A Very Brief History of Candy

February 21, 2016

A Very Brief History of Candy

Historically, candy has been around since the dawn of time. If you think about honeycomb, straight from bees hives, well, that was candy.

In the middle ages, most cultures made some sort of candy with honey, long before they had sugar. The Egyptians and then the Greeks and Romans used to coat fruits, flowers, seeds and stems of plants to preserve them - a kind of confectionery that is still made in those countries today.

Originally candy was viewed as an aid to digestion. A remedy of sorts. Something for people, who had overindulged at the dinner table, to take to their rooms to be taken at night.

During the Middle Ages, only the wealthy could afford candy because of the high cost of sugar. During this time in Britain, the wealthy of the wealthy would buy sugar and it was the 'woman of the house' who would make candy for her dinner guests. Because sugar was so expensive, they wouldn't allow their staff to work with it. And so candy became something of an outlet for feminine creativity. In Palermo, Sicily, it was the nuns who were the candy makers.

Caramels were known to be made in the early eighteenth century and lollipops by the 1780s.

In the early 19th-century the discovery of sugar beet juice as a sweetener, changed the candy industry as mechanical appliances were designed specifically to make candy.

By the mid-19th century, amateurs (home cooks) were improving home recipes for things like fudge and fondant but more importantly, the industrial age of candy making boomed. More than 380 American factories were making popular “penny candy”, such as peppermints and lemon drops.

Throughout the 19th century doctors extracted juice from the marsh mallow plant's roots and cooked it with egg whites and sugar, then whipped the mixture into a foamy meringue that later hardened, creating a medicinal candy used to soothe children's sore throats. Eventually gelatin replace the mallow extract and in 1948, Alex Doumak, a marshmallow manufacturer, began experimenting with different methods of marshmallow making.

The first machine-spun cotton candy was invented in 1897 by a dentist and a confectioner but it was only really introduced to a wide audience in 1904.

The first candy-making machine was invented by a pharmacist in 1947 to crank out candy lozenges.

1918 was a turning point in candy ingredient history because food related shortages due to WWI came into play.

"Sugar shortages were impacting households as well as food makers by the end of 1917. In January 1918, industry watchers predicted that sugar use would be restricted to something like 90 percent of what was available the previous year. But candy was ready."

This was the introduction of corn syrup (glucose).

Stay tuned for my next post which will focus on the ingredients used in candy.