Fried Bubblegum, Poultry Plastic | September 26, 2011 Issue - Vol. 89 Issue 39 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 89 Issue 39 | p. 48 | Newscripts
Issue Date: September 26, 2011

Fried Bubblegum, Poultry Plastic

Department: Newscripts | Collection: Critter Chemistry
Keywords: fried, bubblegum, marshmallow, chicken, poultry feathers, composites, graft polymerization, acetylation, thermoplastics
Fried bubblegum: “Most creative” fair food.
Credit: Kevin Brown/State Fair of Texas
Fried bubblegum
Fried bubblegum: “Most creative” fair food.
Credit: Kevin Brown/State Fair of Texas
Chicken feathers: Untapped resource.
Credit: Shutterstock
Chicken feathers: Untapped resource.
Credit: Shutterstock

Last fall, when Newscripts covered the debut of fried beer at the State Fair of Texas (C&EN, Oct. 18, 2010, page 48), we wondered what on Earth those groundbreaking Texans would try to fry next.

The answer: bubblegum, a version of which succeeded fried beer in winning this year’s “Most Creative” Big Tex Choice Award.

The creation that won the award was actually a bubblegum-flavored marshmallow, coated in pink batter and fried, then drizzled with blue icing and sprinkled with multicolored Chiclets.

But creator Justin Martinez, who runs food service company Fiesta Enterprises, did in fact first try to fry real bubblegum. “It definitely did not work out the way we wanted it to,” Martinez says. “It actually tasted terrible.”

After several follow-up experiments, Martinez and colleagues discovered that a marshmallow injected with bubblegum flavoring gave them the flavor and consistency they wanted. Frying a marshmallow alone didn’t work—it melted—so they also developed a bubblegum-flavored batter into which they dip the marshmallow before frying.

The Chiclets were the idea of Martinez’ wife—she thought the final product needed some extra color, he says.

People have been rather skeptical of the concoction, Martinez says, but ultimately they are pleasantly surprised by how good it tastes. The treat will be available at the fair, which runs at Fair Park in Dallas from Sept. 30 to Oct. 23. If any Newscripts-reading Texan is brave enough to try fried bubblegum, send a photo of yourself with the delicacy to and we’ll post it on the Newscripts blog at

If chickens at the state fair are eyeing scientists warily, it’s probably because they’ve heard that researchers are eyeing chickens as a source of new materials. Researchers at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, and China’s Donghua University propose using chicken feathers to make lightweight composite materials and thermoplastics—materials that are elastic and flexible above a certain temperature and that can be melted and remolded. Thermoplastics have historically been made from petrochemical building blocks.

Feathers could be a largely untapped renewable resource, say Nebraska textiles professor Yiqi Yang and colleagues. The U.S. generates more than 2 billion lb of poultry feathers every year, most of which wind up in landfills.

The idea of using lightweight, hollow feather material in composites is not new, but historically people have separated the quill and barbs and just used the barbs, which are called feather fibers. Manufacturers worked with these parts because it was difficult to use whole feathers with compression or injection molding.

Yang and coworkers, however, have developed a way to layer feathers with polypropylene webs and then heat and compress the layers into a composite material. The whole-feather composites are more flexible and stronger than similar materials made with just feather fiber, but are not as elastic (J. Appl. Polym. Sci., DOI: 10.1002/app.31931).

In further feather studies, Yang and colleagues have tried chemically altering ground feathers to make thermoplastics through both graft polymerization and acetylation (J. Agric. Food Chem., DOI: 10.1021/jf1039519, 10.1021/jf2023676). Grafted feather-g-poly(methyl acrylate) films had better tensile properties than similar films prepared from soy protein isolate or starch acetate.

The researchers didn’t test the properties of the acetylated material but say it “could be used to develop inexpensive, biodegradable, and environmentally friendly films, extrudates, and other thermoplastic products.”

Newscripts now wonders what new materials could be made from overcooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

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