Chocolate. Sweets. Taffy. Desserts. Treats. No matter what you consider or call candy, it has a way of satisfying our sweet tooth – and modern humans aren’t the only ones to crave a little bit of sugar. One of the earliest recipes for candy dates all the way back to the Ancient Egyptians in 2000 B.C., involving mashing together dates, figs, nuts, honey and spices.
Here are some key words in the candy lexicon so you can brush up on your sugary history!
This French word means burnt sugar, an apt description for this sweet treat made by heating a variety of sugars. Some historians attribute the word (and candy) to the Arabs, who were said to invent kora-moħalláh, or ball of sweet, as early as 950 A.D., which was originally used to remove unwanted hair, not unlike sugaring treatments of today.
Heavenly chocolate started out not-so-sweet, as the ancient Mayans harvested and crushed cocoa beans with chili peppers and water to create bitter water, or xocolatl. Often used for religious ceremonies or celebrations, Mayan art is filled with images of people and religious figures sipping this “food of the gods.” Once the Aztecs took over the Mayans (and their precious cocoa bean crops) they renamed the product and actually used it as currency, proving for a time that money really did grow on trees.
By the Middle Ages, candy started appearing at banquets held by the very rich, as sugar was very expensive. It started out as a blend of sugar and spices thought to aid digestive problems, which were common during this time due to poor food handling. Chamber spice was mad with cloves, ginger, aniseed, juniper berries, almonds and pine kernels dipped in melted sugar.
This traditional Japanese treat was first introduced in the 16th century by Portuguese traders visiting the island nation. Crafted by repeatedly coating a core grain of sugar (originally a poppyseed) with melted sugar syrup, these labor-intensive sweets can take a week or longer to produce and are still crafted by artisans to this day.
Wealthy citizens in the 18th century indulged in rock candy, which was made from crystallized sugar and represented the simplest production of candy. While crystallized sugar was popularized in this era, its origins stem back to the Arabic qandi, Persian qand, and Sanskrit khanda, all the way back in the 9th century B.C.
Much like in the Middle Ages, sugar was used in the 1800s to help less-pleasant medicines go down more easily, in the form of lozenges. Bitter medicine was trapped inside a hard sugar coating and was primarily used for therapeutic purposes. However, enterprising lozenge makers eventually realized they could sell these sweet treats without the medicine, leading to the rise of penny candy, a favorite way for kids to spend their pocket money.
With the Industrial Revolution, candy production kicked into overdrive. One of the earliest and best-known candies are Necco Wafers, which were the result of Oliver Chase’s lozenge cutting machine in 1847. Chicken feed was the original name for candy corn, concocted in the 1880s by Wunderlee Candy Company. Lollipops, or lollies, came around in 1908 and were originally a soft treat that were meant to make candy easier to eat.