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History of Candy

Updated on May 26, 2010

Probably the first candies made in early civilizations were sweetmeats of fruits and nuts, often bound together with a flour paste, sweetened with honey, and flavored with various herbs and spices. These candies satisfied man's craving for sweets and also served to preserve fresh fruits so that they could be eaten in winter.

One of the oldest hard candies is barley sugar, which was originally (and sometimes still is) made with barley grains. A sugarless form of this confection was eaten by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and in China it was spun into stick form and rolled in toasted sesame seeds. The forerunner of the modern Turkish delight was a boiled grape juice and starch mixture that was cut into strips or squares. Marzipan, the sweetened almond paste diat is often molded into the shape of fruits or figures, developed from the almond sweetmeats that were served at lavish Oriental feasts centuries ago.

The earliest recorded references to candies are found in Egyptian papyri that date back to 2000 B.C. In tombs of a later period are illustrations showing various steps in the candymaking process. These drawings show, for example, how the candies were molded into various shapes inside furnaces and how honey, which was the principal sweetener, was culled from honeycombs, strained, and heated in small ovens.

During the Middle Ages the apothecaries were the first to sell sugar candies. Sugar was classed as a drug, and it was blended with bitter-tasting medicines to disguise their flavor. In addition, the apothecary's sugar pill, either with or without medicinal ingredients, was regarded as the cure for many ailments. Sometimes, the pill was made from an herbal infusion boiled with a sugar syrup. More often, however, the sugar pills were made by hard-boiling a sugar syrup, pulling it over a hook until it was opaque, and cutting the hardened sweet into small pieces that were then powdered or pressed into pills.

Although sugar was not uncommon in Europe after the Crusades, it was so costly that it was measured by the ounce and only the wealthiest households could afford it. Despite the prohibitive price of sugar, however, France became famous for its crystallized fruits and sugared almonds as early as the 15th century. In Italy, a popular candy was confetti, small hard sugarplums that carnival revelers pelted at one another. Nougats were probably first made in Spain a few centuries later.

Although candy-making machines were invented in the late 1700's, confectionary manufacture on a large scale did not begin until the last half of the 19th century. England was the first country to manufacture hard candies in large quantities, and at Prince Albert's Great Exhibition, which was held in London in 1851, European and American confectioners were introduced to a large assortment of boiled sweets, bonbons, chocolate creams, caramels, and many other types of candy. These candies aroused so much interest that other countries soon began candy manufacturing industries of their own. With the development of new machinery for making different kinds of candy and the increasing abundance of sugar (a method of obtaining sugar from the juice of the sugar beet had been devised in 1747), candymaking rapidly grew into a major food industry in many European countries and the United States.

At the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851, commercial candy-making in the United States was largely confined to candy sticks and lozenges. Machinery had been introduced only 10 years earlier; before then, all candy had been made by hand. The early settlers had made maple sugar and nut confections, and the first candied apples and rock candy probably appeared in the 18th century. The first commercial American candymakers were the Dutch bakers of New Amsterdam who, during the 1700's, made sugar wafers, marchpanes (later known as marzipan), macaroons, and sugarplums.

The days of the penny candy in the late 1800's were probably the most colorful days of candy in the United States. Every grocery store had buckets of such favorites as jawbreakers, licorice ropes, Gibraltars, all-day suckers, heart-shaped sweets with sentimental sayings imprinted on them, and sugar-coated nuts that were known as Boston baked beans.

Although many of the basic types of candies originated in continental Europe and in England, some candies are distinctly American. Although the French had invented the almond praline in the 18th century, candymakers in New Orleans devised a pecan version of this candy. Peanut brittle, according to one legend, came about in the 1890's, when a New England woman absent-mindedly added baking soda instead of cream of tartar to a batch of peanut taffy cooking on the stove. Fudge is believed to have resulted from another accident, probably from a ruined batch of caramels. Caramel-qoated popcorn balls became popular in the 1870's, and about 30 years later popcorn was combined with caramel and peanuts, resulting in Cracker Jack.

World War I brought about the greatest revolution in the candy industry in the 20th century- the spectacular rise of the candy bar. In 1876 solid milk chocolate had been invented in Switzerland, and by the early 1900's a few candy-makers were experimenting with chocolate bars. During the war years, however, many companies began mass-producing candy bars to meet the enormous military demand. By World War II, hundreds of different varieties of candy bars were being manufactured and they are still one of the most popular forms of candy.

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