Attempting to make dragon’s beard candy turned into a sticky mess

February 6, 2021 — by Bill Yuan and Tiffany Wang

A video about a white, stringy candy showed up on Bill’s YouTube homepage a month ago. Curious, he clicked on it to find a street vendor demonstrating how to stretch melted sugar into a hair-like texture. 

The candy in the video is called Dragon’s Beard, which is made by stretching a ring of sugar over and over, exponentially increasing the number of sugar strands while the strands become thinner and thinner. Tiffany had tried out Dragon’s Beard candy at an Asian vendor in China a few years earlier, and wanted to try making it.

We decided that we wanted to try to make it together because the silky strands of sugar really spoke to us. The process looked simple enough: Cook a sugar mixture to a certain temperature, cool it in a puck mold and stretch it into strands. However, as we quickly learned, it was anything but easy.

Since we had to take precautions due to the pandemic, wearing masks and being forced to socially distance definitely made it much harder to work together. However, we were able to figure it out with Bill cooking the sugar while Tiffany tried pulling it into strands. 

The recipe calls for a mixture of sugar, water, corn syrup and vinegar that must be heated  to 270 degrees in order to “invert” the sugar. This would make the sugar soft and pliable, allowing it to be stretched into strands as thin as hair.

On our first trial, Bill cooked the sugar to a temperature slightly above 270, and it became way too brittle when it set. After we poured it into a ring mold to let it cool down, it immediately set into a hard sugar ring. When we tried to pull it, the sugar began cracking and eventually snapped in half. 

Though we were disappointed, we didn’t give up. Bill tried to melt the sugar slightly in the microwave to soften it, but to no avia — it just became a sticky mess. 

For our second trial, we made sure to cook the sugar to a lower temperature. Being too careful, we took it off the heat at 269, this time causing the sugar to not solidify. Without cornstarch, the sugar stuck to everything: our hands, our shirts, our masks and, somehow, our hair.

We decided to play with it some more, and after mixing lots and lots of cornstarch into the sugar, it became somewhat workable. The cornstarch was supposed to be used only to make sure the sugar wouldn’t stick to everything, but we improvised and used it as a way to harden the sugar. We tried over and over to stretch the sugar, and then add more cornstarch when it was too soft.

Eventually, we got a final product of something that resembled dragon’s beard candy just by continually stretching and folding the sugar, although the strands were much bigger and not very uniform in size. The purple food coloring that we added did not help the resemblance at all since the traditional candy was white. However, it tasted just like what those Asian vendors sold (it is literally just cooked sugar), with just a little more cornstarch than preferred.

In many YouTube videos showing dragon’s beard candy being made, they are able to count the number of strands that they have pulled, by starting at two and doubling the count after every fold. However, our method of aimlessly folding and stretching made the number of strands uncountable.

Unfortunately, Tiffany had to leave because it was getting too late, but if we had tried again the third time, we’re pretty sure that it would have been perfect. Third time’s the charm, right?


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