Artistic Chocolate Bloom

Chocolate bloom added some artistic shading to this Le Petit Ecolier cookie!

Sugar and Memory

Researchers at UCLA found that As summarized in The Week, "Sugary foods may be as bad for your memory as they are for your waistline."* Apparently researchers at UCLA found that rats who had learned a route through a maze were less able to navigate the same maze after eating a diet high in high-fructose corn syrup. Apparently the high levels of HFCS "had disrupted synapse communications in the hippocampus, a brain region devoted to learning and memory." (A UCLA article clarifies that cane sugar is also a source of fructose in the diet.)

So think twice about all those holiday sweets! (Or take the easy way out and enjoy the treats until you forget why they might be bad for you.)

*June 15, 2012

Candy Experiments for the Holidays

Whether you need a way to keep kids entertained during the holidays, or a way to use up all those extra candy canes, here are some some of my best Christmas classics from

Chocolate for Christmas?

Favorite experimental chocolates from the Northwest Chocolate Festival--maybe you'll get some Christmas ideas.

Pop Rocks create the explosions in these "Exploding Chocolate Frogs." If you can't make it to Chocolate Affairs to buy some, online recipes teach you to make your own by stirring Pop Rocks into melted chocolate or molding candy, and pouring it into a frog mold.

Here's a treat for somebody who needs an extra reason to eat their vegetables. Amore Earth is experimenting with vegetable-filled chocolate truffles. Of those I tasted, the broccoli truffle was OK, but I wouldn't recommend the beet (you'd think beet would be good, considering beets can be used in sugar production). Personally, I think I'll enjoy my vegetables and my chocolate separately, but I applaud the experiment.
Carter's Chocolates, the creators of this chocolate, truffle professed no political preferences. Some people apparently bought these to honor President Obama, and some people delighted in biting his head off. While I don't see these currently listed on the website, you could also try new ideas like chocolate-dipped bacon.

Cacao Yogi infuses their chocolate with gold to aid in meditation. Although the purpose was carefully explained to me, I don't know that I can do it justice, so I've included their own explanation.

And finally, a chocolate dipping machine, handmade by the Chocolate Dude, that tempers the chocolate and heats it as you dip treats to your heart's content. It only costs $525!

Cookie Candy Experiments

It's holiday time, and therefore cookie time. But what happens when you put the wrong candy in the cookie?

We were trying for chocolate cookies, using M&M's. Since Skittles look so much alike, I accidentally added some of those. Here's what we got:
As the Skittles baked, they got chewier and harder, probably because so much of the water from the soft fillings evaporated. The ones on the bottom melted into chewy puddles on the pan. I don't know if I'd recommend them as a cookie filler, but they were sure fun to play with!

And does anybody remember the transit of Venus last May, when the planet Venus crossed in front of the sun, forming a tiny black dot?
Here's my "Transit of Venus" cookie.

Warhead Puddles

My 7-year-old son created this for my demonstration when I was on TV a few weeks ago, using old Warheads and new Halloween candy.

After a few weeks, we noticed that the Warheads were dripping. They'd absorbed so much water from the atmosphere, both before and after they were opened, that the surface started to liquify, dripping into candy puddles on the plate.

Hiccupops: a candy experiment that turned into a cure

My daughter brought home an article in Time for Kids about 13-year-old Mallory Kievman, who says she's invented a cure for the hiccups. After testing all sorts of various hiccup cures, and deciding that the most effective were apple cider vinegar, sugar, and lollipops, she combined them into a hiccup-curing lollipop. Now she's working to turn Hiccupops into a retail brand. You can find more information and news articles at her website,

What can your family invent with candy experiments?

Pumpkins for Thanksgiving

I'm calling these candy experiments because if you work on pumpkins long enough, you can turn them into dessert. Actually, I just thought they were cool. I had never before noticed the "ribs" attached to the side of the pumpkin shell, or how the sliced-off strands in the pumpkin top form such a beautiful sunburst.

There's so much beauty in the world around us! I hope you find your own small miracles to enjoy today. Happy Thanksgiving!

