Can Pop Rocks kill you?
That is the question everyone on the internet is asking about Pop Rocks.
Most candies don’t have deadly rumors stuck to them, but for the last 50 years, people have been under the impression that Pop Rocks can kill you.
While it has been disproven time and time again, there are still some old-timers out there who think that a packet of Pop Rocks and a cold soda can send your stomach into a gastronomical catastrophe, unlike anything anyone has ever seen.
So like any good candy company, we wanted to find out where this rumor came from and how Pop Rocks continues to be one of the most iconic candies in the world.
Hold on tight we're about to pop the top on Pop Rocks!
Who invented Pop Rocks?
The year is 1956 and General Foods product inventor, William Mitchell, is trying to make a carbonated version of Kool-Aid. You know, that neon-colored powder mom used to mix with water back in the middle of a hot summer day? His goal was to put carbon dioxide directly into a solid that could then dissolve in a flat liquid such as water and create a fizzy, soda-like beverage.
Think of a candy tablet that could turn your water instantly to Coke—or something of the sort.
The resulting powder didn’t work as he had hoped. What was left over was a solid, sugary crystalline substance that looked rather tasty. So he along with a few General Foods employees popped a few chunks of sugar crystals into their mouths and were instantly amazed.
The chunks would dissolve and pop inside the mouth when the saliva would heat up the carbon dioxide. It was like a mini firework show going on inside your head. Right away, Mitchell knew he had just discovered something big—something so big that it would take General Foods another 20 years to finally bring it to market.
In the meantime, Mitchell filed a patent on the product recipe and moved on to more inventions that would become food icons including…
This faux orange juice was invented in 1957 as a quick and easy substitute for real OJ. It was eventually used by NASA in space missions to mask the metallic taste of the water. While it was widely popular, it was not liked by all, even famous astronaut Buzz Aldrin said in an interview, “Tang sucks!”
Quick Set Jell-O
In 1967, Mitchell came up with the idea to invent a powdered gelatin that could be set in water. This would become the recipe for General Foods' famous quick-set Jell-O which is widely popular today.
That same year he invented the first non-dairy whipped cream alternative called Cool-Whip. This was the first of its kind as it could be left unrefrigerated and not go bad. Similarly, it could also be kept frozen and not need time to thaw. Cool Whip quickly became the best-selling product for General Foods in its first quarter and stands alone as one of their best-selling products of all time.
By the time William Mitchell stepped away from his job at General foods he had over 70 patents in 35 years.
Pop Rocks start shaking the candy market…
It’s not known why General Foods held the Pop Rocks recipe secret for nearly 20 years, but they finally brought them to store shelves in 1976. Within weeks, they were a smashing success. Kids loved the popping sensation playing in their heads and a new candy was taking over the sweet tooth of every kid in America.
Former Pop Rocks product developer, Marv Rudolph, said that they sold over $100 million in product that first year. At one point, they were making 5 million pounds of the candy—2.5 billion pouches—at three different factories!
What quickly swept the nation with sweetness became a point of contention as urban legend spread that mixing Pop Rocks with soda would cause the stomach to swell with gas and explode.
That’s right, an exploding stomach.
Rumors had gotten so bad that people believed TV child star Mikey had died due to mixing the supposed-lethal combination together.
In 1979, General Foods saw a steep 24% decline in Pop Rocks sales and decided to pull them from production in 1982 citing a lack of success, much of which could be attributed to the myths circulating through local schools and parent groups across the nation.
General Foods was against the ropes and decided to take extended measures to ensure that consumers understood that Pop Rocks were not harmful to the human body.
First, they took out a full-page ad that ran in 45 major publications citing that Pop Rocks were safe. Then, they wrote over 50,000 letters to local school boards and principals citing there were no health hazards associated with Pop Rock and soda consumption. They updated product information forms, frequently asked questions, and gave new marketing material to the sales team making sure nothing could be misconstrued.
And finally, when it was all said and done, they sent Pop Rocks inventor, William Mitchell himself to various schools and conferences to explain that Pop Rocks were safe to eat. He reiterated,“The worst thing the rocks could do is make you burp. The amount of gas in Pop Rocks is less than one-tenth the amount in a can of soda pop!"
Even the famous television show Mythbusters took it upon themselves to prove this stomach exploding theory wrong!
The resurgence of Pop Rocks today…
Not even 3 years after Pop Rocks halted production, two candy investors purchased the recipe and rights to Pop Rocks and started Carbonated Candy Ventures in Buffalo, NY. With 35 employees, they started test marketing Pop Rocks in New England and the Dakotas in November and scheduled a four-month test beginning in late January on shelves in California.
It was here the production began to ramp back up for the famous candy and sales started to soar once again. By December of 1986, Pop Rocks had shipped over 1 million packets and was looking to expand production for a wider market. This continued growth catapulted them into production across the United States and into Europe.
Eventually, Kraft sold the manufacturing rights of Pop Rocks to Spanish company Zeta Espacial which manages international production and distribution—Pop Rocks Inc in Atlanta, GA does American production.
While you can still get your hands on the original Pop Rocks Cherry flavor, they have expanded their taste buds quite a bit since their inception. Now you can blast your tongue with flavors like Grape, Green Apple, Strawberry, Watermelon, and Blue Razz along with seasonal flavors like Chocolate, Pumpkin Patch Orange, and Candy Cane.
Your mouth could use some Poppin…
There you have it, a pretty peculiar and popping history of one of the most iconic American candies ever. Pop Rocks might not be everyone's favorite candy in the world, but best believe they will be found on store shelves and self-checkouts for decades to come.
And if you’re thinking to yourself, I could use a small explosion of sweetness in my mouth, go ahead and grab yourself a few packets of Pop Rocks in our digital aisle right here and we’ll ship them straight to your front door!