Have you noticed the newest trendy mall snack? It’s bright-colored cereal puffs or cheese puffs that emit a vapor and make you “breathe like a dragon” when you eat them. If you think they look scary, your instincts are right! Those snacks, sold under names such as Dragon’s Breath, Heaven’s Breath and Nitro Puffs, are so dangerous that the FDA has issued a warning against eating them—or even touching them.
The puffs are doused with liquid nitrogen just before they are handed over to the customer, which is what creates the “dragon’s breath” vapor from the mouth and nostrils when they are eaten.
Cereal puffs and cheese puffs might bring to mind Lucky Charms and Cheez Doodles, which aren’t exactly health foods—but liquid nitrogen is another matter.
It’s true that liquid nitrogen is nontoxic in the sense that it’s not poisonous, but it’s hardly safe. Liquid nitrogen is a colorless, odorless gas that is really cold—below –320ºF…cold enough to instantly freeze skin and flesh. Because it’s so cold, liquid nitrogen does evaporate quickly, but it might not have completely evaporated from the snacks before they are eaten. Even if the liquid nitrogen has evaporated, inhaling the vapor is dangerous, as explained below.
The US FDA has received reports of severe injury to skin and internal organs from consuming these snacks. So it has issued a warning to avoid eating, drinking or even touching food products prepared with liquid nitrogen just before they’re served. The FDA explains that lingering traces of liquid nitrogen ingested on food can severely damage skin (such as fingers and lips) as well as the tongue, throat and esophagus…and that inhaling the vapor can cause breathing difficulties, including asphyxiation, especially in people with asthma. Liquid nitrogen causes frostbite, destroying both external and internal tissues, including the delicate lining of the lungs and bronchial passages. The FDA asks that injuries from such snacks be reported to MedWatch, its website for reporting safety issues and adverse events.
Note: Other foods, such as alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks and frozen desserts, are sometimes prepared using liquid nitrogen, but in a way that allows the liquid nitrogen to evaporate completely before they are served. So the desserts and drinks are not dangerously cold when they are consumed.
Next time you’re at a mall with a kid who’s clamoring to breathe like a dragon, keep walking on past.