The Chemistry of Saltwater Taffy


Saltwater taffy had its origins in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where a man named David Bradley had a taffy stand on the boardwalk in the 1890s. One night during a storm, his stand became flooded. The name came about the next day, when a little girl asked to buy some of his taffy and he jokingly called it “saltwater taffy”. Since then, the taffy has become one of the favorites of many people, including me. I love saltwater taffy, and that is the main reason why I wanted to learn more about it.

  • Composition of ...
    • Sugar (sucrose)- C2H22O11
    • Corn Syrup (glucose monohydrate)- C6H14O7
    • Cornstarch- C27H48O20
    • Glycerine (glycerol)- C3H8O3
    • Water- H2O
    • Butter
      • Lactose- C12H22O11
    • Salt- NaCl
    • Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (Palm Kernel, Coconut and Palm)
    • Natural & Artificial Flavors
    • FD&C Artificial Colors
      • Yellow 5 (Tartrazine)- C16H9N4Na3O9S2
      • Yellow 6 (Sunset Yellow FCF)- C16H10N2Na2O7S2
      • Red 3 (Erythrosine)- C20H6I4Na2O5
      • Red 40 (Allura Red AC Dye)- C18H14N2Na2O8S2
      • Blue 1 (Brilliant Blue FCF)- C37H34H2Na2O9S3
      • Blue 2 (HC Blue 2)- C12H19N3O5

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Corn Syrup (glucose monohydrate)- C6H14O7: Corn syrup is the main ingredient in saltwater taffy. It is an “interfering agent”, which means that it contains long chains of glucose molecules that keep the sucrose molecules from crystallizing. It is a natural sweetener that is made from corn starch. It is used to soften texture, add volume, prevent crystallization of sugar, and enhance flavor. Corn syrup retains moisture to keep food fresh. It is less expensive than sugar, and is often used as a substitute for sugar.

High Fructose Corn Syrup- High fructose corn syrup is a form of corn syrup often used in cooking, especially in candy. It is cheaper than sugar and is often used as a substitute. It is made from corn syrup by changing a large amount of its glucose into fructose using an enzyme called D-xylose isomerase. It is sweeter than normal corn syrup, because it contains higher levels of fructose. It is also more soluble.

Glycerine (glycerol)- C3H8O3: Glycerine is a sweet tasting viscous liquid that is made from fats and oils. It has many uses in cooking. It gives salt water taffy its soft, creamy texture. It is used as a solvent, sweetener, humectant (retains moisture in order to preserve food), filler in low-fat foods, and thickening agent. It can also be used as a substitute for sugar, and can be added to icing to keep it from setting up too hard. It is a carbohydrate that has a heating effect in the mouth. It is a solvent for both flavors and food coloring. Another use of glycerine is in casings for meat and cheese. It is also used in making mono- and diglycerides, which are food stabilizers. Glycerine is produced when butter goes bad. It contains 27 calories per teaspoon and is 60% as sweet as sucrose. It has many benefits, including that it does not raise blood sugar levels, it does not cause cavities (because it does not feed the bacteria that causes them), and it has a low toxicity.

Chemistry's Role

Corn Syrup: Corn syrup is a naturally occurring sweetener derived from cornstarch. The process to make corn syrup starts with cornstarch. Cornstarch is heated in a weak solution of sulfuric acid, which produces the sweet substance of corn syrup. The discovery was made in the early 19th century. Yellow #2 dent corn is the most commonly used variety of corn for corn syrup. The process of converting corn to corn syrup includes sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid, and various enzymes. It is produced in wet corn mills. Cornstarch is converted into corn syrup using acid hydrolysis. Hydrochloric acid and heat are used to break down the starch molecules in the cornstarch and convert them into sugar. The longer the hydrolysis goes, the sweeter the corn syrup produced is. A derivative of corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, is also manmade. It is made by changing a large amount of the glucose in the corn syrup to fructose, using the D-xylose isomerase enzyme. In the making of saltwater taffy, the corn syrup contains chains of glucose molecules that keep the sucrose from recrystallizing.

