The Fun, Little-Known History Behind Candy Corn and Other Favorite Sweets
If you can think of a season or a holiday, a candy maker has thought of something sweet for you to buy in bulk when that time of year rolls around (and a dentist has appreciated the resulting cavities). Some of the world's most famous and instantly-recognizable candies have surprising histories. Here's a look at the stories behind the sweets that would make the roster if candy had an all-star team.
Oct. 30 is more than just the night before Halloween — it's also National Candy Corn Day. The Wunderlee Candy Company first produced the tri-colored, kernel-shaped goodie in the 1880s and the Goelitz Candy Company (now called the Jelly Belly Candy Company) took over production at the turn of the 20th century. Today it's a staple for trick-or-treaters everywhere. Candy corn is so popular, in fact, that special editions are rolled out for Valentine's Day, Christmas and other non-spooky holidays.
By 1893, Milton Hershey already owned a successful caramel company. That year, however, history changed forever when the legendary candy man arrived at the Columbian Exposition, also known as the World's Fair. There, he witnessed a chocolate manufacturing operation. He purchased the entire thing and set it up in his existing factory. After making several experimental innovations — including the addition of fresh milk — Hershey unveiled the milk chocolate bar in 1900.
In the world of candy, the standard Snickers bar is the 800-pound gorilla on the block. In 1930, Forrest Mars, father of Frank Mars, imagined a bar that was actually more confection than candy. While experimenting on his Tennessee farm, called Milky Way, Mars combined peanuts, nougat, and caramel to make a brand-new snack. He named it after his favorite horse, Snickers. It remains the best-selling candy bar in the world.
Without Reese's Pieces, E.T. would almost certainly still be lost in the woods, and without a movie about a lovable alien, who knows where Reese's Pieces would be. The bite-sized candy was created in 1978 to capitalize on the success of the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. Four years later in 1982, "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" hit theaters. E.T. followed a Reese's Pieces trail to safety with his new human family and the Hershey's corporation followed a big-screen shoutout to global marketing success.
In 1847, apothecary lozenges were all the rage. A new way to deliver medication, the chalky little sweets sent the medicine down without the foul taste. A Boston pharmacist named Oliver Chase then developed a way to make a perfectly even pastel candy disc called New England Confectionery Company (NECCO) wafers. His brother came up with the idea of emblazoning them with phrases inspired by the sentiments found on a brand new product – Valentine's Day cards. By 1902, the message-laden candies were available in heart shapes, and today, the NECCO corporation pumps out 100,000 pounds of candy message hearts daily in preparation for Feb. 14.
The classic Cadbury Creme Egg is the closest any candy has ever come to mimicking a real egg thanks to chocolate outer shells and creamy, yolky fondant fillings. John Cadbury opened his first shop in Birmingham, England in 1924. After a century of experimentation, the Cadbury company unveiled a cream-filled egg in 1919, but the modern Cadbury Creme Egg wouldn't reach its modern incarnation until 1971.
Cotton Candy contains just two ingredients: sugar and air (and, if you're eating it outdoors at a carnival or boardwalk, the occasional fly that inevitably becomes trapped in its web-like pink cloud). The first cotton candy machine was patented in 1897 by a confectioner and, less predictably, a dentist. Because it contains mostly air, a full serving of spun sugar contains just 105 calories.
Sort of like giant lollipops made of glazed tree fruit, candy and caramel apples took different paths to their current status as fall carnival staples. Red candy apples were invented by a creative candy maker in Newark, N.J. in 1908, who sold them for five cents at the Jersey Shore. A Kraft employee invented the caramel apple in the 1950s and the first caramel apple machine was patented in 1960. Both were the results of accidental experimentation with holiday sweets.
Jelly beans are an absolute must in any respectable Easter basket, even though they rarely take top billing. Although no one can nail down the exact genesis of the jelly bean, which had entered the mainstream by the late 19th century, it's believed they were the result of experimentation with several different kinds of popular candies — most notably Jordan almonds and Turkish delights. During the spring holiday, America gobbles up 16 billion of the chewy, egg-shaped treats.
Few candies are more directly associated with Christmas than the venerable candy cane. Folk legends say candy makers gave them their "J" shape in honor of the first name of the winter holiday's namesake or to resemble the shepherd's staff he was known for carrying. The truth, however, is that the centuries-old candy had nothing to do with Christmas until a German immigrant named August Imgard decorated a holiday tree in Ohio with the hard, minty treats in 1847.
Unglamorous and often overlooked, the classic hard candy ranks near the bottom of the modern candy totem pole. But if you got your hands on a bowlful of individually-wrapped granny candies as a child in Ancient Egypt when candy first became a thing, you'd be the coolest kid in the kingdom. Although Cleopatra and the pharaohs did have candy-esque sweet treats at their disposal, modern hard candies first came on the scene in the 19th century.
Although no one knows quite for sure exactly when someone put a stick in a puddle of molten candy to create a handle when the candy cooled and hardened, lollipops are at least as old as Charles Dickens. The famed British author made reference to them in his novels in the mid-1800s. During the American Civil War, soldiers indulged in lollipops that were fastened to pencils instead of regular sticks.
Nonpareils — you might call them by their familiar brand name Sno-Caps — are chocolate discs or drops dusted with a coating of tiny sugary balls, which are usually white but can be any number of colors. Although they are believed to have entered the American consciousness as decorations for wedding cakes in the 18th century, today they are nonpareil (that's French for "without equal") in terms of movie theater candy.
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