- September 27, 2011 |
- 12:00 pm |
- Wired October 2011
- Flour and water
This is what the other toy manufacturers, with their clays, foams, and silicone-polymer modeling compounds, never seemed to grasp: Dough is cheap, and kids love to play with it. The 1965 patent called for hard winter wheat, which is high in bindy, springy gluten; new Play-Doh formulations allow for wheat, rice, rye, and even tapioca.
Too much water could let enzymes go to work on the dough, turning the flour starches into simple sugars and leaving nothing but a sweet puddle. Making the dough about 10 percent salt (most bread dough is about 1.5 percent) binds up any excess water.
Straight-chain starch molecules have an annoying habit of attaching to themselves over time, pushing out water molecules and turning the dough stale. Scientists call this retrogradation. This waxy starch is a retrogradation inhibitor: Its branched structure resists clumping by providing hidey-holes for water molecules, keeping Play-Doh pliable.
- Mineral or vegetable oil
Flour and water (and kneading) create the protein structures that give dough its plasticity. Once the water is locked up in the amylopectin reservoirs, this lubricant helps keep the dough moist and counteracts some of the stickiness.
Hasbro’s patent admits to vanilla, but that’s just to throw us off the scent. The real formula for this iconic odor is guarded like the crown jewels. After talking with New York perfumer Christopher Brosius, who offers a Play-Doh fragrance, we suspect that it draws from the aromatic flowers of the heliotrope, aka the cherry pie plant.
- Aluminum Sulfate
In baking, this astringent is used to leaven dough and can act as a stiffener to brace or scaffold the wheat’s gluten molecules. Bonus: It imparts a bitter taste, ensuring that hungry or curious preschoolers who take a bite of Play-Doh don’t make that mistake twice.
This alkaline mineral is a common household cleaning — and ant-killing — product. It has antiseptic properties, and Play-Doh’s 1965 patent suggests that it’s the preferred means of preventing bacteria and mold growth. Though Borax is banned in the U.S. as a food additive, it is used in Iran to preserve caviar.
- PEG 1500 Monostearate
Along with the mineral or vegetable oil, a 2004 patent suggests that this white waxy solid could be used to reduce the dough’s stickiness without letting it slip into sliminess.
When introduced in 1956, Play-Doh came only in off-white. Red, blue, and yellow were added the next year, and a rainbow of other hues followed. Now it’s available in 43 colors, and all of them meet the American Society for Testing and Materials standard for nontoxicity.