It’s probably not possible to make a gobstopper that will last forever – or at least one you would want to put in your mouth. But let’s see if we can at least get somewhere close to an ’everlasting gobstopper’ anyway! We may have to make some sacrifices along the way…
How gobstoppers are made
Gobstoppers are normally made by slowly layering flavoured liquid sugar onto a solid core of chewing gum or sugar. As the different layers build up, the gobstopper gets bigger and bigger. The main ingredient in gobstoppers is sugar; all other ingredients such as natural and artificial colours and flavours only form a small percentage of the finished product.
The Guru everlasting gobstopper
As you suck a gobstopper, the sugar layers dissolve in your mouth and it shrinks. If you’re willing to have something inert – so there’s no sugar, no flavour and no colour change – then yes, it’s perfectly possible to make a gobstopper that won’t get smaller when you suck it. Although I suggest you don’t actually try it, a glass sphere like a marble should last for well over your lifetime and probably not show any measurable loss in size. Alternatively, there are biosafe plastics such as acrylic plastic (a material used to make plastic dentures) which could easily be moulded and set into a specific shape. Another biosafe material would be the gum base of chewing gum; in modern chewing gum this gum base is made from a mix of synthetic rubbers, which could be easily set into a ball for our gobstopper. Gum base doesn’t biodegrade but the enzymes in saliva may ultimately start to break it down (sadly, there is no official record of the longest time spent chewing one piece of gum). In theory, using such material could be used to make something that can be chewed/sucked indefinitely.
The real problem for engineering a truly everlasting gobstopper would be introducing flavour into our non-dissolvable ball. The sensation of flavour essentially means flavour molecules moving from the gobstopper and diffusing to your taste buds. Technically speaking, this means the gobstopper will eventually lose the flavour molecules it contains. And as soon as this happens, it’s not going to be everlasting anymore. The only way around this problem would be to cheat in someway. One way of slowing down our gobstopper losing its flavour would be to ‘encapsulate’ the flavour in it. The process of encapsulation would allow us to lock the flavour molecules throughout the gobstopper and delay their release, allowing for a longer and more controlled taste. Alternatively, plastics can be impregnated with flavour, which, it is claimed, will last for many years (you can buy dog chews made of such materials). However, even using this method our gobstopper would eventually become tasteless.
Of course, a completely different idea would be to have a gobstopper that could be ‘recharged’ by dipping it in something flavoursome. In theory, the customer could pick an entirely new flavour once the old one had finished. What flavour would you choose?
By Lewis Pike and Nathan Beal
Get your questions answered!
Got a question about life, health, nutrition, psychology or science? If there’s something you’ve always wanted to know, or even just something you were pondering whilst taking a shower – let #AskAGuru be the place to go!
We also accept questions via email.
See a list of answered questions here.