Christmas Candy Creation: Cherry Cordials

Whenever I tell people I do candy experiments, they assume the same thing: that I whip up delicious candy recipes in my kitchen. "Um, no," we tell them. "We destroy it for the sake of science." But what's wrong with making candy for the sake of science? Nothing at all.

When my husband told me that the filling of cordial cherries starts out solid, I practically called him a liar. "There's no way," I said. "They must freeze the cordials or something before they dip them. How could they start solid and turn liquid?"

But he was right (as usual). The standard way to make cherry cordials is to first make a dough or fondant of butter and powdered sugar, wrap each cherry in the dough, and then dip the whole into chocolate. So how does it get that lovely liquid filling? A secret ingredient: invertase.

Invertase is an enzyme that breaks crystalline sucrose (regular table sugar) into fructose and glucose (as found in corn syrup). The fructose and glucose don't fit together into crystal form. This causes the dough to liquify, producing a soft center.

I followed this recipe to make my cherries. Being impatient, I didn't dry the cherries overnight, and I think the extra moisture trapped inside my cherries probably helped soften the centers. I also learned that the invertase reaction doesn't happen overnight. In fact, my fear of putting the dough in the fridge overnight (would it deteriorate into a liquid mess?) that caused me to stay up till 2:30 am finishing the project was unfounded. These cherries take weeks to soften, and mine have never really liquefied. But they still taste incredible!

Dough forms the base of the filling

Wrapping the cherries in dough

Dipping the cherries

The final product, 5 weeks later

Candy Experiments in the News

When I met with the community relations manager at Barnes and Noble, she introduced me to a coworker. "Candy Experiments?" he said. "I just in the newspaper about another mom who was doing that!" Actually, that was me.

My daughter and I had a great time demonstrating experiments to a local reporter--read more here!

Ice Cream Crystals

When Thanksgiving rolls around, you might be enjoying pie and ice cream. I love ice cream, even when it's been left in the freezer too long. Though freezer burned ice cream is grainier and less tasty, it's sure beautiful.

If you leave ice cream in the freezer for too long, the water can evaporate and cause freezer burn. It's even worse if you leave the ice cream out so that some of the water crystals melt, then refreeze it so that the water freezes in larger chunks or crystals. The good news: you can prevent freezer burn by covering the exposed surface of your ice cream, or even remake ice cream that's too grainy to enjoy.

Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure by Samira Kawash
Reviewed by Loralee Leavitt

Halloween math doesn’t add up. Children trick-or-treat at office parties, church events, and neighborhoods, celebrating Halloween by maximizing candy collection. But many parents don’t want their children actually eating that much candy. They buy it back, trade it for toys, throw it away, or turn it into dazzling science experiments. Some protect their children by baking the candy into holiday sweets, sending it to the office, donating it to the homeless, or mailing it to troops overseas, so that instead of removing calories from circulation, they’re merely transferring them. What a twisted love/hate relationship we have with our sweets!

According to Samira Kawash, author of Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure, this ambivalence is nothing new. Her new book covers the recent history of candy, starting in the 1800’s before mass production kicked off the candy industry. From a very occasional holiday treat, candy became a national phenomenon with households and small factories producing thousands of varieties for their local markets (many went under because, as confectioners instead of accountants, they couldn’t reconcile cost with income), only to go under as aggressive businessmen consolidated holdings and marketed brands in national campaigns.

As I read, I was constantly reminded that brand success depends far more on marketing than it does on the pure merits of the product. Kawash walks us through the early growth of the candy industry, as it developed from thousands of small-business home-cooks to bigger companies that figured out successful naming and marketing strategies. (Babe Ruth was not allowed to profit from the success of the candy bar supposedly NOT named after him, nor to put his own name on a similar bar.) Candy marketers attempted to incorporate the latest scientific findings, so that early on in candy’s history, when all carbohydrates were thought to be equal, ads proclaimed “Candy is delicious food, enjoy some every day,” or tried to paint dextrose as a healthier form of sugar. Candy even became a target of the burgeoning cigarette industry with Lucky’s campaign: “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.”

As candy became part of the national culture, so did candy detractors. Periodic panics about candy reflected our country’s uneasiness about mass production, sanitation, artificial ingredients, and pure pleasure. One early dieter wrote in religious terms, equating indulgence with sin, and the follow-up with repentance, a mindset which seems to have worked its way into the national psyche. Candy was also thought by some intellectuals with (not enough) knowledge of chemistry to behave like alcohol when ingested, since it was broken down into similar component carbohydrates. In fact, the current debates about candy--how to avoid it, how much it contributes to obesity, and whether or not children should eat it or not--have actually been cycling through public discourse for over 100 years.

