We have already seen Wonka sweets on our shelves thanks to Nestlé's The Willy Wonka Candy Company. We've had Wonka Bars along with their golden tickets; we've even had Everlasting Gobstoppers (which were, unfortunately, not everlasting). However, scientist Dave Hart from the Institute of Food Research (IFR) has gone one step further and cracked the equation to turn Roald Dahl's multi-flavoured chewing gum into reality.
In Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and subsequent film adaptations, the most recent of which being Tim Burton's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), Willy Wonka claims that his gum is able to convey the flavours of “tomato soup, roast beef and baked potatoes, and blueberry pie and ice cream”. One Miss Violet Beauregarde stubbornly chews the gum, still under development, and blows up into a giant blueberry. Wonka orders his Oompa Loompas to take her to the juicing room where she is, well, juiced, but is left permanently purple and flexible.
Professor Hart and his team are exploring whether nanotechnology could encapsulate and release such diverse flavours in a precisely controlled way. He has developed a process of capturing molecules of particular flavours, vitamins or living cells inside capsules before they can be incorporated into the ingredients for food; the molecules would acquire an oily shell from the capsules thus allowing them to be kept separated from other flavours. "The tomato soup capsule,” explains Hart, “would break on contact with saliva, followed by roast beef and blueberry pie in stronger structures - providing a sequential taste explosion as you chew harder". All this is still some way off, however, and for now the team are working on creating a boiled sweet, using the scientific technique behind a 17th-century preserve: flavours are set in layers, each separated from the others by a tasteless gelatin, and there’s a final desert taste in the middle contained in a high-tec gel called Gellan.
Of course, you wouldn’t really be eating a three-course meal: the gum can’t reproduce the feeling of being full, nor provide any vital nutrients. For the time being, let’s not tell any Violet-esque children. We don't want any giant fruit-children being rolled around our streets now do we?
Professor Hart is working with the National Science and Engineering Competition on developing new flavours for sweets. The Competition aims to encourage school pupils to get inventing.
Telegraph, 10 Oct; D.Mail, 13 Oct 2010.