More than 20 children have been hurt in Indonesia after taking part in a TikTok trend in which they are filmed devouring a street snack infused with liquid nitrogen known colloquially as “dragon’s breath”.
The government has warned of the dangers of using liquid nitrogen in ready-to-eat food and urged greater vigilance after some children suffered stomach burns and food poisoning while eating chiki ngebul or chikibulis – a rainbow assortment of candies coated in a cloud of liquid nitrogen mist.
The liquid nitrogen causes the snack to appear to smoke when consumed but if it is consumed before the liquid nitrogen has evaporated, there is the potential for intestinal burns and perforations, and in the most severe cases it can lead to death, said Dr Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian doctor and researcher of global health security at Griffith University.
Skin burns and severe breathing difficulties are other potential risks, the Indonesian ministry of health’s director general, Maxi Rein Rondonuwu, said in a statement.
No deaths have been reported, but the ministry said around 25 children have been affected, with two hospitalised. Budiman said the number of children affected could be much higher.
The ministry has asked local health agencies to supervise restaurants using liquid nitrogen whilst informing them of how consumers can enjoy it safely. “Mobile hawker food outlets” are advised against selling such snacks at all. It has also asked schools to educate children about the dangers.
On TikTok, dozens of videos, accompanied by dance music, show teenagers and young children with tendrils of smoke coming from their mouths as they devour chiki ngebul. In one video that has racked up nearly 60,000 views, a toddler can be seen puffing the smoke through the hole in the sweet.
Although the snack has been around for several years and liquid nitrogen is commonly used in food, such snacks are now easier to access than they historically have been, said Budiman.
“Maybe now it’s decreasing [in price] and not only easier to access but also the number of new businesses using this liquid nitrogen is also increasing”, he said. They’re often sold by street vendors, and many food handlers don’t know how to use liquid nitrogen properly, while children aren’t aware of its dangers, said Budiman.
“For some teenagers, the experience [of] dangerous things [generates] more enthusiasm. They [are] eager to try it. That’s a dangerous thing,” he said.