candy experiments

Looking for a fun way to introduce science and nutrition concepts to your kids?

In her new book, Candy Experiments, author Loralee Leavitt shares dozens of brand-new experiments that use candy to teach about these topics. The following excerpt from Candy Experiments contains fun and easy ways that you and your children can test food for sugar, hydrogenated palm kernel oil and artificial dyes!

About the Book:

Make giant gummi worms, turn M&Ms into dazzling comets, grow candy crystals and turn cotton candy into slime! You'll find all these experiments and more, plus simple scientific explanations, in the book Candy Experiments!

Candy Experiments, published by Andrews McMeel, shares experiments from the popular website, as well as experiments that have never been published before. Learn how to separate candy colors, make candy cane stripes in bowls of water, sink marshmallows, and float taffy. Each experiment includes color photos and scientific explanations. Your kids will love experimenting with their candy, and they'll learn something, too!

Here are four great experiments to get you started. Grab more in the new Candy Experiments book!

candy experiments

Find Hidden Candy

Time: 5 minutes

Skill Level: Easy

Did you know that there is "hidden candy" in other foods that you eat? To find it, try this.

What you need:
  • Sweet food, such as cookies, soda, cereal, granola bars, or gummi fruit snacks, with ingredient label
  • Candy made mostly from sugar, such as mint Life Savers, Altoids, or Smarties (To check that your candy is made mostly from sugar, look at the ingredient label to see how many grams are in one serving. Then check the sugar content of a serving. If the amount of sugar is almost the same as the serving size, then your candy is made mostly from sugar.)
  • Kitchen scale that measures grams

What to do:

1. Check the ingredient label on your sweet food to see how much sugar one serving contains.

2. Weigh the candy on the kitchen scale, adding pieces until the weight of the candy matches the weight of the sugar. Eating one serving of your sweet food would be like eating that much candy.

What you see:

Most candy is made from sugar, corn syrup, and flavorings. These same ingredients are used to sweeten many different kinds of foods. For instance, one bottle of orange soda has 84 grams of added sugar. That's like eating 11½ rolls of Smarties or 21 mint Life Savers.

If you check ingredient labels, you'll see that some snacks are actually candy in disguise, such as gummi "fruit snacks" made of corn syrup, sugar, flavorings, and gelatin. They're really just gummi worms with a different shape.

candy experiments

Floating Oil Test

Time: 5 to 10 minutes

Skill Level: Easy

Many chewy candies contain a different secret ingredient: oil. Can you see the oil for yourself?

What you need:
  • Chewy candy containing oil, such as Starburst, Skittles, Tootsie Rolls, or taffy
  • Small bowl of warm water

What to do:

1. Drop the candy into the bowl of warm water. Let it start to dissolve.

2. After a few minutes, look for shiny puddles floating on the surface.

3. When the water cools, look for a white waxy layer on top.

What's happening:

Many kinds of chewy candy are made with oil, such as hydrogenated palm kernel oil. The oil keeps the candy from sticking to the machinery in the candy factory. It also helps make the candy smooth, soft, and chewy.

When you dissolve the candy in water, the hydrogenated palm kernel oil melts and forms the shiny puddles. In colder water, it can cool to a white, waxy solid. Since oil is lighter than water, it floats.

candy experiments

Separating Candy Colors

Time: 5 to 30 minutes

Skill Level: Medium

Some candy colors are a mix of several dyes. Can you unmix them?

What you need:
  • A glass filled with ½ inch of water
  • Plate, baking sheet, or piece of aluminum foil
  • Green or brown M&M's, green or purple Skittles, or other dyed candy
  • 4-inch-long rectangle of coffee filter paper
  • Paper clips or clothespins (optional)
  • String, pencil, or small wire rack (optional)

What to do:

1. Sprinkle drops of water on the plate, baking sheet, or aluminum foil.

2. Put a candy on a water drop and let the color dissolve.

3. Dab or paint a splotch of the colored water onto the coffee filter paper, 1 inch from the bottom. (If you're testing several colors, label them with pencil.)

4. Stand the paper up in your glass, with the spot of color above the waterline. Use one of these methods:
  • Crease the paper vertically, then stand it up in the water.
  • Fold the top of the paper over the edge of the glass. (Note: If the wet paper touches the glass, the experiment may not work as well.)
  • Use paper clips or clothespins to clip the paper to a string, pencil, or rack over the glass.
5. Wait a few minutes.

6. When the water seeps up to the top of the paper, take the paper out. Did the colors spread?

What's happening:

As the water seeps up the paper, it dissolves the dyes and carries them along. The dyes that dissolve fastest are carried farthest. This separates the dyes.

For large groups:

If you try this experiment with friends or in a classroom, here's another way to make it work. Place several brown M&M's in a cup, add about 1 tablespoon of water, and use a paintbrush to dab the color from the dissolved M&M's onto the coffee filter paper. Fill a baking pan with ½ inch of water, and use clothespins to clip the chromatography papers onto a wire rack laid over the pan.

Try this experiment with anything containing color, including juices, markers, or ballpoint pens.

candy experiments

Oil Spot Test

Time: 5 to 20 minutes

Skill Level: Get a grown-up

Here's another way to see the oil in candy.

What you need:
  • Starburst or Tootsie Rolls
  • Microwave-safe plate
  • Microwave or oven

What to do:

1. Place the candy on the plate.

2. Microwave the candy until it turns liquid and bubbly, 30 seconds to 1 minute. (Alternative: Melt it in the oven at 300°F on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet.) Caution: hot!

3. As the candy cools, look for shiny spots on top. This is the melted oil.

4. When it's completely cool, the oil will harden into whitish spots. Scrape them off and rub them between your fingers to feel the oil.

What's happening:

Starburst candy contains almost 10 percent hydrogenated palm kernel oil. A Tootsie Roll contains almost 9 percent partially hydrogenated soybean oil. When you microwave the candy, the oil melts and can separate from the sugar.

-All experiments from Candy Experiments by Loralee Leavitt/Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC

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About Loralee Leavitt

Loralee Leavitt has been creating candy experiments since the day her four-year-old daughter decided to drop Nerds into water. Her experiments have appeared in Highlights, Family Fun, Parents, Mothering Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and By invitation, Loralee regularly attends the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC, where she and her team teach experiments to thousands of children. Loralee lives with her husband and children in Kirkland, Washington. She destroys candy for the sake of science at