New experiment: how early do candy sales start?

Never mind that Christmas just ended--Walmart starts selling Valentine candy on December 26.

3-D printed candy: Your next Christmas gift?

For that really special candy-experimenter in your life...

You've heard of 3-D printing for plastic, toys, medical devices, and everything else. What about candy?

Check out these 3-D printed confections made by ChefJet! The $5000 printer allows you to print white sugar confections; for just $10,000, you can buy a printer with an injket head that injects food coloring into the mixture.

More Soda (bad) Health News

According to The Week, a long-term Swedish study reveals that "people with a daily soda habit may also be at higher risk for heart failure." In a study of 42,000 men over 45 followed for 12 years, "the subjects who drank more than two sweetened drinks every day had a 23 percent greater risk of developing heart failure."

"Soda Linked to Heart Failure," The Week, page 20

Does Sugar Curb Stress?

Do you overload on sugar when you're dealing with holiday stress? There might be a reason.

"Sugar may help curb stress, and that may keep us coming back for more. Researchers randomly assigned 19 women aged 18 to 40 to drink beverages (supplied by the study) three times a day with meals. About half got drinks that were sweetened with sucrose (table sugar), while half got drinks sweetened with aspartame. After two weeks, the participants were given a math test that’s designed to cause stress. After the test, the women who had been drinking the sugar-sweetened drinks had lower levels of cortisol (a hormone that’s secreted by the adrenal gland when people are stressed) than those who had been drinking the aspartame-sweetened beverages. All the women also had an MRI to measure activity in a part of the brain (the hippocampus) that gets inhibited by stress. On average, those who got the sugary drinks had a more active hippocampus than those who got the diet drinks, suggesting that they were less stressed. The results may explain why many people seek out sugary foods when they’re stressed. What should you do? When you’re stressed, think twice before you reach for sweets…or stop after just a few bites and go for a walk. There’s more than one way to deal with stress."

Why we keep coming back to sugar in drinks, from Nutrition Action Review

The Marshmallow Challenge: teamwork and engineering in action

My son's favorite school activity lately was The Marshmallow Challenge, as seen on Tom Wujec's website.  Each team had eighteen minutes to plan and build a tower with tape, 20 pieces of spaghetti, scissors, and a marshmallow to put on top. My son's group of four came up with their class's winning design: a spaghetti leg tripod with a single strand of spaghetti reaching up (like a camera tripod).

Color Changing Nerds

Eight years ago, my four year old wanted to put Nerds in water. We put them in water, they dissolved, the water turned purple, we threw it out, and Candy Experiments were born.

But we didn't know that there was more to learn! This Halloween we put purple Nerds in water, and left it a few days. As the dye decomposed, the water turned red!

A solution of purple Nerds in water (left) ends up fading to red after a few days (right)

Genes Affect Sweetness Perception

Is there such a thing as a sweet tooth? Maybe it's a sweet tongue. A recent study published in Twin Research and Human Genetics found that "about 30% of variations in sweet taste perception can be attributed to genetics," and that people who perceive sweet taste less strongly might therefore add more sugar when sweetening something like coffee or cereal.

Summarized in "Genes Affect Sweet Taste Percepetion," Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter Oct 2015, page 2

Best use of candy corn: Corn Bread or Candy Experiments?

Dominique Ansel, creator of the Cronut, suggests families use up leftover candy corn this way: cook it into cornbread! ( *"Cook with Leftover Candy!" Time Oct 27, 2014, page 81) All you need, apparently, is a standard cornbread recipe with 3 oz chopped candy corn, which dissolves into the batter when you refrigerate it overnight. Stir it the next day to mix the dye into the batter, and cook. Of course, if you do, you're still eating all of the sugar and dye you might have been trying to avoid.

Here's how we play with candy corn: "Skin the Candy" from Candy Experiments. Just drop your candy corn in warm water and watch the glaze peel off like snakeskin.

Apple Jacks Marshmallow Mystery

You can eat Halloween candy for dessert, you can eat candy-themed cereal for breakfast, and now your favorite sugary cereals come in a Halloween edition with marshmallows! Looks like on Halloween you get candy first thing and last thing.