Candy Squash

This was our very first post-Halloween candy experiment: squashing Junior Mints to make candy mushrooms. I'll have to squash other candies to compare.

In case this isn't very impressive, I did do some very cool post-Halloween experiments that I'm trying to get online. But first, I have to work on some videos (a little harder after my husband reconfigured my computer and all the programs moved around.) Check back soon!

Chocolate craving

A post by the Candy Professor pointed me to an article about chocolate cravings in the brain. When a certain area of rats' brains was stimulated by enkephalin, the rats ate more M&M's. Yet another clue as to why we seek out sweets.

Candy Experiments on Steve Spangler blog!

Check out my guest post on the Steve Spangler blog for some of my ideas on using up Halloween candy. Along with favorite experiments from this website, I include tips on encouraging your children to create their own experiments, as well as tips on cleaning up!

Candy experiments appear in Epoch Times article

I connected with Epoch Times when they posted a picture of my son from the USA Science and Engineering Festival. When I contacted them to request a copy (we hadn't taken many photos at USASEF because we were way to busy), they expressed interest in candy experiments and asked to do an interview. You can read the article here.

Happy Post-Halloween!

Wishing you joy as you experiment and play with your extra Halloween candy!

Candy Experiments on TV

This morning, my son and I demonstrated candy experiments on KING TV's morning show New Day. Watch it here!

Mothering Article

Check out my Halloween candy article at I've got instructions for mixing colored potions, bubbling potions (using the acid test), melting candy, and fun candy crafts, like this poster made by my kids and my preschool teacher mother.

Nerds density rainbow

I love the Skittles Density Rainbow, with its brilliant colors. But it can be tricky to pour. I've added an alternative method to the Density Rainbow page. This one uses Nerds, and it seems to work quite well. Check it out beneath the Skittles instructions at Density Rainbow.

CSPI shares Halloween ideas

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which tries to educate the public about nutrition and the amounts of sugar in various treats, just posted some ideas for Halloween parties that don't focus on candy. There's also a link to a new PopCap Plants vs. Zombies video about brushing your teeth, and you can print coupons for downloading a free PVZ game for trick or treaters.

Candy Experiments in Top Ten Halloween Ideas

Candy experiments made the list for 10 Experiments for Halloween on The New Home Ec. Check it out--there's also a density rainbow in Halloween colors, glowing experiments, and a Steve Spangler oozing pumkpin.

The Speckled Cotton Candy Brain

Buying a bag of cotton candy was a new thing for me. Of course I didn't want my kids to eat all of it, but I thought I'd let them try it to see what the excitement was all about, and I wanted some of my own to experiment with. (Heh, heh!) So to celebrate this unusual occasion, I decided to get an unusual bag.

The cotton candy stand we visited had two colors: pink and blue. But when they were switching colors, refilling a dwindling supply of blue sugar with a new scoop of pink, the colors melted together to make purple. We searched through their bags until we found some purple candy at the bottom of a bag of blue. (Sadly, my photo of the color gradation didn't turn out, so you can't see the lovely shades of lavender.)

After we tasted our candy, and dropped some in water to dissolve, and squashed some of it, we let the rest sit in the bag. As the weeks passed, the candy slowly collapsed into itself, eventually shrinking to a mass the size of my two fists. And something startling happened: specks of pink and blue color reappeared!

I also love the wrinkled shape. It's a candy brain for Halloween.

Where does your sugar come from?

My daughter showed me this article in Time for Kids, which lists "the food groups that contribute the most added sugar to the American diet." Here they are: Soft drinks 33% Candy 16% Cakes, cookies and pies 13% Fruit drinks 10% Dairy desserts 9% Other 19%

Candy Experiments at Bob Books

I just shared some Halloween candy literacy tips with Bob Books. Find them here!

Candy Corn Craziness!

Candy Corn must be the popular flavor this fall. I just saw a news posting for Candy corn oreos, and CandyYumYum just reviewed candy corn M&Ms. Wonder what they do in water?

