The Chemistry of Peppermint Candy
Peppermint candies are a treat that are very popular especially during the Christmas season, billions of candy canes are made and eaten every year. The have a distinct peppermint flavor that is very strong and causes the tongue to feel cold. I chose peppermint candies because they are one of my favorite types of candy and I’ve always been curious to how they are made.Composition of ...
- Sugar or some other kind of sweetener (C12H22O11)
- Corn Syrup ( HFCS-42 made of 42% fructose, 53% glucose, and 5% other sugars)
- Water (H2O)
- Peppermint oil (C62H108O7)
Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components
Peppermint is a hybrid cross between watermint and spearmint, two types of mentha plant. The components of peppermint oil are menthol C10H20O, menthone C10H18O, methyl acetate CH₃COOCH₃, isomenthone C10H18O, limonene C10H16, b-pinene C10H16, menthofuran C10H14O, a-pinene C10H16, germacrene-d C15H24, trans-sabinene hydrate C10H18O, and pulegone C10H16O. The two main components of peppermint oil are menthol and menthone. Menthol is a waxy, clear, crystalline substance. It is a solid but can slightly melt above room temperature. Menthol is obtained from mint oils but can be made synthetically. It can be extracted from mint leaves with the use of distillation. Menthone is a naturally occurring compound and a monoterpene and a ketone. Peppermint oil is naturally occurring and can be extracted from a peppermint leaves. It is extracted by steam distillation from the fresh plant with a yield for 1%.
Sucrose is a disaccharide (double sugar). It is made of one molecule of glucose and one of fructose. It has the formula of C12H22O11. Sugars are white, odorless, crystals that have a sweet taste. It is a single isomer (2 or more compounds with the same formula but a different arrangement of atoms). The molecule is a disaccharide and has a combination of the monosaccharides with glucose and fructose. Sugars are carbohydrates that are made of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. Sucrose is naturally occurring, it is found in sugar canes and sugar beets. It is soluble in water and although naturally occurring, it can synthesized in a lab. The cane or beet is smashed and juiced, then the juice is eventually made into sugar crystals through heat and purification.
Mint candies/Candy Canes are made mostly of sugar. The sugar is melted and becomes a workable syrup which can be manipulated. Sucrose actually does not melt at high temperatures, it actually decomposes at around 186°C and forms a caramelly syrup. The decomposition formula for sucrose is: C12H22O11 + heat → 3CO2 + 5H2O + 6H2. Corn syrup is added to stop sugar from crystallizing. Crystallization would cause the candy to have a grainy appearance and brittle structure which is to be avoided. It also stops the candy from being transparent. Water is added to dilute the sugar and is boiled out afterwards. Peppermint oil is used to flavor the candy and give it its minty taste. The reason mint feels cool on your tongue is 2-isopropyl-5-methylcyclohexanol (proper name of menthol) binds to a receptor site on sensory neurons, the TRPM8 receptor. Doing this opens a pore, then calcium ions move into the cell. This process creates an action potential which then sends a message to the brain. This same receptor reacts to cool temperatures. It sends the same message to the brain and the brain cannot distinguish between them, so menthol feels cool.
Peppermint candies are manufactured in a factory. The process of making peppermint candies first starts with blending the ingredients together in a kettle with mixers. Water, sugar, corn syrup, and any other processing ingredients are blended together and heated to over 141.5°C until it becomes a golden brown liquid. The liquid is then poured on cooling tables then is stretched by working machines until it is white. While it is being stretched out flavoring is added. A worker takes a large amount of the candy and forms it into a loaf. Part of this is cut into strips and dyed red. They are then pressed into the white candy. The loaf then goes through an extruder and is cut into either strands that are then bent to make a candy cane, or circles to make small candies.
Information on mint
Why menthol feels cold on the tongue
Information on methyl acetate
Chemical formula of methyl acetate
Information on mint
Information on menthol
Uses of menthol
How candy canes (or round peppermints) are made
Information on sugar
Chemical formula of sucrose
More information on sugar
Chemical formula for corn starch
Chemical formula for peppermint oil
About the Author
Mariah Alberti is a junior at Billings Senior High School. She enjoys dancing, writing, science, and watching films. She plans on continuing with chemistry and wants to attend an out of state college after next year. Her main goal is to travel the world someday.