Candy: History and the Making of Sweets

Ancient history of candy, common ingredients and cooking technique.

The History Of Candy

Follow the evolution and history of candy over the centuries and see how easy it is to make it yourself.


Rainbow Candy

noun (pl. –dies) – a sweet food item or confection made of flavored sugar or syrup and often containing chocolate, fruit or nuts.

Rainbow Candy mobile


In the United States, the term "candy" refers to a broad category of any confection made primarily of sugar and other sweet ingredients, including bulk candy. The heat and duration of cooking and cooling sugar water and added sweeteners and flavors determine the type of candy. Chocolate is referred to as candy in America and often added to other compatible food ingredients like nuts, fruit, and seeds to form candy combinations.

This rather general definition does not hold overseas. The term "candy" is almost never used in the United Kingdom and only lives on in the term "candy floss." In the U.K., the common term for a piece of confectionery is a "sweet." However, in Scotland, "candy" can refer to crystallized sugar. In Australian English, all confections are known as "lollies."


Honey Cave Drawing

Around 6000 B.C. an ancient artist in Spain drew a picture on a cave wall of a man scooping honey from a beehive. Back then people climbed trees and fought stinging bees to satisfy their sweet tooth. Candy has evolved.

The word "candy" comes from ancient Indian Sanskrit. Khanda means "a piece of sugar." Years later, the Arabic version moved one step closer with qandi. Although it is believed that Indians were the first to use the sweet juice of sugarcane about 3000 years ago, there is some evidence that islanders in Papua New Guinea were aware of the sweetness of sugarcane nearly 3000 years before that! That would be about 4000 B.C.! What is known for sure is that by boiling sugarcane juice Indians were the first to make brown sugar.

Before sugar came west, Egyptians used honey to make marshmallows, believe it or not, as early as 2000 B.C. Later, slaves made "honeycakes" by mixing honey with dates, seeds and nuts in a mold. Hieroglyphics even show Egyptians keeping bees to harvest their honey. Around the same time, Greeks were using honey to make candied fruits, stems, and flowers. They also figured out how to make syrup out of figs and dates. But sugar was still mysterious and exotic. Upon their invasion of India in 327 B. C., Alexander the Great's men didn't fully understand seeing "honey being produced without the intervention of bees." When the Romans came on the scene, they made all kinds of confectionary treats called dulcia, the Latin word for "sweet." Roman candy shops thrived in their cities, selling dates stuffed with almonds and stewed in honey, but still no sugar.

Candy Hieroglyphics

Across the pond, ancient Olmec civilizations of Mexico used cocoa powder to make the world's first chocolate drink. The name Cacao is derived from the Olmec phrase for "food of the gods." Mayan people are on record growing cacao as early as 1200B.C., and new evidence suggests that cacao may have been cultivated even before that. As the Olmecs and Mayans drank their cocoa, they had no idea the impact chocolate would eventually have.

Sugar Cane Raw

Back east, the Indians, having fought off Alexander, were enjoying brown sugar and getting the hang of making candy. Around 250 A.D., Indian confectioners were making sugar candies in the shapes of animals and people. But the party was over when Persian emperor, Darius, attacked India in 510A. D. The Persian army soon discovered the secrets of sugarcane and described it as "a reed that gives honey without the bees." But instead of stealing the recipe and sharing it with the world, the Persians decided to work with Indians to export brown sugar to other civilizations. It was sold far and wide as a medicine and general luxury item, and the profits rolled in. But the Candy Empire would fall in 642 A.D. when the Arabs invaded and stole the secret recipe. After that, candy was public domain.

Other forms of candy were slowly emerging in other parts of the world. Around the end of the 5th Century, farmers in Spain begin to grow licorice domestically to meet the public demand. At the same time in Central America, Mayans began chewing chicle from sapodilla trees to help digest food. Over the next few centuries, the spread of sugarcane would have a major impact on the confectionary habits of many Asian countries, especially China. The Chinese sweetened all their traditional favorites including ginger, licorice root and nuts with sugar to make new confections.

Sour Candy History

Sour Candy History

The story of sour candy goes way back beyond Egypt.

Read the article

Meanwhile in the Middle East, Arabs were cultivating sugarcane and hard at work finding new ways to implement sugar and candy into their lives. By 950 A.D., they had invented caramel, but originally used it to remove hair. Lozenges and marzipan followed soon after. They began to make sculptures out of sugar paste in the shape of trees and animals. And before long, the Arabs built the first sugar refinery in the world on an island they called "Candia."

Lollipop Crusade

During the Crusades, trade routes from Europe expanded East. Enterprising knights and traders brought sugar back to Europe. Candied fruits and boiled sugar candies began picking up steam. But sugar was still a rare and expensive luxury really only enjoyed by the wealthy. Banquets of the rich and royalty often featured "subtleties" created from sugar paste in the shapes of cups, castles and animals that were broken and eaten at the end of a long day of partying.

The growing popularity of sugar in Europe encouraged investment in sugarcane. In the 1400s, Europe began looking for suitable places to cultivate and refine their own sugarcane. The Canary Islands, Sicily and a few other warm climate locations were initially used. The increase in supply helped make sugar a bit more common and slightly less expensive, but the demand kept growing. In the late 1400s, Europe would soon find plenty of warm climate land on which to cultivate their love for candy.

