The Lesser-Known Acid That Makes Warhead Candy So Sour

Simply thinking about sucking on a Warhead is enough to send mouths watering. The candy brand has triggered puckering lips since 1985, and even today claims it is "still the candy of choice for super sour seekers." But what is it about Warhead's goodies that make them stand out? According to the brand, the candies contain ascorbic, citric, lactic, and malic acids — so with all those acids, it's practically impossible for them not to be extra-sour. In fact, Warheads warns consumers to stay away from its products if they irritate your mouth and tongue. But amongst that list, malic acid is the one that produces that delicious long-lasting, tongue-biting effect and is likely the one to blame for any mouth irritation.

The malic acid in Warheads is covered in hydrogenated palm oil, which helps it slowly release as you suck on the candy. When the acid then disperses hydrogen ions in your mouth, they interact with your saliva to ignite your sour taste bud receptors. Once it's all gone, however, the snack you're left with is mostly sour due to the other acids in question, which produce a milder effect.

All about malic acid

So what exactly is malic acid? It's a naturally occurring acid that you can find in green apples, cherries, grapes, and even carrots. While it can be extracted from foods (and it was first separated from apples in 1785), companies also make it commercially to add to food, drinks, and more. You may see it as an ingredient listed in dry drink mixes, sports drinks, and fruit fillings in baked goods — and Warheads isn't the only candy company to use the acid, as it's also a key component of Sour Punch, Jolly Ranchers, and Sweet Tarts products. Outside of the food and drink world, it can also be found in medicine and skincare, where it acts as an alpha hydroxy acid in the latter.

While it's approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that approval comes along with conditions that malic acid is safe "when used in accordance with good manufacturing or feeding practice." It boasts a number of potential health benefits, according to NetMeds, including assisting with liver and dental health. And yet, as the Warheads warning suggests, you won't want to overdo it on malic acid. Aside from its potential tongue-irritating properties, NetMeds says it can occasionally include headaches and nausea. But if you don't experience any of these issues, feel free to suck away on Warheads' super-sour candies, now knowing the primary ingredient for your enjoyable tasting experience.