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I have an odd Pavlovian response to arcades. As a kid, my mom and I had a tradition of going to Chuck E. Cheese. We’d toss skee-balls and whack moles, shoot rapidfire basketballs and rotate Tetris cubes. Then we’d trade in an armful of tickets for cheap plastic toys and a half-dozen strings of Zotz.

The fruity hard candy concealed a surprise: a wildly fizzy and sour center. There was no patient waiting for the cherry or blue raspberry lozenges to melt, always one decisive bite that delivered an explosion of enough foam I could fake a seizure. It was a party for my young palate and I usually devoured a four-pack before we left the parking lot.


The sweet highs and bitter lows of the ingredient that rules the world

The Sugar Files

My mom came of age in the ’70s, when Zotz first trended in America, where they were often doled out as a prank. You could hand someone a piece of sweet candy and then wait for them to freak out when the shell shrunk and the puckering began. The candy’s secret weapon is a mix of malic and tartaric acids and sodium bicarbonate (science-speak for an anti-acid base. When the powders all hit saliva, they go boom.

While Zotz’s have always been manufactured in Italy, the name likely comes from an American film from 1962. In Zotz!, a man comes across a magical amulet from an ancient civilization that lends him a peculiar power: the ability to point at anyone and inflict pain.

Matt Taylor-Gross

Call me kinky, but I still eat them. Zotz are hard to find but whenever the old-timey candy shoppe or gas station in Nowhere, USA sells them, I can’t help but get in on that hurt.

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