Although eating the explosive candy Pop Rocks while drinking a soda isn’t considered a healthy way to snack, it isn’t fatal, despite what a persistent urban legend would have us believe.
In 1975, to the delight of bored kids around the country, General Foods unveiled Pop Rocks also known as Space Dust. These tiny pebbles of fruit-flavored candy release a bit of carbonation when held on the tongue, causing an “exploding” sensation.
Although the candy was invented in 1956, thus allowing ample time for testing, its startling novelty caused the Food and Drug Administration to set up a Pop Rocks hotline to reassure parents who were concerned about product safety. Despite these efforts, it became widespread playground knowledge that consuming the candy along with a carbonated beverage would cause one’s stomach to explode. By 1979, the rumor was so pervasive that General Foods put a full-page ad in 45 major market publications, wrote more than 50,000 letters to school principals, and sent the inventor on a good-will tour to debunk the myths. When General Foods stopped marketing Pop Rocks in 1983, many took it as proof that the confection was too dangerous to sell.
Adding fuel to Pop Rocks fire was the widely rumored death of a child star who supposedly died after consuming a combination of the candy and soda. The kid, known only as Mikey, his character in a long-lived Quaker Life cereal commercial, was actor John Gilchrist. Although rumour-mongers claimed that Gilchrist mysteriously disappeared from the public eye after the commercial’s 1972 debut, he actually continued making commercials through 1988 before retiring from acting.
After General Foods stopped marketing the candy, Kraft Foods purchased the rights to it in 1983 and sold it under the name Action Candy. Today, Pop Rocks are back on the market under their original name, available for purchase online and in stores, without so much as a warning label.
Rumors about the candy have died down, likely due to the high-profile debunking it has received on TV shows and websites. However in 2001, a lawsuit revived some of the original concerns. The suit was filed on behalf of a California girl who was rushed to a hospital in considerable pain after swallowing Pop Rocks that were blended into a special Baskin-Robbins ice cream flavor. Doctors had to insert a tube into the child’s stomach to help relieve gas pressure, but the ice cream was never determined to be the cause.
Despite that incident, Pop Rocks have enjoyed a revival, finding their way to the table as a mix- in for applesauce or yogurt and even as a garnish at retro-hip eateries. General Foods still holds the patent for the “process of preparing gasified candy in which flavored sugar syrup, such as is used to make hard candy, is mixed with CO2. The gas forms bubbles, each with an internal pressure of 600 pounds per square inch (PSI). As the candy melts on your tongue, the bubbles pop, releasing that pressure.”
Although the thought of pressurized candy exploding into shards of crystallized sugar in your mouth or stomach sounds dangerous, it isn’t. The amount of gas in a package of Pop Rocks is only 1/10 as much as there is in about an ounce of carbonated soda. Even if you combine PopRocks with a carbonated beverage, the pressure is not enough to make your stomach explode.
A similar, but more explosive combination of soda and breath mints has prompted people to create homemade “geysers” by mixing Mentos and Diet Coke. In 2008, students in Leuven, Belgium, dropped Mentos into 2-liter bottles of Diet Coke creating 1,360 simultaneous fountains and setting a world record.
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