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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Erupting Hot Cocoa

Those of you that know me know that peacocks, the color orange (yes I too love the color orange, yet another reason Marquette and I are best friends!), hedgehogs, and glitter are all on my list of favorite things on the planet earth. Anyone who compiled this list would also know that something is missing, well a lot of things actually, I say "Favorite thing on the planet earth" at least eight times a day, and always about something different, I am a very passionate person. 
That missing thing I am referring to today though is,  hot cocoa. 

The second the end of September hits I am on that train like nobody's business. I can't WAIT for hot cocoa time, which is ironic because I hate cold weather, but that is besides the point. On most days of "winter" I have hot cocoa twice a day. I pop cocoa like Tick-Taks people. I may or may not need a 12 Step Program. I am a serious addict. 
The Original

The Pinstrosity

However when it comes to making cocoa I have found the fastest way to do so is to boil the water in the microwave in my ceramic tea kettle. I have been doing this for years! Not until recently have I experienced the phenomenon that I had never even heard of happening before though. 
I was at my parents house over Christmas, making my hot cocoa per usual, and I put a ceramic mug into the microwave for 2.5 minutes (something I have done a million times before). When it was done I took the cup out, and poured the cocoa mix in.
I usually have a kettle to warm the water in but my parents don't so I improvised.
I poured the cocoa into the water, and it exploded! All over my hands, all over the kitchen counters, the floor and what was the last of the coca mix was gone forever.
Now I am one of the lucky ones in this instance because I didn't get hurt. The water didn't burn my hands and it didn't go up into my face, but what the heck had happened?!
 This had never happened before! 
Fast forward a month and I am at home, I wake up, go into the kitchen fill up the kettle, put it in the microwave for 3.5 minutes (it's bigger than a mug, and this is the amount of time I have always done), and when it is done I take it out.
I have a mug with cocoa powder mix already in it, all ready to go, and I pour the water in. 
It explodes again!!!! 
This time, all over the counter and the flour, but thankfully not my hands because it was much hotter this time,and probably would have burned me. 

What is going on here?!
 I went into research mode. 
Now perhaps I am one of the only people left on earth that didn't know about this. But in case I am not, I thought it might be wise to share the warning. Especially if there are children microwaving water who could potentially get hurt. 

I found this awesome video from an episode of Mythbusters. 
It explains some things, and then they have some exploding stuff, a must watch:

So what I can get  from here is that I was accidentally super heated the water. I was heating it past the boiling point, and as soon as something interferes with the water ( it could be anything from putting something into the water like above, to moving the cup I have read), it will explode if it has been super heated. 

So let this be a warning!
 Please be careful! I now only warm my water for about 2 minutes in the kettle and if I feel like I need it warmer I put back in the microwave for short periods at a time to make sure I don't over do it and cause an explosion. 

Another suggestion was to put a wooden stirring stick into the water to prevent it from boiling. If you usually use an open mug to heat your water, you might start using a kettle just in case. 

I also read that the exploding phenomenon is very rare, and the fact that it happened to me twice is beyond me ( does that mean I am at a larger risk of being struck by lightening ), did I mention I was using tap water in both instances?
As for all of you thinking "But the Mythbusters just said that tap water can't explode?". I did some more research and found that if the tap waters dissolved minerals aren't large enough to act as nucleation sites for the bubbles, it too can boil (Where I found that info)

I hope that this can prevent anyone from being hurt and maybe even you learned something today!
 I know I did! 
Has anyone ever had this happen to them?! Tell us about it! We love to hear your feedback!
Happy Wednesday Pinstrosipeeps!


  1. I was scalded by super heated water. I used a open 2 qt. Pyrex measuring cup and was heating Reverse Osmosis treated water to make a large amount of hot chocolate. It flash boiled on me. Sadly, the super heated water got my shirt and bra soaked immediatly. I ripped my clothes off (I was home alone) and grabbed a towel to dry off. I had first and second degree burns on that most tender area of the body. My Dr. warned me that it could have been much worse.
    It took me several years to go back to heating water in a microwave, but now I never heat water for longer than 2 minutes and I never pull the cup out as soon as the timer dings.

