Key Concepts
Food science, gelatin, solubility
Four gummy bears melting

Introduction

What is your favorite type of candy? Have you ever wondered why you like this candy so much? Is it its taste, how it feels in your mouth, or both?

Cooks and food scientists study how substances dissolve or melt to create a unique and pleasant sensation in the mouth and optimize the release of flavor. Would you like to know how your favorite candy works? In this science activity, you will study two types of candy and discover what makes them so enjoyable.

This activity is not appropriate for use as a science fair project. Good science fair projects have a stronger focus on controlling variables, taking accurate measurements, and analyzing data. To find a science fair project that is just right for you, browse our library of over 1,200 Science Fair Project Ideas or use the Topic Selection Wizard to get a personalized project recommendation.

Background

The digestion of food is one big chemical laboratory. It starts in our mouths where saliva—a watery liquid—surrounds the food. Saliva helps us to chew and swallow, and contains a small quantity of enzymes, or chemicals that help break down our food. How a food interacts with saliva will influence its mouth feel and taste. Will it dissolve, will it melt, or will it just be chomped into pieces by our teeth?

Whether a solid dissolves when surrounded by water depends on how strong the internal bonds are, and how eager it is to bond with water. For example, to dissolve sugar in water, bonds between sugar molecules (the tiniest sugar particles) and between water molecules (the tiniest water particles) must be broken. This requires energy. Luckily, the creation of new bonds between sugar and water releases enough energy to break those bonds, so sugar can dissolve in water. If the released energy is less than the energy required, the solid will not dissolve.

The temperature plays a role as well. Adding heat means adding energy, and for most solids, the hotter the water, the easier and faster it is to dissolve the solid. Heated molecules move around more, so the dissolved substance will disperse more quickly than in unheated water.

Most candy contains sugar and corn syrup as a sweetener, with a few other ingredients to add flavor and texture. Hard rock candies, like fruit drops, are mainly crystalized sugar, which dissolve when surrounded by saliva. For soft candy, like gummy bears, gelatin is often used to create their unique texture. Gelatin is derived from collagen, which is a structural protein found in all animals. Gelatin protein gets tangled when cooked, creating mesh pockets that trap water and other ingredients. After gelatin cools, the proteins remained tangled and provide structure that holds many desserts or candies together. Most types of gelatin melt at a temperature below body temperature, so they melt in the mouth and provide unique sensations.

Materials

  • Four glasses
  • Cold water
  • Hot water
  • Pen and sticky notes
  • Gummy bears
  • Hard candy like fruit drops
  • Two timers or a clock
  • Spoons
  • Two plates
  • Optional: ruler

Preparation

  1. Protect your workspace for splashes of water.
  2. Fill two glasses each with 1/3 cup of cold water.
  3. Label two sticky notes with “Cold water” and two more with “Hot water.”

