Sweet. Salty. Sour. When channeling your inner snacker, you’ll probably notice a pattern in which flavor profile you reach for when a hankering hits. If you’re an ice cream connoisseur or a potato chip junkie, you may want to skip this post to get a head start on filling your shopping cart with your favorite go-tos.
If you live for the puckering punch of tart lemon or a hit of cherry gummy goodness so sour it makes your stomach twist, then we’re speaking your language. With this in mind, what is sour gummy candy?
Sour candy is made from acids found in food. Whether you love mouth-puckering sourness or prefer a slightly sour sensation, the intense flavor of sour candy comes from organic acids. While there are at least eight different acids used in sour candy, the four most common are citric, malic, tartaric and fumaric acids.
While candy is supposed to be sweet and enjoyable, there is no doubt that its sour counterparts have an enthusiastic cult following. Read on to find out all there is to know about sour gummy candy.
Why Do We Like Extreme Sour Candy?
Have you ever noticed that when you pop some atomic sour suckers into your mouth and suddenly your face tenses up with pain and your eyes hold back tears as you endure the emotional roller coaster of flavors. But why do we always go back for more?
The answer lies in Halloween, the most candy-centric holiday of the year. In the 1950s, food manufacturers began creating ‘spooky’ and ‘horror-themed’ candies to capitalize on the holiday. Halloween, which already promotes scary happenings, allowed extreme candies like sour jawbreakers, acidic fruity chews and gross novelties like gummy ‘brains’ to be consumed with excitement. Thus, the obsession with sour flavors began.
Psychologically, people find pleasure in doing things that spur displeasure. If this sounds zany, it’s because it kind of is. Similar to a roller coaster, part of the fun is the stomach-turning drops and screaming throughout each flip and dip. People enjoy sour candy as an experience of pushing themselves through challenging experiences.
What makes sour candy sour?
Diving into the chemistry of it all, how do we transform a sweet gummy into a sour treat? This is done through a strategic combination of organic acids—it’s no wonder that consuming too many sour candies in one sitting can cause a sore mouth.
The most common acids used to make sour candy are citric acid, malic acid, tartaric acid and fumaric acid. The combination of these core acids (as well as a few extra depending on the brand) is what creates the different levels of zing experienced across various sour candies. These acids have hydrogen ions that spark sour receptors on your tongue.
Citric acid in sour candy
Citric acid is found in fruits like lemons, limes and other citrus like grapefruit, which is why most sour candies will rely on these fruit flavor profiles.
Malic acid in sour candy
This acid adds longevity to the sour taste experienced when you enjoy sour candies. The malic acid is typically coated in palm oil during the candy making process. This is done to support a prolonged tartness as the oil melts slowly, releasing the malic acid over an extended period of time.
Low pH, high acid
Who would have thought candy would be so scientific? pH is a scale that runs from 1 to 14. The middle ground is a pH of 7, which is that of pure water. Anything below this is higher in acid. Anything higher is lower in acid. Strong acids used in sour candy making have a pH of 1 to 2. Because of this, most sour candy will have a pH of around 1.6 to 3, depending on its range from tart to truly sour.
Sour Gummies Candy Explained
Whether you love mouth-puckering sourness or prefer a slightly sour sensation, the intense flavor of sour candy comes from organic acids. While there are at least eight different acids used in sour candy, the four most common are citric, malic, tartaric and fumaric acids. Each acid has a different level of sourness, as well as other flavor nuances of bitterness and astringency.
Sour candies usually contain a mixture of two or more acids to create the desired flavor. Citric acid provides a burst of tartness. It comes from lemons, grapefruit and other citrus fruits, which makes it easy to imagine the sour tang it delivers. Berries also contain citric acid, and it’s a secondary acid in many fruits and vegetables.
Food-grade citric acid is commercially produced by fermenting sugar with microorganisms. In addition to contributing sour flavor, it prevents spoilage and stabilizes color in foods and beverages.
Beyond its use in candy, citric acid fills beneficial roles in your body. It works as an antioxidant, and it’s essential for energy production. Citric acid is also used to help prevent kidney stones.
Malic acid delivers a smooth, mellow tartness similar to biting into an apple, where it’s the predominant acid. Apricots, cherries and tomatoes also contain malic acid. In candy, it boosts the intensity of sour flavors and enhances fruit flavors, reports food-grade chemical supplier Bartek.
Like citric acid, malic acid is produced in your body, participates in the synthesis of energy and can be commercially produced through fermentation. A small study published in the Journal of Endourology in February 2014 reported that malic acid may help with calcium oxalate kidney stones.
Fumaric and Tartaric Acids
Fumaric acid is the strongest and most sour-tasting acid of the organic acids. In candy, it creates a long-lasting sour flavor because it doesn’t dissolve as easily as other acids. A small amount of fumaric acid naturally occurs in apples, beans, carrots and tomatoes.
Tartaric acid tastes moderately sour and is more astringent than citric and malic acids. While it’s often found in sour candies, tartaric acid is also an essential ingredient in cream of tartar and baking powder. This organic acid is associated with grapes and wine, as well as bananas and tamarinds.
Health Concerns of Sour Gummy Candy
While the amount of acid you’ll get from occasionally enjoying sour candy isn’t likely to cause problems, organic acids can temporarily irritate your tongue and mouth, especially if you eat multiple pieces in a short time.
On the pH scale, which measures acidity and assigns a value of zero as the most acidic, sour candies have a pH between 2 and 3. This makes them acidic enough to erode tooth enamel, reports the Minnesota Dental Association.