Some candy mythology gets debunked along the way. Kawash tackles our fear of adulterated Halloween candy with the news that there has never been an authenticated case of a villain passing out deadly candy to trick-or-treaters. (To be complete, she does cite an occasion in 1959 when a grumpy doctor coated candies in laxatives, or a time when a small child shoved a pin in his own candy and showed his parents so he could blame his neighbors, or times when children’s deaths were wrongly blamed on tainted candy because parents were manufacturing evidence to clear themselves of crime.) Kawash also takes on the recent research about chocolate’s fabulous health benefits by pointing out that the research is mostly industry-funded, and often tests chocolate in forms we don’t actually eat. (Personally, though, I’d rather believe ALL of the positive findings and use chocolate as my daily vitamin!)

Speaking of vitamins, Kawash points out something that I have also noticed in my years of writing about candy: we worry about genuine candy, but don’t recognized how many other new types of “food” really also qualify as candy, such as gummi vitamins. The Kellog’s snack bars at Costco reminded me of the chapter in which we learn that most candy companies missed the boat when it came to candification: it was companies like cereal manufacturers who “candified” breakfast cereal, created the “granola” bars that are really candy bars in disguise, or turned fruit into “fruit snacks” indistinguishable from their gummy candy counterparts. Snickers, with their “Packed with peanuts” slogan, was one rare exception.

Kawash closes with an appeal for common-sense candy eating. Avoid the “candy” that masquerades as cereal, snack bars, or drinks. Avoid the other highly-processed foods that also contribute to our national obesity epidemic. Eat real food, good food. And when you want a treat, eat candy.

(Note: this copy was sent to me, free of charge, for review, after I requested it. Since I’d followed Kawash’s blog at for awhile, I was really excited about the book.)

(Another note: I love Kawash’s transitions. Ever chapter leads nicely into the next chapter, almost like a Nancy Drew cliffhanger!)

Gum Solid

Why didn't the center of this lollipop melt?

Because it's a bubble gum center.

Sugary drinks increase risk of diabetes

According to a recent article in the Tufts Health Newsletter, "Beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup can boost your risk of type 2 diabetes—even if the calories don’t make you fat." I wonder why I never heard about Mayor Bloomberg defending his soda tax by calculating the costs of sugary intake on the public health system?

This Year's Trick-or-Treat Favorite

The kids' favorite trick-or-treat prize turned out not to be candy at all! Instead, it was neon-colored slime.

Melting Peanut M&M's

M&M's crack in the oven and expand a little--peanut M&M's crack and expand a lot!

M&M Peanut Butter

Peanuts get ground into peanut butter. What happens when you grind peanut M&M's?

It wasn't peanut butter, exactly, more like a dry paste.

But it did stick together well enough to form a ball!

Dum Dums

How do you handle the 150 extra Dum Dums the trick-or-treaters didn't collect?

Unwrap, arrange on parchment-lined baking sheet, and pop in a 350 degree oven for about 6 minutes.

Presto--instant wreath!
(Of course, it gets sticky pretty fast, so don't plan on displaying it on the wall. Unless you want it stuck there...)

Warheads and Surface Tension

My son also decided that when you dissolve Warheads, there's more surface tension in the bowl. He proved this by blowing on the bowl, and showing me how he could blow deeper furrows in a bowl of plain water than a bowl of dissolved Warheads. I think the glaze on the Warheads must form some sort of film on the surface.

Candy Experiment week #1: Warheads

We've spent the afternoon dissolving, melting, blowing, and smashing. I've got a whole week's worth of experiments to show you.

We always love playing with Warheads, which make the very most bubbles when we dissolve them with baking soda. Today my son experimented with whether to drop the baking soda in the water before adding the Warheads, or after. His verdict: if you mix the baking soda in after the Warheads have started dissolving, you can trap bigger bubbles at the surface. The Warhead glaze must form some sort of film on the surface of the water.

Candy Experiment cards for Halloween

Wondering what to give trick-or-treaters that won't cause tooth decay or candy craziness? Why not some candy experiments? I print these cards every year to distribute with my Halloween candy so that kids can go try the experiments at home.

I'm also offering these cards as perks for my campaign to raise funds for taking Candy Experiments to Washington DC. If you'd like to help me get thousands of schoolchildren hooked on science, or if you just don't want to print out that many cards yourself, find the details here.

Here are the links for my free candy experiment card downloads.


These experiment cards contain simple instructions for candy experiments. Download and print to pass out to trick-or-treaters or or use at candy experiment parties.

Fruit Fly Candy?