Glycerine: Glycerine/glycerol can be both manmade and naturally occurring. It is a three-carbon alcohol with three hydroxyl groups attached. When it is naturally occurring, it is the backbone to fatty acid esters, which contain three fatty acid molecules in place of the three hydroxyl groups. The job of the hydroxyl groups is to make the substance soluble. Glycerol can be derived through soap making, where the fatty acid esters mixed with the lye make soap. Glycerol is the byproduct that is made. It can also be obtained as a byproduct of biodiesel production. In the manufacture of glycerol, it can be made from propene or propylene, which is a three-carbon petrochemical compound with double bonds. The three needed hydroxyl groups are added to the three-carbon chain to make glycerol.

Saltwater Taffy: Saltwater taffy is manmade. Each of the ingredients of the saltwater taffy has a special purpose that contributes to the chemistry of the making of the candy. The cornstarch gives the taffy a soft, smooth texture. The corn syrup is an interfering agent, meaning that it contains long chains of glucose molecules that keep the sucrose molecules from crystallizing. The butter is also an interfering agent. The proteins in milk interfere with the process of crystallization. The glycerine gives the taffy its soft, creamy texture. The consistency of the candy depends on the amount of time and heat at which the mixture used to make the candy is boiled. To make saltwater taffy, one must boil the syrup mixture between 270 and 290 degrees fahrenheit. While making the taffy, one must stop stirring once the mixture begins to boil. This is because if the mixture is stirred after this point, it may encourage the broken up sugar molecules (glucose and fructose) to reunite. In order to break the sucrose into its monosaccharides, heat and acid hydrolyze and invert the sugar into fructose and glucose.

Background Research

Saltwater taffy had its origins in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where a man named David Bradley had a taffy stand on the boardwalk in the 1890s. One night during a storm, his stand became flooded. The name came about the next day, when a little girl asked to buy some of his taffy and he jokingly called it “saltwater taffy”. A man named Enoch James improved the taffy recipe by making it less sticky. James also introduced the “pulling” method, which gave the candy a more light and airy texture. On August 21, 1923 a man by the name of John Edmiston got a trademark for “saltwater taffy” and attempted to collect royalties from anyone using the name he claimed to be his. Since the name was in common use, Edmiston was sued and the trademark was invalidated in 1925. Originally, before taffy making was industrialized, it was cooked over open coal fires in copper kettles. After being cooked, the taffy was set to cool and then pulled on large wall hooks. Today, saltwater taffy is made commercially by machines that do all of the stretching and pulling. Saltwater taffy consists of corn syrup, cornstarch, glycerine, water, butter, salt, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils, natural and artificial flavors, and artificial colors. While saltwater taffy does not contain saltwater, it does contain both salt and water. The making of saltwater taffy at home is a very elaborate process that includes the stirring of the ingredients into a large pan over medium heat, and letting it set once it starts boiling. Once it starts boiling, it should sit until it reaches 270 degrees fahrenheit. After this point it is removed from heat, where the flavoring and food coloring are added. After this, the taffy is poured into a cookie sheet to cool. It is then stretched to add air and add a fluffier texture.


Why is it called “salt water taffy”


How taffy was made before machines



How it was first cooked

How to make at home

Functions of ingredients

National Agricultural Institute. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Google Books. National Agricultural Institute,

Nov. 2015. Web. 10 Dec. 2015.

The Science of candy making

How salt water taffy is made now

Chemical compounds

What is Glycerol

How glycerol is used in food

Chemistry of glycerol

How Corn syrup is made

Uses of corn syrup

What corn syrup is used for in salt water taffy

How is glycerol made

How is corn syrup made

About the Author

Kylie Carter is a Junior at Billings Senior High School. She enjoys playing the violin and pole vaults for the Billings Senior High School track team. She is also involved in Senior Advocates and maintains a 4.0 GPA. She hopes to attend college after she graduates, and would like to have a job in the medical field.