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Sweet Science: The Phenomenal History of Popping Candy!


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Popping candy is a fun, sweet treat that also serves as a kind of science experiment. If you’ve ever put a handful of popping candy in your mouth, you’ve certainly felt and heard some incredible popping sounds inside your head. The result is perhaps the ultimate level of mind-blowing excitement you could achieve with eating virtually any food. Nothing else feels (or sounds) like popping candy, as it is a sensory experience like no other!

But have you ever wondered about the fascinating science behind this fizzy phenomenon? In this article, we’ll explore some of the chemical reactions that make popping candy possible. We’ll also dive into the fascinating history behind its invention and some of the most creatively delightful uses of popping candy products in the world today!

Pop Rocks were invented by accident!

In 1956 a General Foods research chemist, William A. Mitchell was looking to develop an instant soda pop mix – one that could be added to regular water and become a sweet fizzy drink. In attempting to put a solid form of carbon dioxide into a sweet, sugary substance, something magical occurred!

While the inventor had many successes in his career, receiving over 70 different patents for his food products, (Mitchell also invented Tang, Cool Whip, powdered egg whites and quick-set Jell-O to name a few) this one didn’t quite reach its intended purpose. Although he hadn’t made a fizzy, powdered drink mixture, the crystalline substance he created still looked quite tempting.


Curious about his new invention, Mitchell added some pineapple flavoring and enlisted the help of his secretary at General Foods to try it. The instant they put it in their mouth, they were treated to an experience unlike no other. As the gas bubbles began to burst and tingle once the candy hit their tongue, they knew they were onto something big!

It felt like fireworks going off inside their heads, and with each little explosion happening in their mouths, they knew that kids were going to love it. He also took a bag home to his kids, and they were equally delighted. People who were “in-the-know” around the General Foods headquarters called it “Atomic Candy”.

The science behind popping candy:

This process he came up with involved pressurizing carbon dioxide gas at a rate of at least 2 or 3 times the air pressure at sea level and mixing it with melted sugar at high temperatures. The sugar formed crystals around the pressurized gas, and when the water in your saliva breaks up the sugar, the pressurized gas escapes, creating a crackling, popping phenomenon inside your mouth.

Mitchell patented this creation in 1961, but the product wasn’t released to the public until 1975. General Foods primarily made cereal and other dry food products, so executives at the company weren’t enthusiastic about investing in a candy line, let alone one that was seen as some kind of freaky lab experiment. This all changed in the early 1970’s when the company’s new Vice President, Herman Neff tried the product and became amazed.

With 20 years passing since its invention, the candy became an instant hit with the general public. Executives at the company described Pop Rocks’ market success as “gangbusters” with hundreds of millions of dollars in sales in the first few years. The original lineup included grape, orange, and cherry flavors.

One of my most vivid early memories was of me sitting in our living room, and my 2 older brothers, Josh and Neal force feeding me Pop Rocks. I was probably only 4 or 5 years old at the time. I remember they also gave some to our family dog and were rolling around on the floor laughing. They thought it was hilarious! While it was startling at first, I remember the sweet, long-lasting citrusy flavor dancing on my tongue, and I quickly grew to love it!

Of all the cool candies to try, this futuristic treat had certainly sparked the interest of an entire generation of kids. But along with the smashing success of the product, some unfortunate rumors started to spread about its safety.

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The unfortunate rumor that took Pop Rocks off candy store shelves in the 1980’s:

We all know how quickly gossip can spread across the school yard. Even before the internet, social media, and smart phones, rumors about the Life Cereal kid, Mikey, from the “Mikey likes it!” commercials spread, saying he had tragically died from eating Pop Rocks and drinking a Coca-Cola brand soda pop. The now urban legend stated that his stomach exploded from all the excess gas. This sent parents into a frenzy, and sales of the product dropped dramatically in the late 1970’s.

General Foods tried to shut down the rumor, taking out full-page ads in national and local newspapers, and writing thousands of letters to school principals stating that Pop Rocks wouldn’t cause kids to explode. They even sent Mitchell on a publicity tour to state the fact that the only health issue that Pop Rocks could cause is excessive belching. With all the negative publicity, sales continued to plummet and in 1982, General Foods was ultimately forced to discontinue their iconic candy.

Oddly enough, this myth has persisted throughout time. In 2014, The Goldbergs had an entire episode where the Pop Rocks exploding in your stomach was the main premise. Green Day wrote a song about it, and even the very first episode of Myth Busters used half of their debut dispelling the rumor.

Popping candy wasn’t missing from candy store shelves for too long!

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Luckily for candy connoisseurs, Pop Rocks only experienced a brief hiatus. The Spanish company, Zeta Espacial licensed the Pop Rocks brand from Kraft Foods in 1985 and began selling millions of packages of the candy annually. Today, popping candy can be found in almost every sweet shop across the world. Now available in a multitude of brands, flavors, and colors, popping candy is even being used as a unique and creative ingredient in various other food products and dishes.

Some creative bartenders started making pop rocks martinis and margaritas, where the rim of the glass is coated with popping candy, instead of salt. Sushi rolls with pop rocks are also quite Pop-ular, (get it? POP-ular? Haha…) at various Japanese restaurants across the globe. Bakers and pastry chefs have created a variety of cakes and other desserts with popping candy infused in it. In 2017, Taco Bell even tried crafting a “Firecracker Burrito” with popping cayenne pepper crystal packets, that sounds awesome, but unfortunately it never made it out of the testing phase.

The world of candy is also experimenting with popping candy in a variety of different products.

For instance, Hammonds has a cola-flavored milk chocolate bar, with fizzing popping candy that is out of this world!

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Moodibars also has a sweet milk chocolate popping candy bar that is the perfect addition to your Easter baskets! These are just to name a few.

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Since the sky is the limit with sweet treats, we think the popping candy phenomenon will only continue to grow. With popular social media sites like TikTok enhancing the visibility of the candy industry, and popping candy videos being incredibly popular with the ASMR crowd, we think we’ve just begun to scratch the surface of popping candy’s popularity.

Here at Redstone Foods, we're dedicated to curating a world of extraordinary delights, from the enchanting world of popping candy to the most imaginative gummy wonders. As America’s favorite candy distributor, we're on a mission to make your candy shop an absolute hit with your customers. If your heart beats for all things sweet, we would like to extend a warm invitation to join our community!

We’re excited to serve you, so sign up for an account with us today, or just give us a call! We are open Monday through Thursday from 8am to 5pm Central Time and on Fridays we are open from 8am to 4pm.