequent advertisers in trade journals.Pfizer emphasized the uniformity and purity of its citric acid, cream of tartar, tartaric acid, and sodium citrate “to give good taste characteristics…to assure the product uniformity and product purity.” Merck placed ads for citric acid to “bring out the goodness of a well-made confection.” Merck also encouraged candy makers, newly interested in fortification, to choose Merck Food-Industry Vitamins with regularity, and also promoted its “pure vitamins for the food industry: Vitamin B1, Riboflavin, Niacin, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C).”

Monsanto Chemicals and Plastics offered the widest variety of products for the candy manufacturer. For candy flavor, there was Ethavan, a trade formulation of Ethyl Vanillin, (artificial vanilla flavor). Ethavan offered “distinctive flavor, and an aroma that is more pronounced, more intriguing, more pleasing… unusual staying power… more economical.” But Monsanto wasn’t just in the candy. Monsanto Plastics division offered “thermo-plastic coating” to wrap goods, and Vuepak, a “sparkling” material that could be fashioned into plastic boxes perfect for protecting and displaying candy.Vuepak was for products with “taste appeal, eye appeal, interesting design, texture of freshness. If it’s worth looking at…put it in Vuepak.”

It was inevitable that the folks in the chemistry division should get together with the folks in the packaging department and come up with something entirely novel. In 1949, Monsanto announced “packages with aromas to match their contents” to be provided to manufacturers of candy, cookies and ice cream. Vanillin, ethavan, and coumarin, which had been developed as flavor and aroma enhancers, were incorporated into paper pulp or pressed into finished paper. It was “tasty” packaging, for a reasonable cost.

Whether this became popular with consumers is not known. It seems risky, especially for candy bars one might eat in a darkened theater. There was, one hopes, some distinction between the taste of the candy and the taste of the cardboard package.

Source: “Packages with Aromas to Match their Contents” Confectioners Journal Nov 1949 p. 41

October 15, 2009 at 11:54 am 2 comments

Glue-cose

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

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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.

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