They say that "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Given the hoards of fruit flies that have been swarming our kitchen, I started to wonder: is this really true?
Honey vs. apple cider vinegar
The fruit flies were way more drawn to the vinegar than the honey. They were also able to escape from the honey more easily because it wasn't sticky enough. Myth busted!*

Since this is a candy experiment blog, I thought I'd try it with candy too.
Fruit flies are not attracted by Airheads, Starbursts, or Laffy Taffy, even when dissolved to enable fruit fly consumption. I could extrapolate from this that since fruit flies avoid candy, humans should avoid it too. And I would make exactly that point, except I'd be a hypocrite: if I were choosing between honey and vinegar, I'd totally choose the honey.

*But only for fruit flies. When applied to the use of kindness when dealing with humans, it's still true.

Candy Experiments starts a campaign for the USA Science and Engineering Festival

Once again, Candy Experiments has received a personal invitation to the USA Science and Engineering Festival, which hopes to help get kids excited about science. You can't beat candy experiments for getting kids excited!

At USASEF 2010 and 2012, we watched kids' eyes go wide as they weighed candy, and we cheered for them as they competed to sink marshmallows. We showed them how to make Warheads bubble. We helped them make chromatography rainbows, and taught one mother that the brown M&M's she chose for her children were full of the red dye she'd been trying to avoid! We love to see kids' eyes light up as they experiment: they're learning about reactions, nutrition, and math, but they're having too much fun to notice!

Presenting at USASEF is our way of giving back to our country. We hope to help spark new interest in science, and to help fight obesity by showing what's really in our food. I can't count how many times our demonstration has made people swear off soda! We're making a difference--and you can help.

The money raised by this campaign will be used to set up and fund a Candy Experiments booth at the USASEF in Washington DC, April 26-27, 2014. Expenses covered will include
-candy, experiment materials, and supplies for the booth
-travel expenses, including airfare to DC, lodging, and meals
In return, contributors will receive various perks, including recognition on, candy experiment cards for Halloween, signed copies of Candy Experiments, thank-you postcards, candy experiment events, or space on the Candy Experiments banner at USASEF.

Please help us take Candy Experiments to USASEF!

Halloween Decision: Apples, M&M's, and Other Ideas

At the Trunk-or-Treat last Halloween, I just happened to have a box of apples in the car. I hate giving out candy, so I let kids choose apples if they wanted. To my surprise, many kids came back for more, and the grownups started seeking me out. They were smart to do so.
One package of king-sized M&M's has as many calories as five apples.

According to Nutrition Made Clear by Roberta Anding, a king-sized package of M&M's has as many calories as five apples. So, somebody looking for a sweet snack could choose either a low-calorie, high fiber, yummy apple, or they can choose high-calorie M&M's. Anding points out that five apples would be too filling for anybody to eat all at once, but a person can easily down a package of M&M's in one sitting. I'd try this experiment myself and report back to you, but I think I'd get sick.

Alternative Treats: If you're worried about handing out too much sugar at trick-or-treat time, try fruit instead. Apples aren't your best option for unknown trick-or-treaters, but they are great for events or parties where nobody's going to accuse you of anything nefarious. For other trick-or-treat ideas, check out this Green Halloween list, which includes treats and treasures like boxed raisins, fake jewels, and temporary tattoos. (Remember to check ingredient labels--even organic treats can contain lots of sugar!)

This post is part of the Green Halloween Blog Carnival. Head on over to the carnival for lots of great tips for putting a little green in your Halloween!

Melted Gummy Rings

Some mothers give their daughters clothing, jewelry, chocolates, or fine literature. Mine gave me this bag of gummy peach rings that had melted in the car. What a treasure!

Apparently when the candy melted, the foamy tops of each ring floated to the top of the mess, probably because there were air bubbles trapped inside. Now the gummy candy is all on the bottom, and the foamy part is all on the top. Perfect system, in case any of you needs a way to isolate peachiness from gummy rings.

Temptation Candy loves Candy Experiments

Online candy store Temptation Candy just reviewed Candy Experiments on their blog. Not only did they rave about it, they created a great new meme to go with it. (I look just like this when I'm doing candy experiments.)

Candy Sticks

When I heated this lime-colored candy stick in the oven, I saw something new: it split along the lines of the stripes, as if it were waiting to be peeled or unwrapped.

So, obviously, I had to try to peel off the hard candy stick coating.
Since my tools were kitchen tongs, I kind of mangled it, but you get the idea.

Another interesting thing about this candy stick: after it sat on my counter for a while, the shiny inside got much stickier than the outside. Like the Rubber Bandy Candy Canes, this candy stick apparently has an interior made of something different than the exterior.

