Pop Rocks is a carbonated candy with ingredients including sugar, lactose (milk sugar), corn syrup, and flavoring. It differs from typical hard candy in that it creates a fizzy reaction when it dissolves in one's mouth.
Although still popular, Pop Rocks are regarded nostalgically as an aspect of 1970s North American pop culture.
Background and history
The concept was patented by General Foods research chemist William A. Mitchell in 1957. The candy was first offered to the public in 1975. In 1983, General Foods withdrew the product owing to its lack of success in the marketplace and to its relatively short shelf life.
Distribution was initially controlled to ensure freshness; but with its increasing popularity, unauthorized redistribution from market to market resulted in out-of-date product reaching consumers. After that, Kraft Foods licensed the Pop Rocks brand to Zeta Espacial S.A. who continued manufacturing the product under Kraft's license. Eventually Zeta Espacial S.A. became the brand's owner and sole manufacturer. Pop Rocks is distributed in the U.S. by Pop Rocks Inc. (Atlanta, Georgia) and by Zeta Espacial S.A. (Barcelona, Spain) in the rest of the world. Zeta Espacial S.A. also sells popping candy internationally under other brands including Peta Zetas, Fizz Wiz and Magic Gum.
In 2008, Dr. Marvin J. Rudolph, who led the group assigned to bring Pop Rocks out of the laboratory and into the manufacturing plant, wrote a history of Pop Rocks development. The book, titled Pop Rocks: The Inside Story of America's Revolutionary Candy, was based on interviews with food technologists, engineers, marketing managers, and members of Billy Mitchell's family, along with the author's experience. In the book, Dr. Rudolph points out that the Turkish company HLEKS Popping Candy flooded the market with popping candy in the year 2000, and have since become the international market leader, with more advanced and own patents making a lot of innovative products with popping candy.
A similar product, Cosmic Candy, previously called Space Dust, was in powdered form and was also manufactured by General Foods.
In 2012, Cadbury Schweppes Pty. Ltd. (in Australia) began producing a chocolate product named "Marvellous Creations Jelly Popping Candy Beanies" which contains popping candy, jelly beans and beanies (candy covered chocolate). By 2013 Whittakers (New Zealand) had also released a local product (white chocolate with a local carbonated drink "Lemon and Paeroa' or "L&P" for short). Prominent British chef Heston Blumenthal has also made several desserts incorporating popping candy, both for the peculiar sensory experience of the popping and for the nostalgia value of using an ingredient popular in the 1970s.
The candy is made by mixing its ingredients and heating them until they melt into a syrup, then exposing the mixture to pressurized carbon dioxide gas (about 600 pounds per square inch or 40 bar) and allowing it to cool. The process causes tiny high-pressure bubbles to be trapped inside the candy. When placed in the mouth, coming into contact with saliva the candy breaks and dissolves, releasing the carbon dioxide from the bubbles, resulting in a popping and sizzling sound and leaving a slight tingling sensation. The bubbles in the candy pieces can be viewed when aided by a microscope.
Rumors persisted that eating Pop Rocks and drinking soda would cause a person's stomach to explode. This was, in part, caused by the false assumption that Pop Rocks contain an acid/base mixture (such as baking soda and vinegar) which produces large volumes of gas when mixed through chewing and saliva. One of these myths involved a character named Mikey from the Life cereal commercials. Mikey, played by child actor John Gilchrist, was falsely rumored to have died after eating a Pop Rocks and Coca-Cola mixture - namely, a six-pack of Coca-Cola and six pouches of Pop Rocks. This rumor was recently referenced in the 1980s theme sitcom, The Goldbergs, which aired on Wednesday, October 29, 2014.
Though the confection had been extensively tested and found safe, the carbonated candy still alarmed residents in Seattle. The Food and Drug Administration set up a hotline there to assure anxious parents that the fizzing candy would not cause their children to choke. General Foods was battling the "exploding kid" rumors as early as 1979. General Foods sent letters to school principals, created an open letter to parents, took out advertisements in major publications and sent the confection's inventor on the road to explain that a Pop Rocks package contains less gas (namely, carbon dioxide, the same gas used in all carbonated beverages) than half a can of soda.
Because of the unique flavor of the legend, and the duration of its perpetuation, the story has appeared in many other forms of media and fiction. On the very first pilot episode of MythBusters, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman put the Mikey rumor to the test by mixing six packs of Pop Rocks and a six-pack of cola inside a pig's stomach, complete with enough hydrochloric acid to simulate the acid inside a human stomach. Despite the pig stomach growing to three times its size, it did not blow even after time was allotted for digestion, and the myth was therefore busted - it took a large amount of sodium bicarbonate along with the acid and soda to cause a gastric rupture in one of the stomachs. The broadcast included interview clips with Pop Rocks Inc. vice president Fernando Arguis explaining the candy and the myth, and Adam later alluded to the myth at a special presentation at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute by showing that Pop Rocks and soda - albeit in a smaller amount - in his own stomach was not fatal.
- Book: Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Belmont (2011) Whatever happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes & Trends of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Pages 143–144. Penguin
- Video: ABC News, Pop Rocks celebrates 50 years (2006)
- Rumor in the Market Place, Fredrick Koenig, p.76
- Cadbury Marvellous Creations
- "Heston's Titanic Feast". Heston's Feasts. Channel 4.
- "Chocolate". How to Cook Like Heston. Channel 4.
- "Potato". How to Cook Like Heston. Channel 4.
- "Pop Rocks Candy FAQ". Archived from the original on November 3, 2001.
- Mikkelson, Barbara (January 20, 2007). "Pop Rocks Death". Snopes. Retrieved 2007-08-19.
- Rudolph, Dr. Marvin J. (September 2006) Pop Rocks The Inside Story of America's Revolutionary Candy Appendix 5.
- Rudolph, Dr. Marvin J. (September 2006) Pop Rocks The Inside Story of America's Revolutionary Candy Appendix 3.
- Discovery Channel :: Mythbusters: Episode Guide
- Pop Rocks official web site
- Zeta Espacial S.A.
- General Foods Corporation's U.S. Patent 4,289,794 for Pop Rocks (pdf)
- Images of US patent 4289794 for Pop Rocks from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
- Rudolph, Dr. Marvin J. (September 2006). Pop Rocks: The Inside Story of America’s Revolutionary Candy. Sharon, MA: Specialty Publishers LLC. p. 112. ISBN 0-9786318-0-3 ISBN 978-0978631802 – book detailing the story of Pop Rocks development to Pop Rocks today