If you've woken up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night with the voice of a giant doll saying “red light, green light,” then welcome. We are here for you, we acknowledge you, we understand what you are going through. For the rest of you, well, you clearly haven’t watched Netflix’s "Squid Game." The wildly popular (and deeply morbid) Korean show follows hundreds of contestants in severe debt who risk their lives for millions of dollars by playing six children’s games.
In between all the completely terrifying moments in the show, there's a sweet surprise: dalgona candy. The Korean treat takes center stage in one of the show's most talked about episodes. Here, we’ll walk you through why everyone is talking about the candy, the history behind the sweet, and how you can make it home.
Why Is Everyone Talking About "Squid Game's" Dalgona Cookies?
In the third episode of "Squid Game," the players are taken to a make-shift playground and told to choose between four different shapes: a circle, a triangle, a star, and an umbrella. Once they choose their shape, the players are handed a small container, which reveals a dalgona candy (a honeycomb candy-like treat) and a thin needle. At the center of the dalgona is an indentation of the player’s chosen shape. With only 10 minutes on the clock, the players must extricate their shape with the needle without breaking the candy. If the clock runs out or they break the candy, they are eliminated (ie. they are killed). The game is called ppopgi.
What Is Dalgona Candy?
Dalgona candy is essentially a honeycomb-like candy. It’s made by mixing baking soda with melted sugar. It has a toffee-like taste, with a brittle texture. The center of the candy is typically indented with a simple shape (like a heart or star).
What’s the History Behind Dalgona Candy?
Dalgona has been around since the 1960s in Korea, and was particularly popular in the 1970s and 1980s. The candy was typically sold outside of elementary schools. Dalgona was a sweet treat for kids, but it also provided a fun game: If the kid could remove the shape from the rest of the candy without breaking it, they were given another candy for free. “Kids were told by parents and teachers to shun junk food, especially those sold on the street,” explains Dr. Jennifer Jung-Kim, Lecturer in the UCLA Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. “But dalgona was cheap (maybe about a dime), sweet, and had the added wow factor that you might just win a free candy—so of course, kids were drawn to it!” When the candy became commercialized, however, the street vendors were phased out.
What's the Difference Between Dalgona and Ppopgi?
Ppopgi is the name of the game you saw in "Squid Game," but it can also refer to the candy itself. “Originally dalgona was made of glucose and baking soda, whereas ppopgi was made of sugar and baking soda,” says Dr. Jennifer Jung-Kim. “When both more or less disappeared, people started using the two names interchangeably.”
How Do You Make Dalgona Candy?
Traditionally, you make dalgona candy one at a time with a ladle. "It's not that you can't make it in a pan, but that's just not how it's done," explains Hyosun Ro, blogger behind Korean Bapsang (she has a detailed tutorial for the candy on her site from 2020).
To start, you essentially add a heaping tablespoon of granulated sugar to a stainless steel ladle. You put the ladle over a gas stove and stir with a chopstick until the sugar has completely melted. Then, you add a small pinch of baking soda and stir until the mixture gets frothy and caramel-colored. After that, you pour the mixture out onto lightly-oiled parchment paper or a greased surface, immediately flatten the mixture into a disc with a hotteok press or another greased pan or plate. Immediately after that, you press your cookie cutter or dalgona mold into the center of the candy. Let cool and enjoy.
There are slight variations to making dalgona. “Brown sugar is also commonly used,” explains Ro. She also says that “when people make it simply as candy without a pattern imprinted, they add other things such as nuts and cookie pieces.”
2 Things to Know If You Make Dalgona Candy at Home
- Make sure you set up everything ahead of time. Dalgona candy takes less than 10 minutes to make, so it comes together very quickly. Set everything up ahead of time so you’re not scrambling to grab some parchment paper while holding a ladle full of hot sugar.
- Be careful when using the mold or cookie cutter. You want to press down firmly so you get a clear indentation, but you don’t want to be too firm and have the cookie cutter break through the candy.