You can reduce damage from acids by limiting the amount of time you have sour candy in your mouth and rinsing with water as soon as you’re finished. Don’t brush your teeth for at least an hour, or you’ll exacerbate the acid’s damage.
Some of us may think of hard candies made to be sucked on and savored, but there’s a whole world of sour candy out there waiting to shower your taste buds with mouth-puckering flavor.
Still, the most common types of sour candy fall into one of three general categories:
- Sour gummies
- Sour hard candy
- Sour jellies
Most sour candy is made from fruit-based mixtures that are heated and then cooled to precise temperatures and timeframes. These heating and cooling processes determine what happens to the molecular structure of the fruit and sugars, yielding the desired hardness or softness.
Gummies and jellies, of course, also often contain gelatin along with sour sugar to give them their signature chewy texture.
So What Is The Sour Flavor?
Many types of sour candy incorporate naturally sour ingredients into the main body of the candy. Others contain mostly sweet ingredients but are dusted with acid-infused granulated sugar, or what many call “sour sugar” or “sour acid”, to make them taste tart (think Sour Patch Kids).
The key to all sour candy, however, is one or a combination of specific organic acids that amp up the tartness.
Now that we’ve answered “how is sour candy made,” learn what it’s made from. While most sour candies are based on naturally tart fruit flavors – e.g., lemon, lime, raspberry, strawberry, or green apple – the super sour taste we know and love comes from a few organic acids. Each has its own unique flavor profile and level of tartness.
One of the most common ingredients in sour candy is citric acid. As you can probably guess from the name, this sour acid occurs naturally in citrus fruits like lemons and grapefruits, and can also be found in smaller amounts in berries and some vegetables.
Citric acid is an antioxidant essential for energy production and even the prevention of kidney stones. It also causes the blast of tartness that makes sour candy so great!
Also known as Vitamin C, this organic acid is famously found in citrus fruits. Beyond being a popular remedy used to fight sickness, it’s also responsible for much of the sour deliciousness of many of your favorite candies.
Unfortunately, this may not be enough evidence to convince your doctor to prescribe you sour candy next time you have a cold.
Small amounts of fumaric acid occur naturally in apples, beans, carrots, and tomatoes. Some say this is the strongest and most sour-tasting acid because its low dissolvability makes it super long-lasting.
More astringent than the other sour organic acids, tartaric acid is also used to make cream of tartar and baking powder. It can be found in grapes and wine, bananas, and tamarinds.
Other Ingredients Commonly Found in Most Sour Candy
- Corn syrup
- Gelatin (gummies and jellies)
- Palm oil
Sour Candy Fun Facts
- Scientists don’t fully understand how sour taste buds work. We’ll gladly volunteer to be the guinea pigs for those experiments…
- Did you know that most sour candy can be used to treat blocked salivary glands? That’s a prescription you can actually get from your doctor.
- The inventor of the super-sour Warhead traces his influence back to a Japanese lemon candy that was so sour, some people would immediately spit it out and throw it away.
The main supplier of sour kick: citric acid. It’s found in, well, citrus fruits: lemons, grapefruits, limes, and oranges, for example. But to make mass production levels of it for sour candy, food scientists ferment sugar with microorganisms, which results in a very bitter/very sweet compound.
Citric acid does double duty with sour candy. It’s also commonly used as a food additive, because it prevents food from spoiling and also helps artificially colored foods maintain their appearance.
Smoothing out that sour punch with a more mellow, balancing tartness is malic acid. It’s a naturally sour compound that’s found in nature, most commonly in green apples—it’s why green apples taste far tangier than red ones. (It’s also found in cherries, apricots, and tomatoes.) But food scientists can stack up tons of malic acid, whether naturally occurring or lab-created, and use it to make foods like sour candy incredibly sour.
One downside of citric and malic acids: They dissolve quickly and the flavor doesn’t last long. To make the sour flavor last far longer than it should, some candy makers include fumaric acid. Found naturally in small amounts in apples, carrots, and tomatoes, it provides an extremely sour taste but serves mainly to keep the sour alive for a little while longer.
Cinnamon-flavored sour candy like Atomic Fireballs pack an active ingredient called cinnamaldehyde. That’s an oil found naturally in cinnamon. Small to moderate amounts provide a pleasant cinnamon flavor—it’s why cinnamon tastes like cinnamon.
But when it’s isolated, extracted, and/or synthesized and used in huge amounts it provides that face-puckering sour-candy sensation. That’s because cinnamaldehyde in larger quantities irritates a protein present in the human mouth called TRPA1. Its sole job is to sense irritants and tell the brain that the mouth is eating something it shouldn’t be eating.
Eating sour foods triggers a response in the taste buds, which release chemical compounds that then send a message to the brain. There, serotonin—a mood-regulating compound that also aids in appetite and sleep—is released. In other words, serotonin helps the tongue, nerves, and brain all understand that the sour candy is, in fact, “sour.”
How To Make Sour Gummy Worms Soft Again?
In instances you want your sour gummy candy to soften again, all you need to do is toss them into a bowl of hot water. The heat breaks into the gelatin component and makes it soft. You would need to wait for 20 minutes or until the gelatin turns to your desired softness.
- Haribo Sour Gummies
- Haribo Sour Gummy Worms
- Trolli Sour Gummy Worms
- Starburst Sour Gummies
- Jolly Rancher Sour Gummies
- Lifesaver Sour Gummies
- Wana Sour Gummies
Can Dogs Eat Sour Gummy Worms?
Dogs might not like the taste of sour gummy worms, but that’s not why you should keep them away from your pet. They are way too high in sugars and processed ingredients so they are bad for your pet.