First, the manufacturers create the sweet, gummy base of the candy through a process called "compounding." Workers put water, gelatin powder, corn syrup, fructose and sucrose in measured quantities in a vat. This vat pumps the mixture into a heated, 128-foot coiled pipe where it cooks as it travels through the spiral. At high temperatures, gelatin becomes very fluid, allowing the mixture to flow easily while the heat pasteurizes (i.e., kills microorganisms) it. To fight bacteria, the sugar-alcohol sorbitol may also be added to the mixture prior to heating.
After it reaches the end of the coil, the mixture pours into a sealed tank. Here, excess water that evaporates from the liquid is vacuumed out through an opening in the top of the tank. That increases the concentration of gelatin and the sugars.
Flavoring & Coloring
From the vacuum tank, the mixture moves into a machine called "the depositor." Flavoring is added to the entire mixture, including natural flavors (fruit and berry extracts), aromatic compounds (methyl anthranilate & ethyl caproate) and acids (critic, lactic and malic). Then the mixture is separated into two separate containers for coloring.
Starch Molding (Featuring "The Mogul")
"The Mogul" is the popular name for a commercial starch molding machine. Countless rows of plastic, concave, worm-shaped molds are dusted with corn starch. This keeps the cooled, solidified candy from sticking to the plastic. For each mold in the row, the Mogul has a pair of injection nozzles. Each nozzle is connected to one of the two colored mixture containers from the depositor. These two nozzles inject a set volume of colored mixture from their respective containers at opposite ends of the mold. The result is a mold filled half with one color and half with the other. Once this is complete, the finished row moves forward on a conveyor belt while the next empty row enters.
Allowed to briefly cool, the mixture solidifies into a plain gummy worm. The row of molds is then turned upside down and placed on a vibrating grated surface called a "sieve." These powerful oscillations (along with gravity) help shake the worms free. As the worms are caught by the jolting sieve, the starch powder falls below, where it is collected to be cleaned, dried and recycled from future use in the Mogul. Meanwhile, the vibrating sieve help shake powder off of the freed worms.
The dusted-off gummy worms are coated with "sour" sugar through a process called "sugar sanding." From the sieve, the gummy worms are fed onto a wire-mesh platform and moved into a chamber where they are exposed to brief blasts of steam. In addition to the adhesive properties of the condensed water droplets on the worms' surfaces, the steam heats the surfaces just enough to make them "sticky" without deforming.
The worms are them immediately dropped into a rotating drum containing sour sugar crystals. Note: to create these crystals (aka "sour sanding sugar"), table sugar (sucrose) is dissolved in water and mixed with citric acid and tartaric acid before being heated to near-boiling temperatures. The solution is allowed to slowly cool, creating crystals that are subsequently ground to the appropriate grade.
After rolling in the drum for a few minutes, the worms are fully coated with sour sanding sugar crystals. As the worms cool, the bond between them and the crystals solidify.
Finally, the coated worms are removed and packaged.