History of Candy and Desserts

Food History - The Origins of Candy and Desserts

Party table with cupcakes, popcorn, and candies
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By definition, candy is a rich sweet confection made with sugar or other sweeteners and often flavored or combined with fruits or nuts. Dessert refers to any sweet dish, for example, candy, fruit, ice cream or pastry, served at the end of a meal.

History

The history of candy dates back to ancient peoples who must have snacked on sweet honey straight from bee hives. The first candy confections were fruits and nuts rolled in honey.

 Honey was used in Ancient China, Middle East, Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire to coat fruits and flowers to preserve them or to create forms of candy. 

The manufacturing of sugar began during the middle ages and at that time sugar was so expensive that only the rich could afford candy made from sugar. Cacao, from which chocolate is made, was re-discovered in 1519 by Spanish explorers in Mexico.

Before the Industrial Revolution, candy was often considered a form of medicine, either used to calm the digestive system or cool a sore throat. In the Middle Ages, candy appeared on the tables of only the most wealthy at first. At that time, it began as a combination of spices and sugar that was used as an aid to digestive problems.

The price of manufacturing sugar was much lower by the 17th century when hard candy became popular. By the mid-1800s, there were more than 400 factories in the United States producing candy.

The first candy came to America in the early 18th century from Britain and France. Only a few of the early colonists were proficient in sugar work and were able to provide the sugary treats for the very wealthy. Rock candy, made from crystallized sugar, was the simplest form of candy, but even this basic form of sugar was considered a luxury and was only attainable by the rich.

Industrial Revolution

The candy business underwent major changes in the 1830s when technological advances and the availability of sugar opened up the market. The new market was not only for the enjoyment of the rich but also for the pleasure of the working class. There was also an increasing market for children. While some fine confectioners remained, the candy store became a staple of the child of the American working class. Penny candy became the first material good that children spent their own money on. 

In 1847, the invention of the candy press allowed manufacturers to produce multiple shapes and sizes of candy at once. In 1851, confectioners began to use a revolving steam pan to assist in boiling sugar. This transformation meant that the candy maker didn't have to continuously stir the boiling sugar. The heat from the surface of the pan was also much more evenly distributed and made it less likely the sugar would burn. These innovations made it possible for only one or two people to successfully run a candy business.

History of Individual Types of Candy and Desserts

  • Cake mix (commercial) was invented in 1949.
  • Candy Canes
  • Caramel Apples kits were designed by Kraft Foods sales representative, Dan Walker during the 1950s. The origin of Candy Apples is unknown.