What is a pixie stick made of?

Pixie sticks are a classic candy that many remember fondly from childhood. But what exactly are those little paper tubes filled with? Let’s take a closer look at what gives pixie sticks their signature sweet-and-sour sugary flavor.

The Main Ingredients

Pixie sticks are essentially made up of just a few simple ingredients:

  • Sugar
  • Citric acid
  • Artificial flavors
  • Artificial colors

The key ingredient is sugar. Pixie sticks contain a very high concentration of sugar, which gives them their intense sweetness. The sugar used is generally cane sugar or beet sugar.

Citric acid is added to give pixie sticks their sour tang. Citric acid occurs naturally in citrus fruits, but the citric acid in pixie sticks is usually synthetically produced.

Small amounts of artificial flavors and artificial colors are also commonly added. The flavors help enhance the sweet and sour taste. The colors give pixie sticks their vibrant hues.

Sugar – The Main Ingredient

Pixie sticks are essentially just straight sugar in powdered form. Let’s take a closer look at the sugar:

Types of Sugar

Pixie sticks can be made with cane sugar or beet sugar. Cane sugar is derived from the sugarcane plant, while beet sugar comes from sugar beets. Manufacturers typically use whichever is cheapest at the time.

The sugar used is highly refined white sugar. This means it has been processed to remove the molasses, giving it a clean, sweet taste.

The sugar is powdered to allow it to easily run down the pixie stick tube when consumed.

Amount of Sugar

Pixie sticks contain a whopping amount of sugar per serving. A typical 1⁄4 ounce (7g) pixie stick contains about 5.5g of sugar. That’s over a teaspoon worth of sugar in just one small pixie stick!

To put this in perspective, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons (25g) of added sugar per day for children. So one tiny pixie stick delivers almost an entire day’s worth of added sugar.

It’s no wonder pixie sticks have such an intense sweet flavor. The high concentration of sugar also contributes to their energy-boosting effect.

Powdered Texture

In pixie sticks, the sugar is in powdered form. Powdering the sugar allows it to:

  • Flow easily down the pixie stick tube
  • Dissolve instantly on the tongue
  • Provide an immediate burst of sweetness

The fine texture is achieved by milling granulated sugar into a smooth, ultra-fine powder. This transforms ordinary sugar into the pixie stick experience kids know and love.

Citric Acid Adds Sour Tang

Citric acid is responsible for the sour element in pixie sticks. Just a pinch of citric acid balances out the intense sweetness.

Citric acid has a sour, tart taste similar to lemons or limes. It stimulates the sour taste buds on the tongue.

Natural citric acid occurs in citrus fruits like lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit. However, most citric acid used in food manufacturing is synthetically produced for cost and consistency reasons.

By adding a touch of citric acid, pixie sticks deliver a sweet and sour candy experience. This contrast makes the sweetness pop even more.

Amount of Citric Acid

Citric acid comprises less than 1% of a typical pixie stick. But this tiny amount is enough to provide a noticeably sour counterpoint to the sugar. Too much citric acid would make pixie sticks too tart.

Powdered Form

Like the sugar, the citric acid in pixie sticks is in powdered form. This allows it to dissolve instantly when consumed, releasing that sour punch.

Powdered citric acid is produced by dehydrating liquid citric acid into crystal form, then grinding it into a fine powder.

Artificial Flavors Enhance Sweetness

Small amounts of artificial flavors are typically added to pixie sticks to enhance the primary sweet taste.

These added flavors are synthetic chemicals that mimic natural flavors. They trick your taste buds into perceiving a more intense sweetness.

Common pixie stick flavorings include:

  • Cherry flavor
  • Grape flavor
  • Orange flavor
  • Lemon flavor

These fruity flavors complement the sweet-and-sour pixie stick profile. They add extra dimensions of flavor without overpowering the primary sugar and citric acid taste.

Amount of Flavoring

Only a tiny amount of liquid flavoring needs to be added to pixie sticks. As little as 0.5% of the total formula may consist of artificial flavors.

Since these chemically produced flavors are so concentrated, small quantities are enough to perceptibly enhance the flavor.

How Flavorings Are Added

The flavorings are typically sprayed onto the powdered sugar-citric acid mix. This evenly distributes the flavors throughout the pixie stick contents.

