The Sweet Science of Candy Making – Chemistry

It’s snowing again in Dallas, Texas. From playing in the snow to creating some winter science experiments, we are having fun with our snow. I just published a post How to Make Snow Candy. This post, The Sweet Science of Candy Making, is a follow-up to further explain the chemistry behind that snow candy.

Our lesson plan included a review of the three states of matter.
We also completed Scientific Method Worksheets to go along with our experiments.

The Sweet Science of Candy Making

The creation of candy involves an understanding of complex chemistry.

This is The Basic Chemistry Behind It:

Different types of candy can be created from sugar + water + how hot you heat the mixture + how you cool the mixture down.  As different sugar solutions are heated, they pass through different candy stages.

How to Make Snow Candy

It seems simple enough, boil maple syrup and pour it on to freshly fallen snow collected. Within seconds you’ll have hard candy. Well, our first attempt at making snow candy failed, creating a slushie of syrup and snow instead of hard candy.

Our second attempt at the experiment produced delicious brown taffy. Sweet Success!

So what did we do differently?

We looked at the Chemistry behind the different candy stages of sugar to answer this question.

Candy Stages

The Sweet Science of Candy Making

The different stages of candy being created all follow the same basic formula: A simple mixture of sugar + water and then how hot the mixture is heated followed by the mixture being cooled down.

  • Thread Stage: 80% sugar concentration. When the mixture is between 230-235 degrees Fahrenheit it can be poured over ice cream or fruit.
  • Soft-ball Stage: 85% sugar concentration. The mixture is between 235-240 degrees Fahrenheit. Fondants, Fudge, Pralines.
  • Firm-ball Stage: 87%. The mixture is between 245-250 degrees Fahrenheit. Caramels.
  • Hard-ball Stage: 92%. The mixture is between 250-265 degrees Fahrenheit. Marshmallows, Gummies, Rock Candy.
  • Soft-crack Stage: 95%, 270-290 degrees Fahrenheit. Taffy, Butterscotch.
  • Hard-crack Stage: 99%, 300-310 degrees Fahrenheit. Lollipops, Toffees, Brittles.

We discovered some interesting results to our pre-experimental questions from making snow candy:

  1. If you put a jar of maple syrup into the freezer, will it freeze? No! Why?
  2. Our first test resulted in creating a syrup slushie, but our second test produced sweet syrup taffy. What did we do differently?
  3. Why did the syrup freeze in the snow for our second test but syrup won’t freeze if left in a freezer?

Chemistry sweetly explained with candy

Maple syrup is made with the sugar sucrose. Pure maple syrup is a concentrated solution of sugar in water with a few other flavoring minerals and ingredients. When heated, water evaporates making the sugar more concentrated. Boiling syrup changes its consistency, concentrating it further.

The first time we boiled our maple syrup, we must not have reached 235+ degrees because our syrup didn’t harden at all after being poured on top of our snow. Creating therefore syrup slushies.

The second time we boiled our syrup, we must have succeeded in achieving 270+ degrees Fahrenheit.

We didn’t have a candy thermometer to measure exactly but understanding the Candy Stages helped us understand our results.

To Conclude The Sweet Science of Candy Making

After experimenting and studying the different candy stages and making snow candy, we have a better understanding of sugar and candy chemistry. We now understand how and why simple sucrose sugar can be changed into chewy, hard, sticky, brittle, or fluffy candy.

I didn’t realize how deliciously simple and tasty Chemistry could be explained.

Like I said in the beginning, this was a sweet lesson. I’d like to end this post with a funny Chemistry joke but I think all the good ones ARGON.

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