The holidays are fast approaching, bringing candy canes as ubiquitous decorations and treats. Grab a handful and set young scientists on the path of discovery with these kitchen experiments!
- Start off by learning how candy canes are made, how different components combine to make something new.
- Dissolving Candy Canes: hypothesize about what will happen in different liquids.
- Candy Cane Ornaments: How does heat changes matter?
- Candy Cane Knots: What makes candy bend vs. break?
- Candy Cane Construction: use candy canes to solve engineering challenges.
How are Candy Canes Made
Believe it or not, candy canes go all the way back to the 17th century. Water, sugar and cornstarch come together with peppermint flavoring to make the classic holiday candy. The ingredients melt together over heat, then are stretched, folded and re-stretched, working lots of air into the candy. The presence of tiny air bubbles makes candy canes white, not dyes or coloring. The red is painted on later.
Candy Canes are great for showing matter in different states. How are they affected by heat? Water? Acid?
Dissolving Candy Canes
First, collect and label:
- 1 cup of warm water
- 1 cup of cool water
- 1 cup of vinegar
What will happen in each cup? How long will it take? Start a timer and place candy canes into each liquid. Watch and take notes about what happens. It should take about 25 minutes for complete dissolution to take place.
- Which candy cane dissolved first?
- Which one dissolved last?
- Is this what you expected to happen?
It takes energy to break sugar bonds and water bonds so that they mix together (dissolve). The presence of heat adds energy, so the bonds break faster.
Candy Cane Ornaments
Re-form candy canes into ornaments using cookie cutters.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- Place cookie cutters on the aluminum foil.
- Fill molds with broken candy cane pieces.
When breaking apart the canes, check the pieces to see the tiny air bubbles worked into the candy when it was formed.
Heat weakens the bonds between sugar and cornstarch, making the canes lose their shape and become liquid. When the candy cools, bonds tighten again.
Candy (Anything But) Canes
Make new shapes from candy canes.
- Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
- Try to bend the candy canes at room temperature and predict what will happen when the candy canes get warm.
- Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil
- Place candy canes on the sheet, far enough apart that they won’t touch.
- After 10 minutes an adult should check the candy canes.
- They should be malleable & stretchy, but not hot to the touch.
Tie candy canes into knots, wrap them, bend and fold them. If candy begins to stiffen up while molding, place it back into the oven for a few minutes to re-soften. When molding is complete, leave out until cool. Kids can try to bend the candy canes again once cool.
Candy Cane Construction
Engineering projects for kids using candy canes.
Challenge kids to see who can make the tallest tower using candy canes. Try stacking them, balancing them against each other and breaking the canes apart to use different shapes.
Candy Cane Bridge
- Set 2 boxes of similar sizes about 6 inches apart.
- Gather three toys of varying size that will fit on the top of the box.
Toys must get from one box to the other without falling off of the candy cane bridge. Encourage kids to make different configurations to better support larger toys.
These projects add a little science to a holiday treat sugar rush. Pair snow days with engineering problems and hot chocolate with learning about states of matter. Plus, these experiments are delicious decorations for gingerbread houses, sugar cookies and Christmas trees!
Looking for gifts to put under your tree this year? Stop by our gift guide to see our 100+ gifts for kids of all ages!