Are Warheads less mouth-puckeringly sour than they used to be? An investigation

Baby puckering mouth
Photo: Constance Bannister Corp / Contributor (Getty Images)

As a hyperactive slumber party attendee in the early aughts, I kept sour candy on my person at all times. I’d roll up to the sleepover with my tae kwon do equipment bag stuffed to the brim with sour spray, Sour Punch Straws, tangy Ring Pops, and, my personal favorite, Shock Tarts (now known as SweeTarts Chewy Sours). I’d plow through my stash while my girlfriends debated the merits of Justin Timberlake’s tight curls, but it was only a matter of time until the nonstop, high-octane sour action effectively numbed my mouth. That’s when I brought out the main attraction: Warheads. In those days, Warheads were the centerpiece of any rowdy kid’s candy routine. They had a sharp, almost metallic sour coating that engorged your tongue and sent you barreling into an ass-blastingly sour flavor spiral.

Advertisement

With flavors like Cherry Combustion and Tangerine Torcher, it’s no wonder that parent company Impact Confections markets Warheads as an “extreme candy.” But are Warheads as XXXtreme as I remember? According to a certain legion of fans, the answer is “no, not even a little bit.” For years, sour epicureans have taken to social media to claim that Warheads changed its formula, resulting in a significantly less tearjerking product. You can find the claims all over Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter (search Twitter for “Warheads less sour,” and you’ll find dozens of results). Concerned, I set out in search of the truth.

First, why would anyone change the Warheads formula at all? Reader, the urban legends abound. I saw one Redditor claim that some kids asphyxiated on their own spit after the candy caused them to overproduce saliva. I couldn’t find a single news source that discussed the incident, although I did find a Snopes investigation into a child who allegedly experienced “life-threatening throat spasms” after consuming sour spray, a liquid candy you spray into your mouth for all the sour goodness with none of the chewing and/or sucking. But we’re talking about Warheads hard candies; to my knowledge, no one is debating Warheads sour spray reformulation.

More tangible evidence exists in the case of a 7-year-old in Australia who, in 2016, ate a package of Warhead Juniors Extreme Sour hard candies, which allegedly burned a hole through the middle of his tongue. But the product is still on the market; plus, the packaging comes with a warning that states “eating multiple pieces within a short time period may cause a temporary irritation to sensitive tongues and mouths.” It’s also worth noting that, while Warheads are manufactured and distributed by Impact Confections in the U.S., they’re manufactured and distributed by Universal Candy in Australia. That could result in a slightly different, potentially tongue-scorching formulations.

Still, given these rumors and also actual events, it’s easy to see how a candy company could come under fire from concerned parents, opting to discreetly change its formula to prevent future tongue catastrophes. (It’s also worthwhile to point out that, back in 2011, our friends at Gizmodo reported that Warheads Sour Spray has a pH level nearly that of battery acid.)

But did the recipe actually change? To find out, I trawled the internet for Warheads product labels. I found that Warheads contain a few different kinds of acid: citric acid, which activates those trusty sour taste receptors, and what Wired calls “microencapsulated malic acid,” or the stuff that makes green apples so dang tart. Some Redditors argue that the company changed from malic acid to citric acid in an attempt to make the candies less corrosive; however, both acids are still listed on the candy’s product label. I did reach out to Impact Confections to confirm that the quantities of both acids remained the same; unfortunately, I never heard back.

Short of an in-depth pH test, there’s no real evidence that Warheads were ever reformulated. There are a few alternative possibilities here, though, for why the Warheads effect is less extreme than it was 15 years ago. First, speaking from personal experience, I used to slam Warhead after Warhead in an attempt to solidify my status as a cool, daring sleepover outlaw. Now I am adult, which means I have the restraint to avoid scorching my tongue with dozens of sour treats. It’s also possible that the sour candy community at large is experiencing some kind of collective, nostalgia-fueled malic acid Mandela effect. Sure, Warheads sure did seem more extreme when I was 12, but I also thought Kid Cuisine frozen macaroni was an earth-shattering gastronomic achievement. Kids grow up, sleepover memories blur—but Warheads? Those are forever. Especially if you burn a hole through your tongue.

Advertisement

Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.

DISCUSSION

lordoftheducks
Lord of the Ducks

People experience sour and bitter flavors differently as they age, with kids being way more sensitive to sour and bitter.

That said, they did change their formula and manufacturing over the years. At one point they used malic acid, then switched over to microencapsulated malic acid (malic acid, hydrogenated palm oil). They also switched from using mineral oil in the processing to deproteinized soybean oil.

The thin layer of palm oil protects the malic acid from moisture, giving a slightly longer shelf life, but also inhibits the reaction between the acid (really a salt here until it combines with water) and your saliva.

Not only does the new formula pack less of a pucker, depending on where they source the palm oil it also may be contributing to the deaths of lemurs and orangutans; an overall lose-lose.