There are a lot of strange ways to die, but death by sugar is actually pretty common. If you ask any health guru, they’ll tell you that sugar can cause cancer, diabetes, and drive you insane—at least for a little while. Unfortunately, it is not just the sugar-free revolution that thinks this sweetener is a killer. In actuality, sugar (and sugary treats) have been the cause of true, weird deaths across the globe.
The Great Molasses Flood
In January 15, 1919, a storage tank with 2.3 millions gallons of molasses exploded over the East End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. Although the neighborhood had been enjoying the factory’s negligence up to that point—they had been skimming free molasses from the leaking 50-foot-tall tank for a while—they all got their comeuppance when a 15-foot wave of brown, sugary gold surged through the streets at an estimated 35 mph. The event, aptly named the “Molassacre,” killed 21 and injured 150. There were rumors for decades after that you could still smell molasses in the streets when it warmed up.
You can actually watch Max Miller bake some delicious bread based on the event (and learn more about the molasses flood in gory detail).
Chewing too much gum can sometimes you jaw pain, rot your teeth, or turn you into a human blueberry. However, Vladimir Likhonos learned the hard way that doing it while working can be explosive. In 2009, the Ukrainian chemistry student had the habit of dipping his chewing gum into citric acid to “refresh” it while working long hours in the lab. Unfortunately, he accidentally dipped his gum into one of the compounds he was working on instead. The combination of his spit and the reactive substance was deadly.
With all the strange ways to kill a person, you’d be fooling yourself to think that sugar is always just an innocent bystander. Although not as overt as the fantastic fictional murderess of Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle,” (do you want sugar with your arsenic, or arsenic with your sugar, Merricat?), real-life sugar killings happen all the time. There are several instances of killers adding sugar to boiling water and then using it to burn victims. The combination of the two forms a viscous fluid that sticks to skin like napalm, making it almost impossible to clean off before it begins melting flesh.
Drowning in Syrup
Small toddlers are always at risk of getting into stuff that they shouldn’t. Still, a large vat of syrup isn’t a common household danger—at least not in the US. For India, however, a large pot of chashni can be scary. This savory-sweet sauce (compared to tikki masala sauce) is used for a number of dishes in North India, Nepal, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
According to the report that was presented on the accident, the event was very rare, but that “…although drowning in concentrated sugar syrup is rare, there exists the possibility of occurrence of such cases in this part of the world, where local confectioners prepare sugar solutions in large open urns in their houses or shops, thus running the risk of accidental fall of small children into such solutions, especially when unsupervised.”
It just goes to show, it IS possible to have too much of a delicious, delicious thing. But if you’re interested in finding out for yourself, check out this awesome recipe!
All Choked Up
Not that anyone’s surprised, but the most likely way to die from sugar isn’t diabetes, especially in children. It’s actually choking. In 2013, candy became Undesirable #1 as it edged out hot dogs as the number one choking hazard among children. Hot dogs have since taken their crown back, but candy is a big runner up, causing over 12,000 emergency room visits each year for children between 0-14 years of age.
Honorable Mention: Marshmallow Melee
Okay, so no one died of marshmallows on this one (although we know from one or two scary rounds of Chubby Bunny that it has definitely happened), but there was definitely marshmallow fluff at the scene of the accident. In May of 1988, a factory complex outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, was rocked when the Pepcon plant, which manufactured spaceship propellant, exploded. Tragically, two men died in the incident. In addition, the explosion was so massive, that it took at the neighboring marshmallow factory, Kidd & Company. According to locals, when workers got to the scene of the accident, marshmallow fluff dotted the desert for nearly a mile back from the explosion’s epicenter.
So, before you take a bite out of that Twinkie, reconsider—are you devouring that sugar, or is it devouring you? You never know where the sugar beast will attack you next. But between you and I? It will probably be your thighs.
Willow Dawn Becker is an author, voice personality, marketing maven, and entrepreneur. She co-founded Weird Little Worlds Press in 2020 despite a raging pandemic and huge personal losses. Her work can be found at Black Fox Literary Magazine and Space and Time Magazine. She lives in Utah with her family and pug-huahua, Indiana Bones.