  2. HI Ladies !! Love your blog just as much as I love Pinterest. I have not had any explosions but appreciate the heads up.The Mythbusters ROCK !!
    The only fail I've had was the "chick" deviled eggs--its not a project for someone with shakey hands~~LOL.(still edible)

  3. I usually heat the water (tap) in a mug and though I haven't had the water explode, I've had it overflow while bubbling very strongly when I put the mix in. Fortunately I'd set it down. I never heated it very long anyway, a minute and a half usually. Now I pour just a few grains of mix in to start, then add the rest slowly.

  4. Overall I find heating things in the microwave to be too volatile. I've had soup explode. For the amount of time it takes to nuke something, I could have heated it up on the stove. Also, I actually read the instructions once for hot cocoa and it says NOT to boil the water. I'd rather make the cocoa from stove heated water and if it's not quite hot enough, nuke it for 20-30 seconds.

  5. That's crazy!! I've never heard of that before, but will definitely be careful next time I'm heating water in the microwave!! Wow!

  6. Oddly enough, this has never happened to me at home. However it happens to me ALL THE TIME when I'm visiting my grandparents. Their microwave, I kid you not, will boil water in 30 seconds. It's a terrifying monster.

    However, we got one of these wonderful devices for a housewarming when we moved 4 years ago, and it is the BEST THING ON THE PLANET.

  7. The reason this is considered "rare" is generally, plain tap water has enough other ions floating around in it to prevent this. This can be done very easily with distilled water and even more easily with deionized water. Reverse Osmosis filtered water lies somewhere between plain tap water and distilled water in the amount of other ions present which would make it more likely to superheat than plain tap water.

  8. I had it happen, but with a tea kettle on the stove. It went way past boiling, and exploded all over my chest.

  9. One of the easiest ways to prevent this is also a cool way to make a chocolate drink taste better. Put salt in your water. Regular old table salt. It lowers the boiling point as well as gives the heated molecules something to attach to, so as long as you watch for the boil and stop it soon after it starts (or before, if you don't need it that hot) you'll never end up with exploded water in your face.

    1. Just FYI, adding table salt will actually raise the boiling point of water, not lower it. It will also give it a lower freezing point which is why it's used on icy roads.

  10. DulcetDiscord beat me to it, but I was also going to suggest adding salt. Just a little bit. I expect you could also get the same effect by adding sugar or even a little of your cocoa mix. You just want to give the water a little impurity.

  11. I am glad you were not hurt. I have had this happen to me and I use a chopstick to stir it in the microwave before I remove it. That way I'm far enough away, and its contained in the microwave if it does go off. Just so people know, its not just water, any liquid heated in the microwave can do this.

  12. Two words: electric kettle. Seriously, could save you a serious scald someday, so fast and easy to use you might just need that 12-step program after all. I love my Capresso - form meets function. :). Stay safe!

  13. In the lab we heat the agarose in the microwave to get it to dissolve and swirling it around causes it to boil more, which is why you make agarose in a container double the volume that you're making.

    The worst in-microwave explosion I've had was coomassie (blue dye) and SDS (detergent) - forgot to take the cap off the tube. Blue soapy stuff went all over the microwave. Oops.

  14. I havent had a microwave for at least 9yrs.. Ive found its easier just to use my kettle to boil water and heat food on the stove. Nuked stuff tastes strange to me.
    But my hubby bought me a Tassimo T65 for my birthday and I can get straight hot water from that amazing little machine quicker then even a microwave =)

  15. I avoid the superheated water by skipping water altogether. Hot cocoa just tastes soooo much better when you make it with milk! Simply heat up milk in the microwave just like you would do with water. Richer, creamier hot chocolate.

    And if you happen to have whole milk on hand (we did when the kids were toddlers), try that once in a while for an extra-decadent treat! Not great for the waistline, but oh so good!

  16. So glad you weren't hurt. But on a totally flippant topic related to the first sentence of you post:

    Did you know that hot chocolate tastes better out of an orange mug? So say the researchers! Sounds like a great excuse to combine a couple of things you love :-)

    1. We both read an article on that just the other day! Hooray for orange and hot cocoa!

  17. Hmmm, i once bit in to a hard "boiled" egg, I cooked in the microwave and it exploded all over my face, giving me 2nd degree burns...does that count?

