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Salt water taffy and the sweet taste of summer

Updated on June 17, 2013
Barrels of salt water taffy by miss.libertine on Flickr
Barrels of salt water taffy by miss.libertine on Flickr

Salt water taffy is sweet and chewy. Sometimes it starts out hard as a gumball before giving way to chewiness. Other times it is soft and pliable from the get-go, the taffy stretching before finally breaking apart.

Salt water taffy is an American treat usually bought in seaside towns during the summer. It’s a popular souvenir item in beach shops, sometimes offered in commemorative boxes and tins. Some of the best salt water taffy is found in barrels, where the flavors can be mixed and matched for a price per pound.

Salt water taffy is wrapped in wax paper so that the candy doesn’t stick to the wrapper. The candy’s color shows through the paper, and each piece of salt water taffy is usually dyed in a rainbow hue to reflect the flavor.

How salt water taffy is made from The Philly Food Show

The origins of salt water taffy

Despite its name and the ocean that surrounds salt water taffy-makers, salt water taffy doesn’t have any seawater in it. It’s made with salt, and it’s made with water, but seawater has nothing to do with it.

Salt water taffy was first made in the late 1800s in Atlantic City, New Jersey. After a flood that drenched his entire candy shop in seawater, the store’s owner, David Bradley, decided to make the most of his predicament. A girl came into his candy shop looking for taffy, and he offered her “salt water taffy” as a joke. The girl took his words to heart, however, and bought some to take to her friends.

Joseph Fralinger, a candy-maker in the same area, decided to market the salt water taffy as a souvenir for people to bring back from the Jersey shoreline. This popularized salt water taffy beyond the beachside stalls, and it became a popular treat with both tourists and locals.

With Fralinger’s success came an imitator, Enoch James, who made the taffy less sticky and regulated the taffy-pulling process. He sold the taffy in bite-sized pieces rather than strips, and soon his business was booming as well.

Today, salt water taffy is a popular souvenir item that can be found well beyond the Jersey shore. Salt water taffy can be found up and down the East Coast, in San Francisco, and even from online specialty shops. Fralinger’s and James’s shops are still up and running on the Atlantic City boardwalk.

Mm, maple bacon by jdsmith1021 on Flickr
Mm, maple bacon by jdsmith1021 on Flickr

A little salty, a lot sweet

Taffy is sticky like toffee, and it’s made by pulling and stretching heated sugar until it turns light and fluffy. The pulled sugar is rolled and cut into the characteristic bite-size pieces. Taffy candies are sometimes called chews in Britain, and this term refers to candies such as Laffy Taffy (naturally) and Starburst.

Salt water taffy comes in a variety of flavors. In light of the modern obsession for novelty and the rise of foodie culture, salt water taffy can come in such flavors as maple bacon, chile mango, cupcake, melon, and cinnamon bun--and that’s just for starters. Salt water taffy takes on flavors easily, and it can be flavored in whatever matter the candy-maker sees fit.

Not an online retailer, but hilarious by Calgary Reviews on Flickr
Not an online retailer, but hilarious by Calgary Reviews on Flickr

Where to find salt water taffy

Salt water taffy is a tourist purchase. Without a doubt, if you go to the beach in the United States, East Coast or West, you’ll find someone selling salt water taffy amidst the painted seashells, hermit crabs, tourist tees, and boogie boards. The prices are usually affordable, ranging from $3.99 to $5.99 a pound. Because salt water taffy is light and airy, bulk purchases are fairly inexpensive.

If you can’t make it to the beach but desperately want salt water taffy, there are many old-timey candy stores selling it online. As with everything these days, Amazon also sells salt water taffy from its warehouse and through third-party vendors. You can’t always choose your flavor online, though, so be sure to see if the candies are random or preselected.

Here are a few online vendors, with links to additional Amazon offerings below:

Learn to make salt water taffy with Today's Nest

No beach, no problem: DIY salt water taffy

One of the coolest things about salt water taffy is that it’s not difficult to make. It’s tedious, and you’ll get a workout as you pull and pull and pull, but in the end, you’ll be able to create your own flavors and make as much salt water taffy as you like.

The Exploratorium, a website explaining the science of cooking, has a wonderful recipe for salt water taffy on their site. The recipe makes about 50 pieces, so it’s plenty enough to share with friends. The recipe even explains the principles behind the recipe.

Pulling taffy by Sunset Sailor on Flickr
Pulling taffy by Sunset Sailor on Flickr


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      Dil Vil 4 years ago from India

      This is nice, good hub. Thanks for the share.