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Sweet-Science Candy Secrets

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What’s really in the sweet treats kids collect at Halloween (and all year round)? With these three simple experiments, your family can uncover some of the ingredients yourselves.
Sweet Science: Candy Secrets
What You’ll Need
  • Small glass bowls or glasses
  • Assorted candy, such as WARHEADS™, SweeTARTS™, Starbursts™, Skittles™, and M&Ms™
  • Baking soda (to test for acid)
  • Water (room temperature to test for acid and colors; hot tap water to test for oil)
  • Coffee-filter paper (to test for colors)

Acid Test

We have taste buds on our tongue for acid. When they’re stimulated, we perceive a sour taste. In other words, if candy tastes sour, it contains acid. Most fruit-flavored candy contains citric acid, the sour chemical in lemons.

What to Do
  1. Dissolve your candy in a half cup of water. (WARHEADS and SweeTARTS work well.)
  2. Sprinkle in a spoonful of baking soda.
  3. If you see bubbles, the candy water contains acid.
How It Works

Baking soda reacts with acid to form carbon dioxide gas. The gas makes bubbles in the water.

Oil Test

Many kinds of chewy candy (like taffy) are made with oil. This keeps the candy from sticking to the machinery when it’s made. Oil also helps keep the candy smooth, soft, and chewy.

What to Do
  • Dissolve your candy in a cup of hot tap water. (Try a Starburst candy.)
  • Look for shiny puddles floating on the surface.
  • When the water cools, you may see a white, waxy layer on top.
How It Works

The kinds of oils used in these candies melt in hot water, forming the shiny puddles. In colder water, the oil can cool into a white, waxy solid. Since oil is lighter than water, it floats.

Colors Test

Candy makers often mix dyes to create exact colors. This test can separate those colors.

What to Do
  1. Cut a rectangle from a coffee filter for each piece of candy you are going to test.
  2. Wet a piece of colored candy. (Skittles and brown M&Ms work well.)
  3. Fold the coffee-filter rectangle vertically.
  4. Dab the candy onto the paper about one inch from the bottom to make a colored dot.
  5. Stand the paper up in a half-inch of water, with the colored dot above the waterline. Water should start creeping up the paper.
  6. When the water reaches the top, take out the paper to see if your dye has separated into different colors. (If the colors are hard to see, lay the paper on a white plate.)
How It Works

After the colored dye dissolves, the moving water carries it up the paper. Dyes that dissolve more quickly travel faster. Soon the dyes separate, allowing you to see each color.

Extend the Fun

Younger kids: Try a simpler experiment: Put a few candies in small, clear bowls of water and watch as the candy changes. Ask your child to describe what’s happening to the candy and what’s happening to the water. Talk about if the candy is getting bigger or smaller. (Hint: A gummy candy will get larger in water.) After a few minutes, remove the candy and put it on a plate. Encourage your child to touch it to see if it feels different. (We’ll leave the tasting up to you!)

Older kids: We’ve recommended a few different candies for each experiment, but that’s not all that can be tested. Encourage your child to think of candies similar to the ones we recommended and then repeat one of the experiments. Ask him to predict what he thinks will happen before he starts.

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