I wondered how much sugar the marshmallows added to an already sugary cereal, so I checked labels for a 28 gram serving.

Sugar in a 28 gram serving of Froot Loops:
Froot Loops with Marshmallows: 13 g  (46% sugar)
Froot Loops without Marshmallows: 10 g  (36% sugar)

Then I checked the numbers for a 28 gram serving of Apple Jacks
Apple Jacks with Marshmallows: 12 g  (43% sugar)
Apple Jacks without Marshmallows: 12 g  (43% sugar)

No added sugar in Apple Jacks? Were the marshmallows practically weightless? Were the Apple Jacks so sugary that adding marshmallows didn't change the sugar content? I bought a box and weighed the marshmallows, which I found to be about 14% of each serving. What was going on?

A week later I checked the Apple Jacks labels again. This time, they read:

Apple Jacks with Marshmallows: 12 g
Apple Jacks without Marshmallows: 10 g

Instead of finding a science error, or a math error, I found a labeling error. So it's official--there is way more sugar when you add marshmallows!

Kids choosing candy

"Cartoons using overweight characters may encourage children to eat more," according to a Nutrition Action Review summary of a recent study. When children were shown a cartoon character before they got candy, children who saw an overweight character took more Hershey Kisses or cookies than children who were shown a normal-weight character. But if asked to think about things "that make you healthy" and to choose healthier pictures (say, milk over soda), the "characters had no impact on the number of cookies the kids ate."

The message? "Beware of subtle influences that make you--or your children--overeat." *From the J. Consumer Pschy 2015: doi:10.1016, summarized in Nutrition Action Review Oct 2015

High Fructose Corn Syrup raises LDL

One reason to avoid daily sodas:

From the June 2015 Nutrition Action Review: "In just two weeks, even modest doses of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) raise LDL ("bad") blood cholesterol and other risk factors for heart disease and gout." A study on 85 adults found that the more HFCS they drank, the "higher their LDL cholesterol, after-meal tri-glycerides, and average uric acid levels." The article also reminds readers that while this study used HFCS, table sugar has roughly the same amounts of fructose and glucose.

The article in Nutrition Action Review summarizes a study found in Am. J. CLin. Nutr. 2015. doi:10:3945/ajcn.114.100461.

What exactly is "Honey Sauce?"

You'd think that a package of honey to spread on a biscuit would be just that, honey. But, presumably to cut even more costs in a competitive fast-food market, KFC doesn't actually serve real honey. Instead, it's "Honey Sauce," made from the ingredients many parents try to avoid: high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and sugar.

Here's the full ingredient list:
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • corn syrup
  • sugar
  • honey
  • fructose
    less than 2% of
  • Caramel color
  • molasses
  • water
  • citric acid
  • natural and artificial flavors
  • malic acid

This makes me really reluctant to try their other biscuit topping, "Buttery Spread." The ingredients aren't listed in this one--who knows what it contains? Probably not butter.

Just another example of "Finding Hidden Candy" everywhere we look!

Polyphenols in Chocolate bars

"Chocolate bars with higher "% cocoa solids" generally have more polyphenols (flavenols) than ones with lower content." When researchers analyzed 46 different bars, the dark chocolate bars had more polyphenols than milk chocolate, and polyphenol content was higher in bars with increased percentage of cocoa solids. "Even small amounts of dark chocolate (6 to 10 grams--or 0.2 to 0.35 ounces--a day) have been linked to cardiovascular benefits."

Summarized in The University of California, Berkeley, Wellness Letter, Oct 2015: Volume 32, Issue 1. Original study appeared in the Journal of Functional Foods.

San Francisco requires warning labels on soda ads

San Francisco lawmakers voted to add warning labels to soda ads:

WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. This is a message from the City and County of San Francisco.

Maybe they were looking at this!

Pixy Stix Crystals?

You can make great crystals with Pixy Stix that seem to explode out of the bowl (one of the experiments from my first book, CANDY EXPERIMENTS)

but if you're in a hurry, and try heating them in the oven at 170, hoping this will speed up evaporation, you get Pixy Stix mushrooms instead!