Hershey Chocolate Sawdust

A long, long time ago, I microwaved some Hershey bars so that I could demonstrate chocolate bloom at a school visit. The chocolate bars developed lovely circular chocolate bloom structures, which I passed around the classroom to make the students goggle.

Then I put them on the fridge and forgot about them. Little did I know I was conducting a brand-new candy experiment!

When I finally took the plate down a year and a half later, this is what I found:
The chocolate had bloomed so much it had crumbled to pieces, like chocolate sawdust. (If you don't believe it's actually chocolate, look for the Hershey's logo on the bar on the upper right.)

All that was left of each bar was a pile of powder, which I was able to spoon up without any trouble at all.

Fountaining Peeps Hearts

What happens when you microwave Peeps hearts in a bottle: they expand and fountain out!

Pop Rocks Fun at

Thanks to, which donated a box of Pop Rocks to the Candy Experiments cause, I was able to do a lot of playing with Pop Rocks.

Like this experiment, which I first read about at Science Sparks.

And this.

To find out what was happening, and how to do these experiments yourself, head over to my guest post on the blog!

Candy Experiments in School Library Journal

Candy Experiments got a great mention in School Library Journal!

School Library Journal Gr 3–6—This book of tricks with treats coats scientific principles and properties like molecular structure and attraction, and volume, mass, and density with layers of sugar. Grouped by physical properties that include "Color," "Secret Ingredients," and "Sticky" or processes like "Blow It Up," "Squash It," and "Dissolve This," the activities begin with an introductory question and tend to flow incrementally....From the candy-colored cover to the index separated by lettered M&M's, eye-appeal abounds...

You can read the full review at

Expanding Candy Hearts

Remember the Hearts Bobbing in Soda experiment? Here's what happens when you open the bottle.

When conversation hearts dissolve, some of the color sticks together in a bubbly mass that still looks like a heart. When the bottle is opened, the bubbles expand, making the hearts bigger. Then they get pushed out of the bottle by the escaping carbon dioxide.

Candy for fun and games

I really enjoyed visiting Portland last week for a signing at A Children's Place bookstore. The kids who came were really interested, and we all had a great time. Plus, I loved this stop sign in the parking lot, which wears a crocheted green cover to make it into a flower:

Not only did we have a great signing, we got to touch base with Hattie's Sweet Shop two doors down, where we tasted some excellent ice cream, and found strange new candy products to admire. Like these Jelly Belly games. I guess Jelly Belly also wants people to enjoy their products in new ways--they must not know about candy experiments!

Playing cards and Jelly Belly beans included!

Candy Experiments giveaway at just launched a Candy Experiments giveaway, with signed copies as prizes. There are lots of ways to enter, but my favorite is to send in your own idea for a candy experiment. (I can't wait to read them!) Here's the entry information.

Also, recently donated some Pop Rocks to the candy experiments cause, and we had a ton of fun here experimenting with them. Watch next week when we reveal our discoveries on!

Make Your Own Pop Rocks

I haven't tried it yet, but here's a recipe for homemade Pop Rocks.* Instead of pumping large amounts of carbon dioxide into the heated candy mixture (the way store-bought Pop Rocks are made), the recipe uses an acid/base reaction to make the bubbles that get trapped in the candy. Sounds fun!

"How to Make Pop Rocks at Home" with recipe development by Emily Jacobs of Sage Recipes.

Great experiment dissolving M&M's in oil or water

Just found a great little experiment at the ACS site in which you drop M&M's in water and in oil to see which dissolve better. The lesson teaches students about polar and nonpolar substances.

Swimming Gummy Gecko

Here's another fun gummi gecko trick. After it sits in water for two days, it's flexible enough to go swimming!

Video: Hearts Bobbing in Soda

Up and down the Brach's hearts go.
Why do they do it? Do you know?

This is one of my favorite experiments to do at presentations, and it works really well on TV.
It was featured a few months ago in a Candy Experiments excerpt on, and I also have the instructions on my blog.

If you want to see how long the hearts can bob, here's the long version of the video.

Sticking M's

When I demonstrate candy experiments, floating M's are still one of the biggest crowd-pleasers. Apparently my four-year-old is also entranced by them, because she invented a new floating M's experiment by touching one of the floating M's with her finger:

Who knew you could actually pick them up?

Acid Test for Science Fair

Science fair project: use baking soda solution and purple cabbage indicator to compare candy acidity. Purple cabbage indicator (made by boiling, or soaking, purple cabbage in water) changes color based on pH. If you add a base, it turns blue, and if you add acid, it turns pink. Here's the original color.

