Established by the National Confectioners Association, the month of June is National Candy month! Well, let’s face it, there’s not many of us that need an excuse to enjoy a delicious treat! Many of us have a sweet tooth, but you may feel less guilty to discover that this is not a modern weakness. Candy has featured in our lives for thousands of years!
The First Sweets
Cave men made a form of sweet with dried out honey. It formed a toffee like substance for them to chew on and satisfy their sweet cravings! Honey did in fact form the basis of many original candies. As far back as 2000 BC, the Egyptians used honey to make sweets by adding figs, nuts, dates, and spices. They used these honeyed treats in ceremonies to worship gods and goddesses.
At the same time, the Ancient Greeks also used honey to make candied fruits, flowers, and stems. In addition to this, they discovered how to make syrup out of figs and dates. The Romans and Chinese made barley sugar confectionery with honey cooked or baked in an oven. So, you see, our love affair for sweet treats is a very long-lasting relationship!
Sugarcane and Cacao
The development of candy continued over the years. It is believed that Indians first discovered how to extract sweet juice from sugarcane over 3000 years ago. They were the first to create brown sugar. The spread of sugarcane over the centuries had a major impact on confectionary habits, particularly in China. Here they sweetened liquorice, ginger, and nuts. By 950 A.D. Arabs invented caramel, though originally they used it on hair! They built the first sugar refinery in the world. The Indians were the first to create sugar candy, in 250 A.D.
During the Middle Ages confectionary became extremely popular, though remained exclusive to the wealthy. With the cost of sugar so high it was categorised and sold as a drug. In the 14th Century, the Spanish brought cacao to Europe from Mexico. The Mayan people had been growing cacao since 1200BC, though some evidence shows it might be even earlier than that! The Aztecs enjoyed it in liquid form and regarded cacao so highly, they used it as a form of currency. The Spanish added sugar to the liquid cacao to make it more palatable, but it took almost a hundred years before this new drink reached the rest of Europe. Better late than never though!
Candy history and the development of sweets really took off in the 1800’s. The reduced price in sugar and development in mass production, meant that everyone could now enjoy confectionary. In 1847 Joseph Fry developed the first chocolate bar. However, the first bars had a bittersweet taste. It wasn’t until 1975, when Henry Nestle, an evaporated milk manufacturer, developed the milk chocolate bar. In 1879, Rodolphe Lindt began to add cocoa butter back into the mix. This created a bar that would hold its shape but melt on the tongue.
In addition to chocolate development, successful inventions included marshmallows, toffee, and fudge. The 19th Century also enjoyed the arrival of peanut brittle, rhubarb and custard, cough drops, sherbet lemons, fruit gums and jellybeans! So candy, as we know it, has been in our lives for over 100 years! Certainly a reason to celebrate and dedicate a whole month to it too!
The sweet confectionary industry boomed. Production companies experimented with flavours, shapes, and sizes. During the first half of the 20th Century, in America alone, 40,000 different candy bars appeared! Our taste for sweet treats went into overdrive and favourites were established! Youngsters and adults alike, saved their pennies so they could indulge in a bag of their favourite pick ‘n’ mix or chocolate bar!
The economic impact on nations producing confectionary is immense. In America over 55,000 people are directly employed in the industry. In the UK, this is approximately 19,500 people. It is believed that for every person directly employed, another 7 – 10 people are employed in associated businesses. In 2019, sales for confectionary in the UK exceeded £1.5 million. In 2015, the Nestle factory in York, exported 26,000 tonnes of confectionery to over 70 different countries! So, candy plays an important role in our lives, providing employment and boosting the economy, let’s celebrate!
Always a Treat
Of course, sweets should always be regarded as an occasional treat. June is National Candy month, to also raise awareness about portion control. The National Confectioners Association launched the ‘Always a Treat’ initiative to encourage everyone to enjoy their favourite confections, but in moderation, as part of a balanced lifestyle. Giving sweets as gifts, therefore, has become immensely popular. It is an opportunity to ‘spoil’ your loved ones with that special, occasional treat.
Here, at Sweet and Nostalgic, we have a plethora of sweets, all carefully selected to take your loved ones on a trip down memory lane! Have a glance through our range and discover a sweet treat that you can give to your friends and family to celebrate National Candy Month!