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The secrets of gummy bears: What it takes to make the perfect batch

In the world of gummy candies, texture may just trump taste. The disappointment of biting into a rock-hard, stale gummy, despite its lingering sweetness, is a sensation most of us know all too well. 

The secret to maintaining the ideal gummy texture is a complex dance between the formulation of the candy and its storage conditions – factors that significantly influence how the candy’s molecules link together.

Recently, researchers from Ozyegin University and Middle East Technical University delved into the depths of gummy-making, conducting a series of experiments that examined the impact of changing key components of the process on the final product. 

Their research, published in the journal Physics of Fluids, also explored how gummy candies responded to different storage temperatures.

The researchers’ goal? To determine the most shelf-stable formulation for gummy candies.

How the study was done

In their pursuit of the perfect gummy, the researchers adjusted a range of variables in the candy-making process. They tweaked everything from the ratio of glucose syrup to sucrose, to the concentrations of starch and gelatin. They wanted to grasp how these modifications influenced various features of the candies, including their texture, moisture content, and pH levels.

The team then analyzed the features of the candies, both pre and post-storage. The storage conditions for these candies varied, ranging from 10 to 30 degrees Celsius over a 12-week period or 15 to 22 C for an entire year.

The sheer variety of procedures and combinations, however, presented significant challenges. Suzan Tireki, one of the authors of the study, explained, “A high number of parameters was the main challenge in our study. We had eight different candy formulations, four different temperature conditions, and two different storage times. Another challenge was to try to find a common model for all these eight formulations, as each of them behaved differently.”

Addressing these variables, the researchers employed a statistical model. This model helped describe how each combination influenced the quality parameters of the gummy. They honed in on the chemical crosslink distances – the length of bonds between the molecules in the candy.

“The most innovative part of our study was investigating the texture of the gummy candies by estimating the average crosslink distances using the hardness data coming from texture profile analysis,” Tireki noted.

What the researchers learned

Some significant findings emerged. The moisture content and pH of the candies relied heavily on the glucose syrup-to-sucrose ratio. On the other hand, the gelatin content influenced the crosslink distances. However, one surprising discovery stood out. “Our most surprising finding was that hardness and average crosslink distance were not affected by the amount of starch,” Tireki revealed.

Such revelations are more than just sweet science. They have practical applications too. Identifying the most stable combinations for gummies can extend their shelf life and enhance their quality, making them more enjoyable in varying climates and contributing to improvements across the food industry.

Looking to the future, the researchers plan to delve deeper into the gummy mystery. They aim to investigate the role of plant-based formulations, the effect of different mold shapes, and the impact of various packaging types on the beloved gummy candy.

The history of gummy candy

The history of gummy candy stretches back to the early 20th century, with a confectioner in Germany named Hans Riegel laying the groundwork for this chewy treat. Riegel was the founder of the Haribo company, and in 1922 he invented the “Dancing Bear” – a fruit-flavored gum candy that was the predecessor of today’s gummy bear.

Riegel’s creation was inspired by the trained bears seen at street festivities and markets in Europe through to the 19th century. His Dancing Bears were larger than the gummy bears we’re familiar with today and were initially made by hand. However, the shape, texture, and basic recipe were similar to current gummy candies.

Gummy candy became popular in Germany and began to spread across Europe. However, it wasn’t until several decades later that gummy candies made their way to the United States. It is believed that American soldiers stationed in Germany during World War II discovered the candies and brought them back home after the war ended.

Popularity booms in the U.S.

The gummy bear’s popularity in the U.S. skyrocketed in the 1980s, partly due to the founding of the American-based Haribo of America Inc. in 1982. Another company, Trolli, also introduced a new gummy candy around this time – the gummy worm. Designed to shock parents and delight children, the gummy worm added to the demand for gummy candies.

Today, gummy candies come in a dizzying array of shapes, sizes, and flavors. While they were originally fruit-flavored, you can now find gummies in flavors ranging from sour to sweet, in forms from worms to bears to nearly anything else you can imagine. There are even vitamins and supplements available in gummy form.

Despite all the changes and developments in the gummy candy world, the basic recipe has remained largely the same: sugar, glucose syrup, starch, flavoring, food coloring, citric acid, and gelatin. 

The last ingredient, gelatin, is what gives gummy candy its signature chewy texture. It’s made by boiling animal tissues, typically from pigs, and has been the subject of much of the modern innovation in gummy candy, with companies seeking vegetarian and vegan alternatives to traditional gelatin.

Gummy candy has certainly come a long way since its humble beginnings in a small German kitchen, and its popularity doesn’t seem to be waning anytime soon.


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