Anyone who grew-up during the 1970s, will remember the classic Space Dust Bonbons popping candy (in the UK) and Pop Rocks by General Foods in the U.S., (the latter being still in production). But what exactly is popping candy, and who invented it? Read on to find out!
Other brands have included Action Candy, Cosmic Candy, Moon Dust and Star Dust Sizzling Candy, which were available in the U.S.
Space Dust was produced by General Foods, and was basically a crushed version of Pop Rocks, being more powdery. The UK version was sold as Space Dust Bonbons. Another brand called Star Dust was also sold in the UK, which featured tiny pink star shaped candies.
Although Space Dust disappeared back in the 1980s, there is an alternative called Fizz Wizz, which can still be bought in the UK today. This can be bought in strawberry, cherry and cola flavours, and it's made in Spain by the manufacturers of Pop Rocks, Zeta Espacial. It's not to be confused with Wizz Fizz, an Australian brand of sherbet.
While the chemist William A. Mitchell was working on a self-carbonating soda drink tablet for General Foods Corporation in 1956, he accidentally discovered that adding water to the mix caused it to fizz and pop, which gave him a great idea - popping candy! However, the self-carbonating tablet was a failure.
Mitchell received the patent for Pop Rocks in 1961, although it wasn't launched until 1975 in the U.S. He worked for General Foods (now owned by Kraft Foods) between 1941 and 1976, and during this time, he received over 70 patents, which included other classics such as Cool Whip and Tang.
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Popping Candy is made from a mixture of baking soda, citric acid, carbon dioxide and sugar. The mix is super heated and pressurised, trapping the tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide in the candy as it cools. When it comes into contact with your wet saliva, the gas is released, giving the tingly popping sensation in the mouth, with an accompanying crackling noise. This fun element makes it much-loved by young children.
In the United Kingdom, Space Dust became an iconic part of 1970s culture, along with the Spangles, the Space Hopper and platform shoes. The Space Age and the Apollo Moon landings were still very much on people's minds, and with David Bowie singing songs about a "Starman" and "Life On Mars", it was perfect timing for the launch of a space-themed popping candy.
It came in an eye-catching pouch, which featured a cartoon moon-like character with a smiley face, and the glittery popping candy pouring from its mouth, resembling an asteroid belt.
The strawberry flavour featured a pink and purple colour theme (as shown in our photo above), with the lemon flavour being yellow and black, both with starry backgrounds.
Pop Rocks became popular in the U.S. during the second half of the 1970s, after being launched in 1975.
During 1979 in the U.S., General Foods was facing a huge problem with its Pop Rocks, with rumours about "exploding kids" in the media, with false claims that combining Pop Rocks and drinking soda would cause a person's stomach to "boil and explode". The company was forced to take out adverts explaining that, in reality, the product contains less carbon dioxide gas than half a can of fizzy pop/soda.
Pop Rocks was discontinued in 1983, but was relaunched in the 2000's, and is now made by the Spanish company Zeta Espacial.
I hope you enjoyed reading about the explosive history of popping candy. You may also like our post The Fizzy History of the Sherbert Fountain