I suppose that the heat prevented good crystal formation, causing the sugars to melt and stick together in more of a glassy state than crystalline form.

Smash it, Crack it: Turkish Taffy

It bends. It snaps. It shatters into small pieces. How can Turkish Taffy do all those things? Thanks to, which sent me a box of Turkish Taffy to play with, I got to find out.

Kenny Weisen, who decided to bring the candy bar back after it was discontinued for decades, loved smashing the candy when he was a kid. "It was the first interactive candy. You smashed it and cracked it--it was like playing a game." (as seen in "Tropical Delights," Kid in a Candy Store on the Food Network)

Turkish Taffy is a non-Newtonian fluid. Newtonian fluids, like water, flow at the same rate unless you change the temperature or pressure. But non-Newtonian fluids flow at different rates when force is applied. If you smash a ball of Silly Putty, it cracks, while ketchup flows more freely under pressure. Turkish Taffy is also a fluid, which is why it bends if you gently push on it. But if you apply too much stress at once, by hitting it against the sidewalk, it thickens and breaks.

The experts remind consumers to crack the taffy BEFORE you peel off the wrapper, to keep shards from flying all over the place. As a candy experimenter, I have to say that watching the pieces fly is part of the fun. (Sweep up the mess fast, or it will leave sticky specks all over the floor.)

Find out more about how Turkish Taffy gets made in this segment from "Kid in a Candy Store."

Crystalline Lifesaver

A friend challenged me to reveal the seventh line from the seventh page of my latest writing project. Here it is:
"Little did I know that this would turn my Lifesaver into a crystalline flower!"

For those of you wondering if this means Candy Experiments 3 is in the works, stay tuned...

They're Hatching! Easter candy destruction #3

Brach's Bunny Basket Marshmallow Easter Eggs were really fun to play with. Not only did the marshmallow filling expand, melting through and cracking the sugar shell, the eggs settled into really fun shapes.

Candy puffin

Candy frog

Author's confession: I really wanted to see if these would "hatch", but didn't think to buy any for Easter. Ever had buy candy on Amazon at post-Easter rip-off prices???

They're Hatching! Easter Candy Destruction #2

Dark chocolate cadbury mini eggs with their crunchy sugar shells are one of the few experiment candies I actually eat. That's why these test subjects are the milk chocolate pastels!

We heated the eggs in a low oven. After several minutes, the chocolate expanded and cracked the sugar shell, as if little birds were wriggling their way out.

Fun fact: after they cool down, sometimes the cracks close and reseal

Try this with peanut M&M's too!

They're Hatching! Easter candy destruction #1

Easter candy eggs are so boring. They just sit there...until you make them hatch!

When microwaved, this Cadbury egg cracked open, letting the filling spill out into a puddle. Since microwaves work by making water molecules vibrate and heat up, the water-based fondant filling might heat up faster than the chocolate, which is why the fondant melts its way through before the entire shell collapses.

As the filling cools down after cooking, it hardens, so that instead of a sticky liquid it becomes a soft pasty candy that you can pick up (and eat if you really want to).

Clamshell Skittles

Here's a video (not mine) of two different candy experiments: Clamshell Skittles and Expanding Candy. Fast forward until the middle to see the Skittles in action.

I loved the clamshell skittles because if you microwave them on medium or low, they really crack in half, and gulp like clams.

Candy and Easter Eggs

I wondered if I could use melted candy to dye Easter eggs, so I wrapped some eggs up with candy in foil and baked them in the oven. I didn't produce any fancy colored eggs, but I did make some spectacular gummy worm goo!

Also, this taffy-covered egg turned into a cute little face complete with bangs.

Look forward to seeing your Easter candy concoctions!

Science Fair Experiments

When I signed books at the King's English in Salt Lake City, parents from a homeschool group told me that they had a science fair coming up, and that their children were excited to try candy experiments for it. Their excitement reminded me that, since it's science fair time, lots of families are looking for science fair ideas. Here are some ideas for elementary school candy experiment science projects based on experiments from my website and from my new book. Enjoy, and let me know if you have ideas of your own--with 70 candy experiments in my new book, the possibilities are endless!