Cotton Candy Crystals

Cotton candy is made almost completely from sugar, with a few extras like dye and flavor. So it shouldn't be a surprise that cotton candy can can form crystals.

When cotton candy is made, it's melted into noncrystalline strands of caramelized sugar. But after we smashed it into a ball, washed it and let the water dissolve out some of the sugar, collected the sugar in a puddle, and let the puddle dry, small crystals started to develop in the center.

We had to throw the experiment away because my 4-year-old kept trying to lick it. But next time I get some cotton candy, I'll have to dissolve it, and see if I can get any crystals to grow.

Jelly Baby video

Here's a great video from the University of Plymouth in which a Jelly Belly meets a fiery end.

The Scoops of Sugar in Cotton Candy

When my children and I encountered a cotton candy booth in action, we crowded around to see and pestered them with questions. I was still wondering--how much sugar is there in a bag of cotton candy?

Here's the process.

1) Pour a scoop of sugar mix into the cotton candy maker.

2) The sugar gets melted and spun out of holes, creating floss that collects against the edges of the machine. It's centrifugal force in action!

3) The worker watches the candy accumulate, then gathers it up into a long skein, rather like a skein of wool. About four of these are packed in a plastic bag.

So how much sugar gets used? According to the cotton candy maker, one scoop of sugar makes about 4 or 5 bags. That's a lot of volume from one little scoop! (Since I wasn't carrying around measuring cups or a kitchen scale, I can't tell you how much sugar was in each scoop. One of the bags, when we weighed it later, turned out to be nearly half a pound. More than you want to eat in a single sitting, or maybe ever, but less than you might think for a bag that size.)

For more information, here's a nice article from HowStuffWorks about cotton candy and how it's made. Page five includes a nutritional breakdown, comparing it to other sweet treats. The key is density--although cotton candy is pure sugar, it's so spun out that one doesn't have as much sugar as you might think. Of course, you can eat quite a lot without realizing it if you down the whole bag!

Candy Experiments book advance copy

I just got my first copy of Candy Experiments in the mail, and it's beautiful. Can't wait until January, when everybody will be able to see it.

Chocolate Cookies vs. Chocolate Cereal: The Breakdown

As school starts up again, it's time to think about nutrition of cereals, snacks, and treats. So I really enjoyed comparing this chocolate cereal with chocolate sandwich cookies.


Here's the ingredient list, and the answer to the cookie/cereal quiz. The label on the left, even though it lists filling as the first ingredient, is actually the label for the cereal. The label on the right is for the cookies.

So how do the two compare?

Sugar: 30 grams of Krave contain 10 grams of sugar, making it 33% sugar by weight. This is actually a little less than some others, like Cocoa Puffs (37% sugar) or Golden Crisp (52% sugar). But compare it with Dare chocolate cookies: 40 grams of cookie (that's two cookies) contains 12 g of sugar, or 30%. The cookies have less sugar by weight than the cereal!

Oil: Both treats also contain oil, which adds calories. The cereal contains about 12% fat, while the cookies contain 25% fat.

Calories: 40 grams of Krave contains 160 calories, less than the 200 calories you'll find in 40 grams of cookie.

It's hard to which one sounds more like dessert, the cereal or the cookies. Certainly neither of them go in a healthy breakfast. But if you're choosing a sweet treat for your children, keep this in mind: Krave has vitamins added, which may interest you, and a bowl of Krave might take a little longer to eat than two cookies. All the air bubbles in Krave cereal (honestly, the stuff feels about as heavy as Styrofoam) spread out the sugar, giving you less sugar per bite. So if you're choosing a dessert that your children can savor for a longer period of time, the cereal might be a better choice!

Sports Drinks and Teeth

This news report details how the sodas and sports drinks teens are drinking daily are actually causing them to lose tooth enamel. The same thing would happen to somebody who regularly consumes acidic candy.