  18. I haven't had it explode on me, luckily. But I have had several instances of the water I was heating in the microwave spontaneously exploding while it was still heating. It only started happening in the last year, oddly enough. Nothing is different now from what it always had been, so not sure why I'm seeing explosions now. I use well water which should have impurities in it. I know for sure there's dissolved calcium and a little iron in it. I think the automatic turntable in the microwave provided just enough movement or sloshing to get it to explode while it's still running.

    Interestingly, there's a similar phenomenon with super cooled water where if there's no nucleation site for the ice crystals to form, the water can be well below freezing and still liquid. Usually with a little agitation, the water will freeze solid within seconds. This happens most often with purified bottled water. I've seen it happen with a bottle I forgot about in the freezer. Really cool reaction (pardon the pun, lol).

  19. You can always put a little of whatever you're making into the water first. If you put a little bit of cocoa or sugar or salt or whatever in there, you can be sure there are nucleation sites.

    1. Agreed, this is the safest way to heat water in the microwave. I have had tap water superheat on me more than once growing up. And as a physics teacher, this is something I've done as a controlled experiment before as well.

  20. Very interesting! I learned something today--- thanks for sharing!

  21. Perhaps this is an American thing - but does no one have electric kettles out there? Over here (UK) every household has an electric kettle and wouldn't dream of heating a mug of water in the microwave! Very dangerous.

  22. I'm not sure if it's the same thing, but I had something similar happen to me while making spaghetti. I was making the sauce and boiling the water behind it. The sauce took longer than I expected, so I just turned the water down instead of going ahead and making the noodles. Anyway, long story short, I added the noodles to the not quite boiling again, but still hot water, and the water exploded out of the pot and all over in my sauce! I was about to pull my hair out! But at least it was on the back burner. I've had second and third degree burns before, and they are not fun.

  23. My mom told me about this when I was little (it happened to a friend of hers) and so I always poke the surface of my microwaved water with a spoon while keeping a safe distance. Also I try to jiggle the mug a bit to create bubbles and thus nucleation sites, but I expect they must pop in the microwave before the water boils and I'm wasting my time on that one. Old habits die hard.

    Someone mentioned supercooling of water-- just last week I was in a convenience store and discovered that all the water bottles on the top shelf of the fridge had supercooled. We squished each and every one of them to watch the ice crystals spread. It took about four seconds for a 600mL bottle to go solid.

  24. My coworker had this happen to her a few weeks ago. Unfortunately it was on the stove and she put pine sol in the water. She tried taking it off before it boiled and it exploded. She burned 80% of her cornea and half of her face.

    I clean my microwave with baking soda and water. Fill up a bowl then microwave for 5 minutes (I usually do 2, a minute resting, then follow up with a minute on and a minute off) always put toothpicks in the water to help the bubbles form. My mom always thought this was crazy. Water in the microwave truly scares me.

  25. I remember a couple years ago the local news channel talked about this. Totally forgot all about it until this last Christmas when we were making hot chocolate several times a day. No tea kettle so I used the microwave. Several times the hot water would erupt when I added the powder. Not sure why-we have very hard water. I do know it was uber cold, like down into the negative teens. I have not had volcanic action since then so I wonder if (somehow) the cold air had some affect.

  26. I have never had this happen. Then again, I knew someone who had scrambled eggs blow up in her face when she opened the microwave (she had 1st degree burns). Ever since I was a teen, I've never heated anything up for an extended period. Instead, I do 15 seconds, 20 seconds, 20 more, etc. For water, I usually only do a minute 30, let it sit about 20 seconds, add in my cocoa, then warm it up about 10 more seconds. Same method with milk - which is oh so good!

  27. It just happened to me! Thanks for reminding me of the Mythbusters episode. I must have remembered that, but forgotten. After heating water in the microwave, I forgot about it. It had cooled down, so I heated it again. It was very hot when I took it out, but it didn't boil over in the microwave. I put it on the counter, started to empty the cocoa mix into the mug and WHOOSH! Half the water erupted onto the counter. "What the heck just happened?" I asked myself. "It's like I heated the water beyond the point of boiling, so it was just in some kind of resting state, then when I added the cocoa mix, it was like some kind of chemical reaction!" I knew I couldn't be the only person who's experienced this, so I Googled: "cocoa mix into very hot water erupted" and first thing that popped up was your blog! Thanks for clearing that up!


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