The Science Behind the “Squid Game” Candy Challenge

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen—or at least seen the memes about—Netflix’s #1 new show, “Squid Game.” We won’t spoil everything, but one of the most iconic moments in the show centers around a challenge where contestants have to cut shapes out of the honeycomb-like Korean candy known as Dalgona—without cracking it.

It’s not an easy task, but protagonist Gi Hun discovers a hack: licking the back of the candy to make it thinner and easy to remove.

Does this really work? Short answer: yes. But let’s get into the science behind why. First, let’s look at the ingredients. Dalgona is made with melted sugar and a little bit of baking soda. To get the crispy consistency that’s oh-so-easy to crack, the baking soda reacts with the hot sugar and aerates.

So what happens when you lick it? Simply put, sugar is soluble in water. Water happens to be the main ingredient in saliva. In fact, it’s the main ingredient in humans in general. (Blood or tears would also dissolve candy—but you probably wouldn’t want to eat it after that.)

The reason this works with water and not other liquids like oil, is that sugar molecules are attracted to water molecules—even more than they’re attracted to other sugar molecules. Here’s the technical explanation:

  • For a liquid to dissolve a solid, the molecules of the liquid and solid must attract one another.
  • The bond between the oxygen and hydrogen atoms (O–H bond) in sugar (sucrose) gives the oxygen a slight negative charge and the hydrogen a slight positive charge. Sucrose is a polar molecule.
  • The polar water molecules attract the negative and positive areas on the polar sucrose molecules which makes sucrose dissolve in water.
  • A nonpolar substance like mineral oil does not dissolve a polar substance like sucrose.
  • Source: Middle School Chemistry

So now you know—and if you’re ever in a Squid Game of your own, you can rest easy knowing this trick is backed by science.

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