Pop Rocks Fireworks Ice Cream

Too bad I didn't see this in July--it sounds like a great activity for the 4th! A fellow blogger, at her daughter's suggestion, tried putting Pop Rocks onto ice cream to make Fireworks ice cream. Read more about it at

Quiz: Chocolate Cookies vs. Chocolate Cereal

It was a present my husband bought me: a box of Kellogg's cereal Krave. Not for me to eat, he assured our astonished relatives, but for me to marvel at. I pulled out a box of chocolate sandwich cookies to compare them with. Here's the quiz: which ingredient list comes from which box?

Citric Acid close up

At a recent art fair, I met a photographer who's getting closeups of things I've only ever seen as powder. One of my favorites was citric acid, which adds sour flavor to many kinds of candy. It is also used in Pixy Stix, which is why the Pixy Stix work so well for the acid test--when you pour the powder into baking soda water, it fizzes like soda. Pixy Stix work especially well because they're made with powder that dissolves quickly, as opposed to a solid candy like a Lemonhead.

You can see some of these beautiful photos at Lee Hendrickson's website, Side Street Photographics. Here are some photos of citric acid:

Squash Cotton Candy

It started out 8 inches in diameter, and at least 10 inches tall. Here at, there's only one thing to do with something that big. Smash it!

I smashed and squished my cotton candy together, squashing it and rolling it between my palms until it got as round and hard as a giant jawbreaker, about 2 inches in diameter. Not only did it get smaller, it turned hard. Listen to the sound it makes when it drops. It's a giant cotton candy marble!

Notice the color? While the original cotton candy was almost white, squashing the fibers together concentrated the color, making the final product a beautiful robin's egg blue.

Flatten the Cotton

I left my rounded mass of cotton candy on my dresser for a few days after I bought it. Thanks to gravity, it didn't stay round very long. Instead, it started to flatten against the dresser. When I propped it up against my jewelry box instead, it sank around the edges of the box, retaining the shape of the corner.

I wonder how long I'd have to leave it to let it get as flat as a pancake?

DIY Cotton Candy Machine

My husband found this great video in which somebody made his own cotton candy machine, and filled it with real crushed candy. The principle is easy: melt the candy, spin it, and collect it. The execution might be beyond me, though...

Cotton Candy Sugar

"I can't believe you're buying that," said my sister as I paid for the football-sized puff of baby-blue cotton candy on a paper stick. But there was a question I'd been pondering for weeks: is cotton candy the world's most sugary dessert? When you're eating cotton candy, how much sugar do you actually eat?

Aside from a minuscule amount of dye, cotton candy is pure sugar, melted and spun into a type of glass. To find out how much sugar I'd eat if I actually ate the stuff, I had to weigh it.

I weighed the candy on the paper stick, peeled it off the stick, weighed it again, and weighed the stick to double-check my math. It came out to 42.7 grams of sugar. That sounds like a lot--more than 8 Lifesavers--but on the other hand, it's about the same as a can of regular soda, and only a little more than a serving of fruit juice.

So is cotton candy the huge sugary treat it looks like? Not as much as you'd think, since most of what you see is just air). If I had split that day's cotton candy purchase among my three children, it would have been less sugar per child than giving them each a CapriSun.

Of course, how much sugar you're eating does depend on how much cotton candy you buy. My next cotton candy purchase, which had several skeins of cotton candy stuffed into a plastic bag, weighed nearly half a pound (we hurried to a nearby grocery store to find out). We only ate handfuls of that one, and experimented with the rest.

Honey Candy Oh's

I never checked the label for Honey Graham Oh's during my Find Hidden Candy searches, but I should have.

With 12 grams of sugar per 27 g serving, this cereal is 44% sugar! That's as much sugar as a roll of Smarties and a mint Lifesaver.

"Great taste of graham" and "real golden honey?" Even the advertisers aren't trying that hard to make it sound healthy. Note that they don't say "great taste of sugar and high fructose corn syrup," although that's where most of the sweet taste comes from.

Cavity-fighting lollipops?

Here's an experiment I'm glad somebody's trying! Lollipop Culture

Summer Chocolate Blooming

Summer is the time for chocolate bloom, even inadvertent. We found this Trader Joe's 72% cacao dark chocolate bar melted in a hot car.

