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Warheads pack a pucker-inducing punch thanks to four sour-tasting substances called acids.


Extreme Candy

Some sweets are designed to make your tongue tingle, your eyes water, and your mouth burn! Here’s how scientists create the most extreme treats in your Halloween haul.

Pucker Power

A lot of candies make your mouth pucker. But Warheads are some of the sourest sweets around. The secret to Warheads’ extreme flavor is a mix of substances called acids. 

Warheads’ first sour blast comes from citric acid. This mildly sour acid is found in citrus fruits, like lemons and oranges. It triggers special cells on your tongue, called taste receptors, that detect sour flavors. “Citric acid gets your mouth ready to be tortured with more sour goodness,” says Kerri Harold, a spokesperson for Impact Confections, the maker of Warheads.

Measuring Acids

The pH scale measures acidity, or the strength of the acid contained in a substance. Acids and their counterparts, bases, react easily with other substances. Water is neutral—neither an acid nor a base.

Think: Where do you think Warheads candies would fit in this scale?

The true jolt in Warheads comes from malic acid. That’s the compound that makes Granny Smith apples taste tart. Warheads also have two other acids: ascorbic acid and fumaric acid. These provide the sour candies’ grand finale.

Your saliva dissolves each acid in Warheads at a different rate. The combination gives the candies their sour taste from beginning to end.

Crackling Candy

Bursting bubbles of carbon dioxide gas make Pop Rocks go fizz, crackle, and POP!

Pour a pack of Pop Rocks into your mouth and the bits of candy start to crackle on your tongue. But how?

All hard candy is made by mixing sugar, corn syrup, water, and flavoring. The mixture is boiled. As the mixture cools, it hardens. Pop Rocks are made the same way—but with one more ingredient. Candy makers add carbon dioxide gas (CO2) to the sugary mix under high pressure. When the candy hardens, tiny bubbles stay trapped inside.

As the candy dissolves in your mouth, the bubbles burst! That causes the popping sensation you feel in your mouth.

Can You Take the Heat?

The heat of Atomic FireBalls comes from substances found in cinnamon and hot peppers.

Atomic FireBall candies are famous for their red-hot flavor. To achieve that fiery heat, candy makers use two ingredients that affect your mouth in different ways.

First, the candy delivers a blast of spice. This comes from a chemical called cinnamaldehyde (sihn-uh-MAL-duh-hyde). It’s the same oil that gives cinnamon its flavor. Cinnamaldehyde triggers taste receptors that sense irritating compounds. Raw garlic and horseradish can set off the same receptors.

After the cinnamon flavor comes a deeper heat. That heat comes from capsaicin (kap-SAY-uh-suhn), the compound that makes chili peppers spicy. Capsaicin triggers receptors on your tongue that detect temperatures higher than 43°C (109°F). It tricks your brain into thinking that you’re eating something superhot. Your body may sweat to try to cool down, even though you’re not actually overheating.

Barf-Worthy Beans

Jelly Belly created its dead fish jelly bean flavor by analyzing the stinky smell given off by real dead fish! 

Dead fish, moldy cheese, and stinky socks sound like the contents of a trash can. But they’re actually three flavors in a pack of Jelly Belly’s BeanBoozled jelly beans! In these packs, gross-flavored beans are mixed with yummy beans that look exactly the same. A white bean might taste like coconut or spoiled milk. You won’t know until you eat it!

To create a nasty flavor, scientists place an object—like a stinky sock—in a special machine. The machine heats the object until it gives off its smelly vapors. The device analyzes chemicals in the gases. Scientists experiment with different flavorings until they find a mix of compounds that are similar to those of the target object.

From barf to rotten egg, there are plenty of flavors to pick from, says Jelly Belly spokesperson Irena Miles. Your favorite “just depends on who you are.”

Continue the Learning Journey

Create an illustration and write a short description of each candy featured in the story—Warheads, Pop Rocks, Atomic FireBalls, and BeanBoozled Jelly Beans. Then share your work with your friends and family. Find out their favorite “extreme candy” and teach them the chemistry that makes that eye-popping treat come to life!

What extreme candy would you make? Would it be spicy, sour, or something else entirely? Give your candy a name and describe it with a lot of details. Then draw the packaging that your candy would come in. Decorate the packaging with bold colors and fun fonts so that it’s attention grabbing! After that, film a short commercial to introduce your amazing candy to customers. Share your candy package and commercial with your family members. Would they try your treat?

Pop Rock Reactions

Test how this candy behaves in different liquids. 

When you put Pop Rocks in your mouth, your saliva causes the candy to dissolve and the bubbles of carbon dioxide to burst. But what happens when the candy dissolves in other liquids? Click on the slideshow above for a science investigation! You’ll need: a marker, two clear plastic cups, measuring cups, tap water, soda water, two 9.5-gram packets of Pop Rocks candy, paper and pencil, and a ruler. It’s time to be a candy scientist!

This article was written by Hailee Romain for SuperScience magazine.

Image Credits: Illustrations by Magictorch; Aurora Photos/Alamy Stock Photo (Boy); wundervisuals/Getty Images (Lemons); Nataly; wundervisuals/Getty Images; MidoSemsem/Shutterstock (soap); Shutterstock (all other images); Sirocco/ (Bubbles); Keith Homan/Alamy Stock Photo (Pop Rocks); Lukasz Pawel Szczepanski/; Illustrations by Magictorch; gresei/ (Egg); iStockPhoto/Getty Images (Socks, Cheese, Fish); Tsuneo Yamashita/Getty Images (Jellybeans); Tobik/ (Cheese Slices); xpixel/ (Dirt)