Candy in one form or another has been around for thousands of years. Honeycomb was probably the first ready made candy of the earliest humans. From then forward honey was and continues to be a favorite natural confectionary sweetener. Early Egyptians also favored honey as a sweetener and often used it to sweeten fruit and nuts, such as dates and almonds, to create the first Egyptian confectionaries.
Romans used honey to create candy too. Ancient recipes have been preserved which indicate that the Romans used boiled nuts and honey, sprinkled with ground sesame, as a candy treat. This would have been the precursor to modern nougat. Pine nut candy was the confectionary of choice in medieval courts (in the early days of candy it was a luxury of the rich). This candy was made from a mixture of breadcrumbs, cane sugar, honey, ginger and pine nut kernels. This would have been similar in flavor and texture to the Roman treat.
Meanwhile in the ancient dynasties of the East the art of candy blowing was begun during the Tang Dynasty of the first century. In this process the confectioner/artist lifts a caramel mixture onto a stick which is formed into a single open ended funnel with sides dabbed with wheat flour to prevent sticking the sides together. The open end is then closed and the ends pulled into the shape of a thread-like spout. Air is blown into the spout and as the funnel expands into a sugar bubble, it is quickly shaped into the animal of choice. All this has to be done in a matter of seconds before the sugar hardens and loses its pliability. The finished product is stained with food coloring to create the features of an animal.
Meanwhile many North American Indian tribes had candy from the first century onwards. Tree sap and the bark inner layers were particularly popular as chewing gum as well as fruit seeds and plant stalks. Catkins mixed with animal fat were also a well loved treat.
All of these favored first candies bear a resemblance to some of those still preferred today. Honey continues to be an excellent choice of sweetener and of course nuts and seeds are staples of the candy makers, even of the 21st century. It would be fair to say though, that the ancients would certainly have envied the vast selection and assortment of candies available in modern times. While we may think we have come along way in the presentation of candy as well, it is arguable that no one has ever outdone the candy blowers’ animal creations, in either the past or today.