After it sat on the counter for a few weeks, it had bloomed so much that traces of pure cocoa butter lined the edges. I scraped some off and rubbed it in my fingers before I tasted it--pure cocoa butter without any chocolate taste at all, and maybe even without any sugar (it's hard to tell from a 1-mm shaving).

In this photo, you can see the white cocoa butter at the corners of the chocolate bar.

The rest of the bar crumbled when broken, instead of snapping cleanly like well-tempered chocolate.
I love summer!

Gummi Fruit Snacks and Summer Lunches

Parents everywhere pack their children fruit snacks for lunch. They're packaged in little one-serving sizes, they're sweet enough for children to scarf down, and they have the benefits of real fruit. Right?

Think again.

Gummi fruit snacks are hardly different from gummi bears. Though many are made with some fruit juice and include a few vitamins, they have as much sugar as other gummi candies.

Samira Kawash of writes in The Atlantic that "Packages plastered with fruit bouquets and boasting fruit juices and purees give this category an aura of virtue that other candies can only envy. The problem is that the wholesome fruit goodness of fruit snacks is wholly imaginary. Fruit snacks are not fruit. They're not better than candy. They are candy."

That's why the Center for Science in the Public Interest, or CSPI, has filed a lawsuit against General Mills for mislabeling treats as "fruit snacks." Their press release states: '“General Mills is basically dressing up a very cheap candy as if it were fruit and charging a premium for it,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. “General Mills is giving consumers the false impression that these products are somehow more wholesome, and charging more. It’s an elaborate hoax on parents who are trying to do right by their kids.”

So when you're packing up children's lunches this summer, pack real fruit. Save fruit snacks for dessert.

Summer experiments

When we drove up to my in-laws' last week, I hadn't even crossed the lawn before my 6-year-old niece came running up. "Can we do candy experiments?"

I hadn't planned on doing experiments, and hadn't brought any special supplies, so I was forced to improvise with what I had on hand: a box of Wintergreen Altoids from my last car trip. I squashed eight kids into a dark bathroom, handed out Altoids to those who dared to eat strong mints, turned off the lights, let them chew, and watched for sparks. Since the littlest kids didn't want to try the mints, and couldn't see the mouths of the big kids, I had to repeat the experiment for them by bagging the Altoids in a Ziploc and squashing them with pliers. Note to self: next time, line the children up in pairs so they know what mouths to look for before I dowse the lights.

We also found some Starbursts and Tootsie Rolls in the kitchen, so I showed my niece how to drop them in a cup of hot water and watch for floating oil spots. (She wasn't nearly as interested in the oil as in the spreading colors, but at least she enjoyed it!)

Just goes to show, you can turn almost any candy into a great experiment.

Healthy Gummies?

How healthy are these gummi vitamins?
Since the first ingredient is glucose syrup (a kind of corn syrup), and the second ingredient is natural cane sugar (plain sugar), these gummi vitamins contain surprises that parents might not expect!
If you'd like to give your children candy fortified with vitamins, this is the vitamin for you. If you'd like to avoid giving your children extra sugar, make sure to check labels!

USASEF: Candy and Ergonomics

This challenge, from the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES), was to unwrap a piece of candy using only one hand.

How would you unwrap these?

I unwrapped the Hershey kiss, and found it easier to open one-handed than to photograph! (hence the blurriness).
Apparently the M&M's were the hardest. I asked the girl what the trick was, but she just smiled and said she'd seen people try several different methods.

Marshmallow Construction

At this booth, put on by Operation Smart of girls inc., people were challenged to see how tall of a tower they could construct with marshmallows and toothpicks. They hoped people would start experimenting with different designs and see which were stronger.

For anyone who wants to try this with their kids, here's an online lesson plan from that gives a little more information.

Here's the beginning of a tower:
For me, the most important thing in this picture was the water bottle. I could certainly relate--hours and hours of teaching experiments is hard on the voice!

Here's a finished tower.