The History of Candy and Sweets

It’s hard to find someone that doesn’t like sweets. Anytime, anywhere, if you bring out sweets, people will want some. Even those people that stay healthy and steer clear of sweets secretly like them, and relish the thought of devouring a cheesecake on a cheat day. Anatomically, there are multiple reasons for which people may like sweets. Some need sugar intake for health reasons, others are chocolate fanatics, while some go crazy for baked treats. The general consensus is that if you keep it to a limit, and make sure to brush your teeth after every sweet session, you can consume a certain amount of sweets while staying healthy.

But we’re not here today to give you a health lesson. We want to talk about the long and interesting history of candy and sweets, and to see the ways in which they’ve evolved to become the candies of today.

The cavemen were the first to master the notion of sweets, setting the bar just like they did with all the food that we consume. They routinely ate honey from beehives, revelling in its sweetness and health properties. Honey was the primary way of sweetening products, and when combined with fruits and nuts would make the earliest forms of candy. The ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, Middle Easterners, Ancient Greeks and Romans all consumed this type of candy, experimenting with different variations of each flavor to make it to their liking. Fruit, nut and honey combinations would have also been extremely helpful with digestive issues, and the ancient peoples likely consumed them as a form of medical treatment.

Around the 1st Century, civilizations had learned how to process sugar, and it quickly became a highly traded commodity. However, it was used mainly for medical purposes, sold at apothecaries as a cure for ailments. Because of its high price, it was available only to the wealthy, and was not yet consumed as a sweet treat. It was only in the 17th Century, when sugar become cheaper to produce that people in England and America would make boiled sugar candy infused with nuts and fruits. This is also the time that caramels and lollipops came around, and as they grew in popularity, over three hundred candy manufacturing factories were opened in the United States in the 18th Century. Unlike candy manufacturing factories of today, candy was not sold and produced in packages, but instead only as individually wrapped sweets. The first chocolate factory in the United States was established in 1765, also selling individual chocolate treats.

sweets and candy

The industrial revolution completely changed the dynamic through which sweets were made, turning this into a massive industry, producing candies of multiple flavors and compositions, and selling them in grouped packages. Because sweets were no longer being handmade and were instead being mass produced, many more people had access to them, and could boast about having sweets at family and friendly gatherings. The first sweets were to be mass produced were boiled sweets, marshmallows and Turkish delights. Mass production also introduced hard candies, such as peppermints and lemon drops, these two becoming extremely popular candies in America. However, England was the first country to produce hard candies in large quantities, and at the Great Exhibition of 1851 a large quantity of boiled sweets, bonbons, chocolate creams, and caramels were presented to the European and American audience, to great satisfaction.

Chocolate has had a very different history than sweet candies, with the first chocolate drink emerging from the Ancient Olmec civilization of Mexico. Europe first saw chocolate in the 16th Century when it was introduced by the Spaniards.

As it stands, chocolate comes from the cocoa plant, and cocoa powder was extracted and turned into chocolate by 1828, when it began to be mass produced amidst the candy manufacturing craze of the 19th century. By the mid-19th century, cocoa and sugar productions were at an all-time high. The first chocolate was bittersweet, and was made into the first candy bar by Joseph Fry in 1847. The market responded favorably to it, and in 1854 the first packaged box of Whitman’s chocolate was introduced. Cadbury chocolate came to be in 1868, as the first Valentine’s Day box of chocolate candy.

The first milk chocolate was created in 1876 in Switzerland, and was quickly transported back to the America, where it became a roaring hit in the nineteenth century.

Today, chocolate bars are not nearly as simple as they were in their early stages. Many new flavors are added, and confectionaries experiment with different forms, different variations, and interesting combinations of fruits, nuts, and hard candies to make the chocolate taste considerably different than just basic bittersweet or milk chocolate.

So next time that you bite into a chocolate bar or hard candy, think back to the long history that sweets have had around the world, and savor the creation of such a favorite pastime!

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