The pandemic was a dark period in all of our lives, but there was a drink that made everything better. Dalgona Coffee, also fondly known as the “quarantine drink,” was the first of the many Tiktok Do-It-Yourself trends that went viral on the Internet due to its rather unique way of making it.
Eventually the hype went down, but Squid Games re-sparked worldwide interest by featuring dalgona sugar candy in its third episode. Now many people want to know where they can find the signature cookie so that they can also try their hand in doing the dalgona challenge.
It’s easy to do at home. All you need is sugar, instant coffee, and baking soda. Read on to learn how to make this iconic cookie candy, and where dalgona came from.
History of Dalgona Candy in Korea
Korean Dalgona candy, also known as ppopgi, is a famous street food made out of melted sugar and a pinch of baking soda. Without baking soda, the sugar can’t puff up & caramelize into what makes dalgona a unique biscuit: light like milk froth, but thicker than a merengue (and vegan-friendly).
In Korea this cookie is considered ‘retro’ because it was a popular street snack that hit the stalls in the 1960s. Korea was heavily affected by the war during this period, so ice creams and chocolates were too expensive to afford.
To keep the people happy, locals developed a candy that only required few & affordable ingredients to make. It's even quite easy to make dalgona candy at home!
People gathered round watching street vendors make this cookie, because it was a fascinating process. The dalgona mixture is first poured on a level surface, flattened by a stamp, and marked by a patterned mold.
Then, there’s the playground challenge, too: eat the cookie from the middle without breaking the pattern. Successful people get another cookie for free, so it’s unfortunate if you like the taste of dalgona too much to do slowly.
Personally, I think the hardest outline to trim with your teeth is the biscuit with an umbrella-shaped stamp. This particular cookie became the iconic symbol of the TV show Squid Game, which revived the popularity of dalgona in Korea, and piqued the taste buds of people around the world.
Sales also doubled for street vendors, and Korean cafes began serving this along with a nice cup of iced dalgona coffee. You may already be familiar with dalgona coffee, or the fun-to-make caffeinated version of this drink.
The fun part is mostly the whisking of the sugar froth, but some people cheat by using automated whisking tools (but where’s the fun in that?) The whisking results in a coffee cream froth that you can use to top coffee, biscuits, and other desserts like bingsu and cakes.
Believe it or not, the word ‘dalgona’ and ‘ppopgi’ are not synonymous. The former actually used to refer to expensive sugar candies without a mold, while the latter were Korean sugar candies that relied on a mold to form various shapes.
Eventually, people started to refer to any type of sugar candies as ppopgi, or dalgona – although the vocabulary preference varied from region to region. As for the word “dalgona,” it comes from an informal Korean phrase meaning “it’s sweet.”
Squid Games' Dalgona Candy (From the Schoolyard)
He was one of the many vendors whose businesses were affected during the pandemic, so when he was offered the job to make dalgona cookies for the scene in Squid Games, little did he know at the time that his participation would turn him into a local celebrity.
The Squid Games dalgona candy became the most sought-out candy in Seoul, and people would line up for hours just to have a taste. Some stalls even made a makeshift booth for those who want to try doing the dalgona challenge on the side.
While the hype was still on the ultimate high, celebrities and influencers tried their hand at making and doing the dalgona challenge, propelling the candy to worldwide prominence. The playground game, however, is a fond memory for those who grew up with it.
They say the sugary taste of the honeycomb-flavored treat was just enough to send them back to their playground days. Children would rush to the stands and pick the easier shapes first, and unlike the show, using small carving tools (or a needle) would be considered cheating.
Furthermore, you are only given five minutes to accomplish the task. When the clock starts to tick, it can get nerve-wracking, especially for little kids, because all eyes will be on you. It’ll be worth it if you succeed, because the candy maker will grant you another one as a reward.
Dalgona Coffee Wave & Origins
Believe it or not, dalgona coffee does not actually contain dalgona candy. It was named that way because it tasted exactly like a bite out of the famous biscuit with a splash of coffee. Another surprising fact is that this coffee blend did not originate in South Korea.
It actually came from Macau, created by a former shipwright that started a humble hidden café in an abandoned shipyard. In 2004, the hand-beaten coffee became associated with Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat after he tried this blend and loved it.
Allegedly he said it was miles better than the coffee he had at his hotel.
Well over a decade later, when the pandemic hit, thanks to TikTok it became a craze for those looking for something to do at home to quell quarantine boredom. When South Korean actor Jung Il-woo went to do a mukbang show in Macau, he visited the same café and ordered the ‘special hand-beaten blend’.
The process was shown on TV, and people watching closely were surprised at how easy it was to make the coffee. They were even more surprised to realize that it actually tasted a lot like a dalgona cookie – hence the name.
Under the hashtag “#dalgonacoffeechallenge,” people began posting their own versions of the unofficial ‘quarantine drink.’ To make the challenge feel more like one, it was an unspoken rule to whisk the homemade coffee by hand.
You can definitely get worn out making coffee this way, but the results will be worth it. It’s quite easy to make dalgona coffee at home, too.
All you have to do is whip equal parts instant coffee, sugar, and hot water. Once it turns into a creamy froth, pour it over cold or hot milk and enjoy. To mix it up a bit, you can even sprinkle a bit of coffee powder, cocoa powder, crumbled ppopgi, or a drizzle of honey over the finished beverage.
You don’t need to have stellar cooking skills to make the following dalgona recipes. Below are a few fun dalgona ideas that you can try at home with family or friends (or alone— we won’t tell!).
Dalgona Sugar Candy
You don’t need to fly all the way to Korea to try the famous Squid Games candy. This biscuit only needs melted sugar, baking soda, and a whole lot of patience. Purchase a Dalgona Toolkit to have an authentic feel of the process. Click to read the recipe.
Whipped Coffee Dalgona
Even though the quarantine is still gradually being lifted, it is never too late to try the ‘quarantine coffee’ craze. To join the hype, all you need are four important ingredients: instant coffee, sugar, milk, and hot water. Click to read the recipe.
Whipped Coffee Cake Pancakes
Get ready to whip up a batch of delicious, tasty breakfast pancakes with a twist. Instead of the famous maple syrup on top, Josh Elkin suggests whipped dalgona froth instead. The intense coffee flavor coming from these pancakes is strong enough to jolt you awake in the morning. Click to read the recipe.
Dalgona Candy FAQ
Dalgona is made with melted sugar and baking soda. I recommend using granulated sugar, and you should never skip the baking soda.
This candy has a smoky, caramel taste. Many people say that the candy tastes a lot like honeycomb toffee, and has a nutty, sweet, and mildly bitter taste to it.
Yes. The original dalgona challenge was a playground game that made children cut out the carved symbols on the candy without breaking the brittle cookie outline. They didn’t use needles back then, so they had to use their hands carefully and slowly. Winners get awarded an extra cookie, so the stress is all worth it.
Cacao is pronounced kah-kow.
Dalgona and ppopgi used to have different definitions, but before the terms became synonymous, ‘dalgona’ was used to refer to expensive candies that used glucose and were formless. The word ‘dalgona’ also came from an informal Korean phrase meaning “it’s sweet.”
Anyone can make dalgona candy in 5 minutes. On a non-stick pan, add three tablespoons of granulated sugar, and stir it constantly with a spoon. When signs of melting begin to show, sprinkle on a pinch of baking soda, and thoroughly mix everything together. Make sure to move the pan away from the heat occasionally to stir any lumps without burning the melting sugar. Once completely melted, pour the mixture onto a baking sheet and flatten it with a plate before stamping the front lightly with a cookie cutter.