Jawbreakers, whose very name serves as a warning to consumers, are strange even by candy standards. They’ve certainly proved a source of dark fascination for comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who discussed them again and again on talk shows before working some jawbreaker-based humor into his eponymous sitcom. At the end of “The Pez Dispenser,” Seinfeld refers to jawbreakers as “multicolored cement balls for a quarter.” In a 1999 dark comedy with Rose McGowan and Rebecca Gayheart, jawbreakers are even used as a deadly weapon.
But where do these tooth-destroying nightmare confections come from and what kind of people would actually make them? The YouTube channel Your Discovery Science reveals the secrets of the trade in a clip called “How Jawbreakers Break Jaws,” excerpted from the Canadian series Food Factory. The video centers around a factory tour of Oak Leaf Confections in Toronto, Ontario. Disappointingly, there are no Oompa Loompas involved in the process. It mainly involves dumping huge bags of sugar into devices that look like tumble dryers.
Each jawbreaker begins, the video explains, as a candy center. The first interviewee is a man named Richard, who has been making these centers for 12 years. He talks of smashing jawbreakers with a hammer. A mixture of dextrose, flavoring, and fruit acids (for that squint-inducing sour taste) is pounded into a spherical shape by a fearsome looking machine with powerful pistons. The narration proudly notes that Oak Leaf “produces nearly 2,000 centers per minute.” That’s a lot of potential jaws broken. The newly made jawbreaker centers are then wheeled to a part of the factory with the unappetizing name “the engrossing room.” There, the spheroids are placed into another set of churning, tumbling pans. Another line worker adds layer after layer of syrup, each one representing a different flavor: cherry, lime, blueberry, etc. This is a time-consuming process, as each layer takes a couple of hours to dry.
As cheerful as all this sounds, it makes an awful, soul-deadening racket. “Jawbreakers are one of the loudest products that we make,” confesses a production supervisor, whose smile masks his inner anguish. “Being inside the pan room while jawbreakers are being made, it kinda makes you want to run out of the pan room.” But he can’t run. If he did, where would the world get its jawbreakers?