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2002-03-26 10:37 p.m.

Pop Rocks: The Candy, the Legend

Here's the latest in greyarea copying his school projects into his diary. I just finished a group research project on Pop Rocks (intended for a general audience) for my technical writing class, and here is what we've found (references will be linked where possible):

Pop Rocks: The Candy, The Legend

by The Provisional International Committee on the History, Mechanism, and Safety of Gasified Candy Also Known As Chemistry 391 Group B1 (TPICOTHMASOGCAKAC391GB1)

Pop Rocks candy has been a friendly sight on American convenience store aisles since 1975. The shiny, nonthreatening packages with their jolly colors invite everyone, from the tiniest cherubic butterball to the most decrepit old codger, to partake in the joy that must surely be contained within. Upon purchase and consumption, the charming crackle and pop of the tiny "rocks" as they settle on the tongue brings a smile to the lips and a giggle to the throat of all who partake. Thus Pop Rocks have wormed their way inextricably into the hearts of the populace.

But these seemingly innocuous gasified delights have a dark side. Spoken of only in furtive whispers in the darkest corners of school playgrounds, there is talk of injuries, even deaths, resulting from consumption of Pop Rocks, especially when combined in unholy union with other gasified products. Are the rumors true? Just what are the dangers associated with Pop Rocks? Can we trust no one?

We, The Provisional International Committee on the History, Mechanism, and Safety of Gasified Candy Also Known as Chemistry 391 Group B1 (TPICOTHMASOGCAKAC391GB1) have studied this matter in a thorough investigation of the history, mechanism, and safety of Pop Rocks and hereby present our results in question and answer form in this paper: Pop Rocks: The Candy, The Legend.

What is the History of Pop Rocks?

Pop Rocks were invented in 1956 by General Foods Scientist William A. Mitchell. General Foods first introduced Pop Rocks to the public in 1975. From the start, there were concerns about children exploding upon consumption of the candy. The FDA set up telephone hotlines for worried parents, and General Foods took out full page ads in 45 major publications, wrote 50,000 letters to school principals, and sent William A. Mitchell out on speaking tour, all to convince people that Pop Rocks are harmless. (see here)

General Foods stopped marketing Pop Rocks in 1983; many saw this as proof of the dangerous nature of the candy. Pop Rock technology continued to show up under various names, however, and in 1989 General Foods sued a Spanish company, Zeta Especial, S.A. for breaking its Pop Rocks patent by selling its own version of Pop Rocks in the United States. The U.S. International Trade Commission ruled in favor of Zeta Especial. (see US International Trade Commission Publication I.12:337-TA-292) Today Zeta Especial (under the name Chupa Chups) markets the candy in the U.S. under its original name, Pop Rocks.

How are Pop Rocks Made?

Normal hard candy is made by mixing sugar, corn syrup, water, and flavoring and heating the mixture up to 300 F (150 C). The water evaporates off, and when the mixture cools, hard candy is the result. To make Pop Rocks, the same process is followed except carbon dioxide is added at high pressure- about 600 psi (41 times atmospheric pressure). So, when the candy cools and the pressure is released, you get hard candy containing bubbles of pressurized carbon dioxide. As Pop Rocks dissolve the bubbles break through the candy and the pressurized gas escapes. This results in an audible pop. Some of the patents associated with the process of making Pop Rocks are U.S. patent numbers 3,985,910,4,001,457, and 4,289,794. (see also here)

Is It True That Pop Rocks Explode When You Mix Them With Coke (or Sprite or Whatever)?

This is one of the most insidious rumors about the possible dangers of Pop Rocks. In episode 2F06 of the The Simpsons, Homer mixes Pop Rocks with Coke to create a bomb which blocks his would-be pursuers. One of the most persistent rumors is that Mikey of the Life Cereal commericials suffered a fatality as a result of consuming large amounts of Pop Rocks and soda at the same time. While it turns out that Mikey is alive and well, and that The Simpsons is after all, just a cartoon, questions remain: Do Pop Rocks and certain carbonated beverages form an explosive combination? Could such a mixture be used by terrorists? What is the U.S. government doing to prevent a possible Pop Rocks attack?

While it is widely taken as gospel by self-proclaimed "sensible" people that the idea of Pop Rocks and soda exploding is preposterous, we, the members of TPICOTHMASOGCAKAC391GB1, decided to look into the matter ourselves. We tested Pop Rocks in four different solvents- water, Sprite, Coca Cola, and concentrated (17M) nitric acid [this is nasty stuff]. We put 300 mg of Pop Rocks in 20 mL of solvent, and upon noting that no explosions occurred, proceeded to record how long each solvent took to release all the gas contained in the Pop Rocks. Our results are as follows:

Solvent Dissolution Time
H2O 6 min. 30 sec.
Sprite 5 min. 55 sec.
Coca-Cola 6 min. 00 sec.
17M HNO3 5 min. 57 sec.

We noted that Coca Cola resulted in the most vigorous initial reaction and that the nitric acid resulted in the most violent pops. We assume that the acidic nature of the carbonated beverages causes Pop Rocks to dissolve somewhat more quickly, resulting in a somewhat more vigorous release of gas. This combined with the added gas production of carbonated beverages is probably what gave birth to the rumor that Pop Rocks explode when mixed with soda. (results from a similar experiment by another research group- here)

So, Are There Any Dangers Associated With Pop Rocks?

As we just saw, Pop Rocks are not actually explosive when combined with carbonated beverages. The FDA has approved Pop Rocks for general consumption, and according to Emily Anadu of Chupa Chups U.S.A., "There have never been any fatalities caused by eating Pop Rocks. Pop Rocks is made using carbon dioxide, the same stuff that makes soda fizz. There is much less carbonation in Pop Rocks than in a can of Coke. Therefore, if you've never heard of anyone dying from drinking Coke, there has definitely not been anyone to die from eating a pack of Pop Rocks." (personal communication)

However, questions remain. According to an anonymous employee of the local Food 4 Less, that institution does not carry Pop Rocks anymore because "Some kid died. Those things expand in your stomach, you know." (personal communication) And just this last year a California woman, Chris Janze, sued Baskin Robbins over the Pop Rocks content of one of their ice creams, the Shrek Swirl. It seems that Ms. Janze's daughter, Fifi, was taken to the emergency room and had a tube put into her stomach to release the pressure from the gas given off by the Pop Rocks in the ice cream she had swallowed. (see here) So it seems Pop Rocks are not entirely harmless after all...

Are you or someone you know in danger of a Pop Rocks related injury? Is the United States on the verge of a Pop Rocks epidemic? Could Pop Rocks mean the end of civilization as we know it? Rest assured that TPICOTHMASOGCAKAC391BG1 will find the answers to these questions and discover the truth behind Pop Rocks: The Candy, the Legend.

(All of the writing and most of the research was done by me (as if you couldn't tell- I imagine it reeks of me)- I'd include our spiffy graphics, but I'm lazy. Including a table stretched my html skills enough.)

believing all the lies that they're tellin' ya
buying all the products that they're sellin' ya

raging against the machine,