Indonesia is warning people against consuming liquid nitrogen after more than 20 children were harmed eating a street snack known as “dragon’s breath” that’s at the center of a dangerous new viral video trend.
The children suffered burns to their skin, severe stomach pains and food poisoning after consuming the colorful candies, according to Indonesia’s Ministry of Health, which is urging parents, teachers and local health authorities to be vigilant.
The candies are dipped in liquid nitrogen to create a vapor effect when eaten. They are popular with children, dozens of whom have uploaded clips to short-form video app TikTok showing them blowing the fumes out of their mouths, noses and ears. One video showing the preparation of the snack by a street vendor has been viewed close to 10 million times.
Around 25 children have been hurt consuming the candies, including two who were hospitalized, said the ministry’s director general Maxi Rein Rondonuwu. No deaths have been reported.
Using liquid nitrogen in food preparation is not illegal. Top chefs often use the vapors to create theatrical effects when serving dishes. It is clear, colorless and odorless, and commonly used in medical settings and as an ingredient to freeze food.
However, when not used properly, it can be hazardous.
”Liquid nitrogen is not only dangerous when consumed, it can cause severe breathing difficulties from nitrogen fumes that are inhaled over a long time,” Maxi said.
The first case was reported in July 2022, according to the ministry, when a child from a village in the Ponorogo Regency in East Java suffered cold burns on his skin after eating the snack.
More cases were reported in November and December, including a 4-year-old boy who was admitted to hospital in the capital Jakarta with severe stomach pain.
“Schools must educate children in the community about the dangers of liquid nitrogen in food (to) prevent more cases of severe food poisoning,” Maxi said.
In 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued safety alerts warning that serious injury could result from eating foods like ice cream, cereal or cocktails prepared with liquid nitrogen.
“Injuries have occurred from handling or eating products prepared by adding liquid nitrogen immediately before consumption, even after the liquid nitrogen has fully evaporated due to the extremely low temperature of the food,” the FDA said.
“This is a hazardous chemical compound,” said Clarence Yeo, a Singapore-based doctor. “It irritates the stomach and can cause burns in the mouth and esophagus. Children would be especially sensitive to (its effects) if it is eaten in large amounts.”
Yeo warned he “wouldn’t advise anyone to eat it.”
“You could end up in hospital and the worst case scenario could be organ damage,” he said.