First, we dissolved various candies in indicator. The brightest pink are the most acidic.

Then we added baking soda water to each sample to bring it to neutral, and compared how much soda we used for each sample to arrive at an acidity comparison.

One fun little thing: to dissolve the maximum amount of soda in water, we warmed the water up. As it cooled, the soda started to crystallize again. Apparently, our initial solution was a little supersaturated.

Airy Chocolate

This Reader's Digest snippet from 2011 describes how candy makers stretched out the cocoa by adding air: "The price of cocoa is soaring, and candy makers are stretching ingredients by adding air. They say the chocolate is creamier, with fewer calories." Wonder if they're still doing it, and wonder if you can tell the difference when you put the bars in water?

Of course, some chocolate bars are made with lots of air bubbles, like the British aero bar. We floated one once, and had it spinning in nice circles.

Here's a Businessweek article with more info.

Gummy Gecko Tails

One gecko went for a swim, and the other stayed dry. One gecko floated in water, showing off hidden air bubbles, and the other gecko kept its secrets. One gecko absorbed so much water it grew, and the other lay by the side of the pool. One gecko swam away (down the drain) and the other was forgotten in a bowl.

One gecko, sitting in a bowl for weeks, got its tail bent out of shape!

(For a few minutes, the tail stuck up at nearly a 45 degree angle. Sadly, after we placed it on a plate, gravity eventually took its course, and our gecko became flat once again.)

Multilingual Conversation Hearts

It shouldn't be a surprise that conversation hearts are made for other languages. But when I opened my new bag of hearts for experiments, it took me a moment to realize that 1) the messages were different than usual and 2) I could still understand some of them because they were in Spanish. Hola, amigo!

How many can you understand?

Easter Candy Diet Coke Fountain

I spent a whole afternoon trying different kinds of candy in Diet Coke geysers to see if anything could approach Mentos. I had OK luck with Sweethearts, and Sweet Tarts, which seem to have the right kind of surface (slightly pitted) but aren't heavy enough to drop immediately to the bottom of the bottle like Mentos do. Regular jelly beans were a failure--I think they're too smooth for the soda bubbles to form quickly on their surface. But one candy made me want to try again. Guess what we were doing all evening?

Here's are two nice Coke Zero geysers done with bumpy Nerd jelly beans.

Why do the bumpy Nerds create such a good geyser? My guess is that it's because they have a lot of extra surface area, because all those bumps stick out so much. That gives the soda bubbles even more space on which to form, and so the bubbles can form quickly.

So how do the bumpy Nerds compare to Mentos, geyser-wise? I tested Mentos, using the same amount of weight as I had with bumpy Nerds (10 g). Here was the result:
I had such high hopes, but the Mentos still won. This time.

By the way, when I used this experiment today I tried out the Steve Spangler Mentos Geyser Tube. (Steve Spangler is the person who popularized the Mentos/Diet Coke experiment in this video.) The tube works quite well, sending a fountain much higher than if you drop the Mentos in from a cardboard tube, and you're also far away from the mess so you're not nearly as likely to get Coke all over your clothes. Of course, there were drawbacks as well--once I forgot to screw the top on tightly, and the exploding soda pushed the tube right off of the bottle. Another time the bottle fell over when I pulled the trigger string (though this may be because I had to replace the pin, which I lost, with a nail which worked great except when it didn't). So, if you use the Steve Spangler tube, use it right and don't lose the pieces!

XKCD and Cadbury Eggs

XKCD has its own version of Find Hidden Candy, using Cadbury Eggs. (This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.)

Easter Chocolate Pudding Chromatography

Mixing up some boxed chocolate pudding for my daughter's birthday party, I committed the same mistake as Matthew McConaughey in The Wedding Planner talking about brown M&M's--assuming that because it was chocolate, and that it was brown, that the brown color was all chocolate. (When we make chocolate pudding from scratch, with real chocolate, it's brown!) But a glance at the box told me otherwise--just like the coating on brown M&M's, Jell-O chocolate pudding has red, yellow, and blue food dye.

Naturally, I had to go looking for the dye. I wish I'd done the experiment before I mixed the pudding--diluting the pudding with milk made the colors harder to see. But I did get some color separation.
I don't know why I didn't see any blue. Maybe because the pudding was mixed with milk by the time I thought to test it, diluting the colors? Or maybe there just wasn't very much. There isn't much blue in M&M's.

We went ahead and used the chocolate pudding for my daughter's birthday party, turning "chocolate dirt pudding pots" with gummi worms and cookie crumbs into Easter egg hunting treats.

But my kids ended up not liking the pudding. Guess they're too used to the real thing.