For each experiment, think of a question to answer, then do your own research to see what answers you get. Remember to control the variables in your experiment: for instance, if you try chromatography in different liquids, don't change anything else like the size of the filter paper or the temperature of the liquid. Some project guidelines might ask you to form a hypothesis at the beginning of your project, meaning a prediction as to how it will turn out.

Lifesaver Lights
Life Savers flash when you crush them because they contain sugar and wintergreen oil. Can you find other candies that make flashes of light? Which work the best?
What crushing method makes the best sparks for the Life Savers experiment? Chewing, crushing with pliers, smashing in a mortar and pestle, or something else?

The Incredible Growing Gummi Worm
Gummi candies that contains gelatin, such as gummi worms or most fruit snacks, swell up and absorb water. Which kind of gummi candy absorbs the most water? If you try this one, weigh each test piece of candy before you put it in water, then weigh it again after it has swelled to maximum size, about 2 days later. (Warning: by then the gummi candies are pretty fragile--you have to handle them carefully to make sure they don't break.)

The Mentos Geyser
As popularized by Steve Spangler, dropping Mentos into a bottle of Diet Coke produces a sky-high fountain of soda. But why?

Invite your at-home scientist to investigate which kind of candy makes the best soda fountain and why. First, examine each kind of candy and compare differences. Then drop each sample into a cup of Diet Coke and compare the bubbles. Children should soon be able to see that the surface of the candy makes a big difference in the amount of bubbles you get.
Test different kinds of soda to see which works best for the experiment. Have your children formulate a hypothesis about which soda will fountain the highest, then drop the same number of Mentos in each to test the hypothesis. Which sodas work the best? What ingredients do they have in common?

Acid Test
Sour candy contains acid. Which kind of candy is the most acidic? Make sure that you use the same method testing for all the candies: each sample should be dissolved in the same amount of water, such as 1/4 cup; the water should all be the same temperature (preferably warm); each sample should be tested after a set amount of time or allowed to dissolve completely.. If you use baking soda to see how much acid is in each candy, you'll have to use the same amount of baking soda for each test (1/4 tsp or less), and have a good way to measure which reaction is the biggest (you may want to video each test so you can compare the results again later). Ph test strips would be a more accurate way to measure the acidity.

To see how two dentists tested candy acidity, check out this article from the UAB School of Dentistry.

Color Separation (Chromatography)
Candy colors are formed by a mixture of dyes. So are the colors in many other things, including ballpoint pens and markers. Which kind of candy has the most dyes mixed together? If you test candies and markers that are the same color, do you get the same color separation? Do you get different results if you stand the chromatography paper in different liquids, such as salt water or alcohol?

Find Hidden Candy
You'll find "hidden candy," or sugar, in almost everything these days. Which kind of children's drink, or snack, or cereal, has the most or the least sugar? Does fruit juice or soda pop have more sugar? Does the cereal with the most sugar taste the best? (You'd have to ask volunteers to do taste-tests for that one.)

For more guidelines to good science fair projects, check out these websites:
-Successful Science Fair Projects by Lynn Bleeker
-Science Buddies project guide This website also has ideas and instructions for a variety of projects.
-"What Makes a Good Science Project?" by Bill Robertson

The other way to open Fizzy Soda Candy

When you're trying to experiment with A WHOLE LOT of Fizzy Soda Candy, and you don't want to have to shake every single piece out of the tiny opening in the lid, you have to be creative. I attacked the plastic container with scissors, clippers, a screwdriver, a hammer, and nearly mangling my fingers, and finally learned to just pop off the bottom of the can. Piece of cake--or candy!

School Library Journal Review!

