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Science for Littles: Experimenting with gummy candy

Emma and Johnny admire their growing gummy worm

The grin on Johnny’s face may reflect some excitement over the experiment, but I think it has a lot more to do with the fact that he grabbed and gobbled my first comparison gummy worm immediately before I snapped this photo.

This experiment is straight out of a science experiment book I picked up in the dollar bins at Target. It’s advertised for 2-3 grade, but the experiments are great for preschoolers too, with some accommodations.

The idea behind this particular experiment (not explained in the book beyond a brief reference to osmosis, much to my chagrin. Of course, the book also calls itself “Physics tricks”, while I would consider this a chemistry or biology experiment. It’s still a good buy, for $1) is that gummy candies are porous and can therefore absorb a lot of water – so much, in fact, that they grow quite dramatically. This Trolli gummy worm, for example, nearly doubled in size. As the candy expands, the bonds loosen, making it much more fragile – this worm broke just being tipped out of the container above.

comparison of a regular gummy worm with one soaked in water for several hours
As a further experiment, we also tried soaked an Austrian Haribo gummy bear, imported by my lovely parents. Austrian Haribo gummy bears taste much better than the American Haribo gummy bears, and they are also colored with natural dyes (I’m pretty sure the American version uses artificial dyes).

Naturally dyed gummy bear after soaking in water

Which explains why, while the gummy worm kept the same vibrant colors, the Haribo bear’s colors appear fainter in the giant soaked bear. Which makes me think that those natural dyes really must be much healthier…

This experiment also explains my bloated stomach after eating an entire package of Austrian Haribo gummy bears once as a teenager. I was in Austria, and Austrian Haribo gummy bears are GOOD.

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MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

30 thoughts on “Science for Littles: Experimenting with gummy candy”

  1. Interesting to see your comments about natural and artificial food colorants (as I’m a Food Scientist and we focused a lot on natural and artificial colors in all of my classes!)

    To draw a parallel, gummies expand in water the same way that starches do if you’re making a gravy! Candy science is especially interesting to me and I love seeing what people are doing with candy. For a grown up treat, try soaking the gummies in any liquor. I haven’t done this, but I’d be interested to see how water absorption and alcohol absorption compare :)

  2. Bury Family Life

    Ah the fun they can have with just about anything ha ha. This looks great fun too.

  3. Ah, so THIS is what we’ll be doing tomorrow morning for science fun. I just knew I’d come up with an answer by tonight.


  4. “Austrian Haribo gummy bears taste much better than the American Haribo gummy bears”

    This I am afraid is all in your mind. The Haribo Golden Bears are all made in their Turkish factory and all taste the same. Just look at the back of the package, it will list the factory.

    1. The package of Austrian Haribo gummy bears sitting in my pantry clearly states that it was made in Linz, Austria. The ingredient list is also different from that of Haribo gummy bears purchased in a local US store.

  5. Yeah, I’d be willing to bet the US gummy bears are artificially colored:-). I love this experiment. My favorite part is the soaked gummies.
    .-= Susana´s last blog ..Mama in the Middle =-.

  6. My friend sent us gummy shamrocks from Ireland and my husband was surprised he got a stomach ache after eating the whole bag. I’ll have to show him this post :)
    .-= Amber Liddle´s last blog ..Labor Day =-.

  7. jeannine: waddlee-ah-chaa

    A growing gummy worm is a little scary! But my kids would love it.
    .-= jeannine: waddlee-ah-chaa´s last blog ..5 Lessons Children Learn From Writing Thank-You Notes =-.

  8. What a fun (and yummy) idea! My son’s recent favorite snack is “fruit snacks” – the little chewy ones that look like gummy multivitamins (which are about his favorite thing he eats all day). I wonder if it would work with them.
    .-= lynn´s last blog ..Having a Ball Pardon the Pun =-.

  9. I’ll have to go see if I can find that book. My school age kids would think that experiment was pretty cool, especially if they got to eat the leftovers. :)

    And I’m completely with you on the Austrian Haribo gummy bears. Haribo gummy bears are the only kind I’ll eat because they just plain taste better. My mom and sister brought me back several packages when they visited Europe the last time. Unfortunately, that was way too long ago. :)

  10. We used to do this ALL the time when I was little! And you are totally right about the flavor (and texture!) of the different bears. Our family friends from Germany used to bring us Haribo bears every year, and I so looked forward to it.
    .-= Jaimie´s last blog ..Self Portrait Saturday 13- September 4th- 2010- Watching Fall Blow In =-.

  11. @Valerie – The things a mother will do for her children ;)

    They both soaked around 12 hours, but there were pretty significant results after eight hours both times. It was definitely an experiment I recommend!

  12. Very cool experiment, and an interesting comparison between US and Austrian gummi bears. I should put them on Lars’ shopping list when he is in Germany, but… wait! We have a gigantic box of them in the garage :)
    .-= Natalie´s last blog ..Money- Money- Money… =-.

  13. Valerie @ Frugal Family Fun Blog

    I am both shocked and amazed that you would sacrifice an Austrian Haribo Gummi Bear in the name of science. That is no small feat! :-)

    Looks like a fun experiment! How long did you soak them?
    .-= Valerie @ Frugal Family Fun Blog´s last blog ..Sunday Snapshot — At the Zoo with Daddy =-.

  14. LOL! I’m so glad science has finally explained that uncomfortable experience you had as a teenager.

    Very interesting about the dyes. And at last we have a use for the gummy worms the electronics shop mysteriously gives us with every purchase…
    .-= Elisa | blissfulE´s last blog ..Nikki’s 50th reading lesson =-.

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