Alternatively, some manufactures mix liquid flavorings directly into the powder. This also evenly incorporates the flavors, though it can result in clumping if too much liquid is added.

Vibrant Colors

Another fun component of pixie sticks is their bright, vibrant colors. Small amounts of artificial food dyes are added to create an array of color options.

Common pixie stick colors include:

  • Red
  • Orange
  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Purple

The dyes used are FD&C certified color additives approved by the FDA for use in foods. While they have no flavor, they provide fun visual appeal.

Amount of Dye

It only takes a miniscule amount of dye to create vibrant colors. Often less than 0.1% of the pixie stick contents consist of dye.

The dyes have extremely concentrated coloring power. Such small quantities allow the bright colors without adding a noticeable taste.

Application of Dye

There are two main ways the dye is applied to pixie sticks:

  • Surface coating: Dye can be sprayed onto the finished pixie stick powder to coat it. This ensures even color distribution.
  • Mixing: Liquid dye can be mixed directly into the powder. Thorough mixing is needed to prevent uneven color clumping.

The dyeing method impacts the final pixie stick appearance. But both produce the bright colors consumers expect.

Pixie Stick Packaging

In addition to the edible ingredients, an important part of pixie sticks is the packaging.

Pixie sticks come in thin paper tubes sealed at one end. The tubes serve several key functions:

  • Contain the pixie stick powder securely
  • Allow controlled dispensing when torn open
  • Display the fun colors
  • Provide space for branding and flavors

The tubes are typically 2.5-4 inches long and 0.25-0.5 inches wide. Standard sizes hold about 0.25-0.5oz of pixie stick powder.

Paper Tube Materials

The tubes are constructed from food-grade paper and adhesive:

  • Paper: The tubular paper must be food-safe. Kraft paper is often used for its strength.
  • Adhesive: The glue sealing the tube end needs to be non-toxic. Standard food adhesives are used.

Wax paper was historically used but has been replaced by more eco-friendly paper types. Plastic tubes are sometimes used too.

Filling the Tubes

There are specialized machines that fill pixie stick tubes in production. Pre-formed tubes are:

  1. Fed into the machine
  2. Filled with powder through a calibrated feeder
  3. Sealed at one end
  4. Printed with colors, branding, and flavors

Automated tube filling allows efficient pixie stick production in various sizes and colors.

Packaging Details

Pixie sticks are additionally packaged in transparent plastic sleeves or pouches. These protect the fragile paper tubes during shipment and storage.

Tamper-evident seals are also sometimes used for added safety assurance.

Pixie Stick Production Process

Producing pixie sticks involves a series of key steps:

  1. Sugar milling: Refined white sugar is milled into a smooth powder.
  2. Flavoring: Sugar powder is combined with citric acid and sprayed with liquid flavors.
  3. Dyeing: FD&C dye solutions are added to create vibrant colors.
  4. Blending: Batches are thoroughly mixed for even distribution of flavors and colors.
  5. Tube filling: Mixes are dispensed into paper tubes using automated equipment.
  6. Sealing: One tube end is sealed with adhesive.
  7. Printing: Tube exteriors are flexographically printed.
  8. Packaging: Pixie sticks are sleeved or wrapped for protection.

Following established manufacturing procedures results in the classic pixie stick form consumers love.

Quality Control

Throughout pixie stick production, samples are taken to verify quality:

  • Powder moisture content
  • Flavor and color accuracy
  • Fill level of tubes
  • Tube seal integrity

Technical control standards ensure ideal texture, taste, and appearance.

Safety and Sanitation

Hygienic conditions and safety protocols are followed during manufacturing. These include:

  • Employees wear protective gear
  • Equipment is regularly sanitized
  • Foreign object controls are in place
  • Allergen controls prevent cross-contamination

Following food safety plans ensures pixie sticks are produced to high standards.


Pixie sticks may seem simple, but creating their signature sweet-and-sour flavor and colorful fun actually requires careful manufacturing.

By powdering refined sugar and adding citric acid, artificial flavors, and FD&C dyes, that pixie stick taste kids love is achieved. Packaging the powder into sealed paper tubes completes the product.

While their ingredients are relatively basic, bringing it all together with quality control produces the delightful pixie stick experience consumers expect.

So next time you enjoy a pixie stick, you’ll know the science behind making these classic candies!

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