Candy Experiments 2 got reviewed in the School Library Journal, with some very positive feedback! To quote:

"With more than 60 experiments, this sweet sequel to 2013’s highly entertaining and educational Candy Experiments (Andrew McMeel) is packed with sugar-coated activities that introduce young scientists to the chemistry behind some of their favorite confections....There’s little question that readers will be engaged; the colorful and appealing design and layout, as well as the close-up shots of candy shards, are definite eye-candy." (Jan 2015)

The reviewer did notice one minor detail: in my experiment Instant Crystallization, the units switch from standard to metric. Actually, there was a good reason for us to use metric system here. For that experiment, my husband calculated the amount of xylitol and water we would need to make a supersaturated solution, one so saturated that the xylitol started crystalizing instantly when the solution was disturbed. The optimal ratio--22 grams of xylitol stirred into 4 grams of water--was more precise than I could explain with teaspoons and tablespoons, so I used grams as the main measurement. Good catch, reviewer Audrey Sumser!

Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Last week my husband brought me a fun surprise: hand-dipped chocolate strawberries. Yum! Now two favorite blogs have posted recipes. One fun reminder from Biting the Hand that Feeds you: since you eat the strawberries so quickly, it doesn't matter if the chocolate blooms! That means you don't need to worry so much about the tricky tempering process--just melt the chocolate and dip.

CHOCOLATE-COVERED STRAWBERRIES at Pacific Science Center Wellbody Blog

Happy Chocolate-Dipped Valentine's Day with Driscolls! at Biting the Hand that Feeds You

Foaming Snowman

We don't have much snow up on the mountains yet here in Washington (my daughter's ski school has cancelled 4 times in a row). So it's a great time to build snowmen with Asia Citro's Foaming Dough recipe, from her blog Fun at Home with Kids, and from her book 150+ Screen-Free Activities for Kids. Made with baking soda, this dough dissolves in vinegar for a great acid-base reaction demonstration.

Here's our snowman:

And here's his sad demise!

You can find the full recipe for the dough at the Magic Foaming Snowman blog post
on Fun at Home with Kids. Enjoy!

Be a (Candy) Changemaker

I've known author Laurie Thompson for years, and I'm happy to say that her new book for teens, Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something That Matters has a candy game! Here's how you can use candy for a get-to-know-you team event*:

1) Use any item that has lots of pieces and is inexpensive, like candies, chocolate chips, or pennies. Pass it around the group.
2) Tell your team members only "Take as much as you think you will need." Don't tell them what it's for!
3) After the participants have taken their items, tell them that for each piece they took, they must share something about themselves with the team.
If you wish, you can assign categories for different colored items: yellow might mean people have to share something personal about themselves, red might mean they share why they joined the team; green might mean they share something they're good at.

I thought this book would be very useful for a teen wanting to make a difference in the world, whether it's through fundraising, forming an organization to teach Ultimate Frisbee to kids in the Phillipines, doing outreach, raising awareness of an issue like domestic violence, or something else. Laurie includes the basic steps for any effort, including forming a group, finding mentors, creating a mission statement and focusing on a plan, writing and following a budget, making money, doing PR, and more. These kinds of things are also useful for grownups wanting to start a business or try a new venture. As a mom writing about science and trying to raise awareness of nutritional issues, I found a lot of good information that I'll be able to use myself.

*Paraphrased from Be a Changemaker by Laurie Thompson, pg 72

Chromatography pen

When my son used a wet paper towel to wipe up some black dry erase ink, the color spread across the wet paper and separated. Chromatography in action!

You can try chromatography with candy too--it's one of our favorite experiments!

Easter already?

You can now buy your Valentine's candy and your Easter candy at the same time! If you really need a sugar rush...or if you're in a hurry to fry a Cadbury Egg! (see Candy Experiments 2)

Kirby Larson gets the inside scoop on Candy Experiments 2!

Today I'm being hosted on the blog of Kirby Larson, popular children's writer whose novel "Hattie Big Sky" won the Newbery Honor award in 2007. Visit Kirby's blog to learn more about how I wrote Candy Experiments 2 (and which of the experiments were surprises even to me!)

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Candy Cane bubble trap

Here's something else we noticed when we put our candy cane in oil and water.

A candy cane is full of tiny air bubbles (one reason the candy is white, not clear). When it dissolves in water, the air bubbles escape and float to the surface of the water. In this cup, the layer of oil traps the bubbles, slowing them down until they collect together and float to the surface.

(Full disclosure: a few of the bubbles in this cup were trapped there when we poured the oil in.)