Procedure

  1. First, we will observe what candy does when placed in cold water. Place two gummy bears in the first glass of water, then remove the wrappers of two hard candies and place them in the second glass. Identify this row of glasses with a sticky note stating “Cold water.” Set the first timer to 30 minutes or use the clock to track a waiting time of 30 minutes.
  2. What do you think will happen to the candy if left untouched for 30 minutes? Why do you think this will happen, and will the water change?
  3. While you are waiting, fill the two additional glasses with 1/3 cup of hot water. Be careful not to get any hot water on your hands! Carefully place two gummy bears in the first glass, then remove the wrappers of two hard candies and place them in the second glass. Identify this row of glasses with a sticky note stating “Hot water.” Set the second timer to 30 minutes or use the clock to track a waiting time of 30 minutes.
  4. What do you think will happen to this candy if left untouched for 30 minutes? Do you expect it to be different from the candy in the cold water, and why would this be the case? Do you expect the water to change?
  5. Label one plate “Cold Water” and the other “Hot water.”
  6. After the first 30 minutes are over, it is time to observe the candy submerged in cold water. Use a spoon to carefully pick the candies out of the two glasses in the “Cold water” row and place them on the plate labeled “Cold water”. Set aside. For each of these glasses, take a clean spoon to stir the water, scoop up a sample and taste it. Which one is sweet?
  7. Take a gummy bear and a hard candy out of the bag, remove the wrapper if needed, and place the candy next to the candies that have been soaked for 30 minutes. What differences do you observe? Is what you observe consistent with what you expected? If it is different, why do you think this is the case?
  8. Looking at the change in the size of the candies and the taste of the water, what do you think happened to each type of candy when submerged in water?
  9. When the second timer goes off, or when the “Hot water” row candies have been submerged for 30 minutes, repeat the observation procedure for these candies. Remember to use the plate labeled “Hot water” this time.
  10. Now that we have seen what cold and hot water does to these types of candy, let us look closer at the influence of temperature. How is the candy soaked in hot water different from the same type of candy soaked in cold water? Why do you think this has occurred?
  11. Pop a candy from the bag in your mouth. Notice how your mouth is a watery environment that is at body temperature. How do you think your previous observations relate to the feel and taste of the candies in your mouth?
  12. Optional: Use a ruler to measure the length of the unsoaked and soaked candies and express the change as a percentage. Can you estimate the change in volume as well? You can also compare the size of the candies soaked in hot water to the size of the candies soaked in cold water.

Extra: Study the influence of heat some more by filling a glass with 1/3 cup of ice-cold water and another glass with 1/3 cup of hot water. If possible, place the hot water glass in a hot water bath, so the water does not cool off as fast. Pop a brightly-colored hard candy in each glass and watch how the color spreads in each glass. Which one spreads faster, and why do you think this happens? You can also let a drop of food coloring drip into each glass and see how that spreads.

Extra: Study the effect of additives like salt or sugar in the water. Would a gummy bear soak up more, less, or an equal amount of water if soaked in a salty or sugary solution compared to tap or distilled water? Why do you think this happens?

Extra: Add chopped up pieces of fresh fruits like pineapple, kiwi, or papaya to the water. Would the gummy bears dissolve differently when these fruits are added to the solution? What about if we add apple, lemon, or orange slices? (Hint – think of gelatin desserts and why certain fresh foods cannot be added to them.)

Observations and Results

Did you see that the hard candies dissolved in cold water, while the gummy bears puffed up? Did hot water dissolve the hard candies faster, while the gummy bears started to melt in the hot water? This is expected.

Hard candy is made of sugar, corn syrup, and other substances that dissolve easily in water. Just like the saliva in your mouth, the water in the glass allowed them to dissolve. Adding heat made this process easier and faster. While the candy dissolved layer by layer, it got smaller and smaller and more and more sugar, syrup, and taste chemicals dispersed in the water. That is why the water tasted sweet, like the candies.

Gummy bears, on the other hand, contain gelatin, which gives it its typical soft texture. The gelatin creates a mesh of entangled long molecules that hold the gummies together. The structure has pockets that can absorb water through a process called osmosis. That is why the gummies swell up when soaked in cold water. The water stays tasteless. It was different when you submerged the gummies in hot water: as the temperature of the hot water was above the melting temperature of gelatin, the outer layer of the gummies melted away. The gummy bears got smaller and smaller, and you could see tiny pieces of gummy bear floating in the water. These pieces make the water taste sweet, like the gummy bears.

Hot water molecules move around more, so you will see that the color disperses more in hot water than in cold water. Fresh papaya, pineapple, and kiwi contain enzymes that break down gelatin. The addition of these and a few other enzyme-containing fruits can make your gummy bears break down.

Cleanup

  1. Throw away soaked candy and wash all equipment with soapy water.

More to Explore

Credits

Sabine De Brabandere, PhD, Science Buddies

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Key Concepts
Food science, gelatin, solubility
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