Today, whether we like them or not, sweets can play a far more important role than simply that of nourishing food. More than just a quick source of energy, a snack, or a sweet sensation they can be a reward, a comfort, an enticement, a token of appreciation or even an object for barter at school.
The British sweet tooth has sunk deep into the economy – over £3000 million is spent on chocolates, toffees, boiled sweets and bars every year. During a sunny bank holiday weekend, four million sticks of rock are sold at over three hundred seaside resorts, each one with the town’s name running right through the middle of it from one end to the other; a feat of confectionary engineering that has puzzled many a child – and the occasional adult.
A DIP INTO HISTORY
It is not popularly appreciated that the variety and range of sweets on offer today has become available only during the last hundred and twenty years or so. Many of today’s leading brands are in fact, less than one hundred years old. Crunchie was launched in 1929, Mars Bar in 1932, Black Magic in 1933 and both Kit Kat and Quality Street in 1937. Conversely, younger generations do not always realize for how long such brands have been part of people’s lives.
The origins of confectionery can be traced back to about 2000BC when the ancient Egyptians satisfied their cravings for something sweet by combining fruits and nuts with honey. Liquorice juice, extracted from the root of the leguminous ‘Sweet Root’, is known to have been used for medicinal purposes at the same time. The forerunner of today’s Turkish delight was a uncompromising confection of boiled grape juice and starch cut into squares. Over 3000 years ago the Aztecs in Mexico were known to use the cocoa bean to make a bitter drink. However, it took 1500 years before that drink could be sweetened with sugar.
Sugar was thought to have healing properties, a factor which undoubtedly helped the sale of the apothecaries medicines, but they also found a ready market for sugar confections in their own right – for those who could afford them. In France sugared almonds became popular and in Italy Confetti (small hard, sugar plums) were eaten especially on celebratory occasions.
COCOA AND CHOCOLATE
It was the combination of sugar and cocoa that eventually set the confectionery story alight. The Spanish conqueror of Mexico, Cortez, brought cocoa and the chocolate drink back to Spain in 1502. The addition of sugar made this bitter drink more palatable, but it took almost another hundred years for the new drink to reach the rest of Europe. The first shop to sell drinking chocolate in London was opened in 1657.
The eighteenth century was witness to the birth of some prominent confectionery manufactures, and the nineteenth century with the advancement in mechanization saw them rapid expand.
John Cadbury opened a shop in 1824 in Birmingham selling tea, coffee and cocoa; his cocoa manufacturing business started a few years later. During the 1840’s both Fry’s and Cadbury’s were producing chocolate made specifically for eating, although the vast majority of production was geared towards the manufacture of cocoa. It was also in 1853 that Fry’s launched their chocolate cream sticks, the forerunners of chocolate Cream Bars.
Fry’s Milk Chocolate was launched in 1902, and employed a most endearing image on it’s wrapper – the faces of five boys showing the transformation of expression when being consoled with Fry’s chocolate. This popular image had been used since 1886 to advertise Fry’s.
Since the Middle Ages sugar has been mixed with medicines to ‘sweeten the pill’ and from the begining of the twentieth century there were many lozenges, gums and pastillies that served as throat soothers, stomach warmers or healthy energy givers. These are still popular today, and act to alievate pains and sores from coughs and colds. Cough Candy are a great example of this, and can be bought in store.
CONFECTIONERY IN THE 20th CENTURY
Confectionery has developed rapidly in the last hundred years, to the extent that today the country consumes 600 million Mars Bars every year, 200 million Cadbury’s Creme Eggs and enough Kit Kats to keep pace with a machine that produces 80,000 bars an hour. Unfortunately to our detriment, we can no longer enjoy the pleasures of Spangles or Texan Bars. Oh.. so is life !!
Sweet and Confectionery Timeline
1866 Fry’s Chocolate Cream Bar
1902 Fry’s Milk Chocolate (5 Boys)
1905 Cadbury’s Dairy Milk
1910 Cadbury’s Bournville Plain Chocolate
1911 Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit and Spearmint Gum (UK Release)
1915 Cadbury’s Milk Tray 1921 Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut
1929 Fry’s Crunchie
1932 Terry’s All Gold
1932 Mars Bar
1933 Rowntree’s Black Magic
1935 Milky Way
1935 Rowntree’s Aero
1935 Kit Kat
1936 Quality Street
1936 Rowntree’s Dairy Box
1939 – 1945 WWII
1948 Polo Mints
1962 After Eight Mints
1977 Double Decker
and so it continues …