What is Candy? History and Fun Facts!

What is candy? The history of candy helps define what candy is.

What is candy?

Sweet and simple, sugar is the defining ingredient in what we commonly call candy. Candy is different than chocolates, pastries, or other sweets, although lots of people use the term candy to include chocolate. Candy is different from chocolate because chocolate is defined by its cocoa content. Sugar may not be the primary or defining ingredient in chocolate.

Read How Chocolate is Made on our Blog, Winding Rocky Road.

How is candy made? 

Candy is made by combining sugar and water or milk, then heating the mixture to varying temperatures and this temperature determines the texture of the candy. Additional ingredients add flavor and more texture to the candy. For example, when making red and black liquorice (or licorice), the cook often adds flour and other ingredients to create that wonderfully soft, slightly chewy consistency. Did you know that red licorice is eaten more than any other candy in the world? If you love licorice, you’ll want to check out the history of red licorice and learn fun facts about black licorice.

Candies made by combining sugar with milk include caramels and toffee

What is candy? Caramel is a type of candy make with milk and sugar.

The History of Candy

How did candy become so popular? It boils down to the story of sugar, colonization, and the Industrial Revolution. 

What is sugar? Sugar canes is a major crop that lead to the widespread development of manufactured candy. Candy, in some form, goes back to ancient times. Ancient candy was often made from honey until about 2,000 years ago when India discovered how to make granulated sugar from sugarcane. From there, it spread through Medieval Islam kingdoms and ultimately, to Spain and Portugal. Explorers brought sugarcane seedlings on their voyages during the 15th Century. In 1493, Christopher Columbus brought sugarcane to the New World. That’s how sugarcane took root in the West Indies. Plantations and trade routes to Europe began to grow rapidly by the 16th Century

For a few hundred years, sugar was still scarce - the New World and its trade routes were still developing. Consequently, sugar was expensive and reserved for the wealthy in special pastries and other sweets. It was also used sparingly in medicinal treatments. Despite the sugar, these medicinal lozenges and tinctures were not very tasty. The candies we commonly think of did not become popular until the 19th century—when sugar became cheap.

The history of candy - Sugar Plantations in the West Indies and the Industrial Revolution were key in the availability of candy in the West.

By the 19th century, colonies in the Americas were crowded with sugarcane plantations and refineries. Sugar could be manufactured in very high volume, for cheap prices. Inexpensive sugar poured into Europe and became a household item. This set the tone for the development of handmade candy since the working class could now afford to make, sell, and buy candies. Still, they were limited by smaller batches and larger labor forces. Toffee was the darling of 19th century candy connoisseurs—and remains a popular British treat to this day.

Toffee is a long time English favorite candy. It's especially popular as a Christmas candy in America.

The Industrial Revolution coincided with the flood of cheap sugar into England. Between 1847 and 1851, the invention of specialized, automated pans that stopped sugar from burning as it heated, as well as the candy press, changed the candy business. Suddenly, one or two people could run a manufacturing operation. By the mid-1800s, the United States sprouted 400 candy factories. Move over Willy Wonka! 

From there, the candy shop sprung to life, bringing affordable penny-candy to everyday little girls and boys. It was no longer a treat for the elite. 

Some fun candy facts: 

  • https://assets.winton.com/cms/Images/longer-view/sugar/8-Sugar-Cane.jpg?mtime=20170911145611The candy industry employs 34,000 people in the US
  • ¼ of adults in the US sneak at least one piece of candy every day of the week
  • Adults prefer chocolate, while children eat four hard or chewy candies to every one an adult eats
  • Americans arguably eat more candy than anyone in the world. We sell more sugar, chocolate, and gum than any other country.
  • Americans eat more than 5 million pounds of candy and chocolate every year 
  • The average American consumes 22 pounds of candy every year