When Spanish and Portuguese settlers came to the New World in the early 1500's they planted sugarcane in the West Indies and Brazil. Sugar eventually became an important part of what came to be known as the Triangle Trade Route. Europe traded textiles and weapons to Africa for slaves, sold the slaves in the Americas for rum and sugarcane, and then took the sugar back to Europe. But a good place to grow sugar wasn't all they found in the Americas.

Slave Trade Triangle

When the Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortés first tasted chocolate he called it "the divine drink which fights fatigue." (Cacao's energy-giving properties stem not from caffeine, as is widely rumored, but from another stimulant, Theobromine). Mexican Hot Chocolate The Aztec chocolate was served as a hot beverage with a strong bitter taste. While conquering the Aztecs of Mexico, Cortés and his men found the cacao warehouse of Montezuma II, the last Aztec emperor. Montezuma had acquired 960 million cacao seeds, enough to make 25 million chocolate bars today! Not everyone shared Cortés' affection for the bold drink. Many Spaniards believed it needed something to take off the bitter edge. Enter Sugar. By adding sugar, which was new in the Americas at the time, the Spanish created a chocolate-y drink that everyone loved.

North American colonists also learned that Native Americans had been tapping trees for sap for hundreds of years. By boiling the sap in clay pots, they were able to make maple syrup and maple sugar long before the Europeans showed up. The natives were happy to share their knowledge with the newcomers, and maple syrup became a Colonial favorite.

In 16th Century Europe, the candy industry was becoming more organized. Molding boiled candy with fruits and nuts began to pick up steam. And by the 17th century, boiled sugar candies ("hard candy") popped up in England and became a favorite in the American Colonies. Chocolate started to spread from Spain to other parts of the continent. When Spanish Princess Maria Theresa was to be married to King Louis XIV of France around 1660, she offered chocolate as an engagement gift. As the chocolate drink spread in Europe, new flavors like nutmeg and cinnamon were added to spice it up. The candy engine started to roar.

Once the 1800s got underway, new types of candy materialized. Rock candy was a happy accident of a Scottish hard candy maker. A Dutch man invented the first hard chocolate candy in 1844. The chocolate bar was born. Not long after, the Swiss began producing their version of chocolate and would later become known for their high quality chocolate candy. Soon milk chocolate was invented and candies like peppermint and lemon drops became popular near the beginning of the 20th century. Candy factories began popping up everywhere and new flavors and textures of candy were being invented almost daily. Lollipops, salt water taffy, fudge, and much more hit the scene and the many sweet flavors of candy were here to stay.

For a detailed look at the modern evolution of candy check out this great candy timeline from our blog.


Basics of Sugar

Refined Sugar

Sugar is an essential energy source for all living things. Natural sugar is found in almost everything we eat, even really healthy foods like vegetables and liver. Though sugar is sweet and full of energy, it is relatively empty in terms of nutritional value. It has no protein, fibers, vitamins, fatty acids, and very little minerals the body needs.

  • Glucose (or "dextrose") is the basic form of sugar that is found in fruits and vegetables and even your blood.
  • Fructose is a simple sugar found in plants, fruits and honey.
  • Sucrose is white table sugar. It is made up of glucose and fructose and is found naturally in sugar cane and sugar beets. Early candy makers learned that sugar was better than honey in confection making due to the wider range of textures and appearances made possible by sucrose.
  • Lactose and Maltose are other forms of sugar found in milk and grains, respectively.


Sucrose Crystals

Candy is a result of what happens when sucrose crystals are heated and cooled. Sucrose dissolves in water. When candy cools after cooking, sucrose wants to re-crystallize. The process of re-crystallizing sucrose (or denying such crystallization) in the making of candy is one of the main factors in determining what type of candy you end up with.

  • Noncrystalline candy encompasses most of what is generally thought of as "candy" in the United States such as hard candy, lollipops and caramels. It has a homogenous structure that is either chewy or hard.
  • Crystalline candy contains actual sugar crystals like those found in fudge and other smooth, creamy confections.

Cooking Candy

When sucrose is dissolved in water, the solution becomes syrup. With heat, more sugar is able to dissolve and water begins to evaporate making a highly concentrated syrup. This solution is heated to temperatures as high as 350˚F or as low as 230˚F, depending on the type of candy you want to make. When the candy is cooling, it becomes supersaturated with sugar, meaning there is more sugar remaining in the solution than would normally be possible.

In this supersaturated state, sugar molecules want to re-crystallize back into their solid form. The formation of crystals gives the candy an altogether different texture that is undesirable when making hard candies, lollipops or other noncrystalline candies. Thankfully, there are several methods to avoid re-crystallization.

When a hot sucrose solution is cooled slowly, crystals form. By cooling the solution more quickly, the sucrose does not crystallize. This is a very common method used in candy making. The texture resulting from this method is smooth.

The addition of fructose and glucose is another way to prevent sucrose from re-crystallizing. Large crystals of sucrose have difficulty forming when molecules of fructose and glucose are present. These sugars are often added in the form of juices, corn syrup, honey, or molasses and also act as sweeteners and thinners for the candy. Thinner sucrose solutions result in chewy candy. Thicker versions produce hard candies when cooled.

Fatty foods like butter also help prevent the crystallization process and give candies like caramel and toffee a smooth texture and rich flavor.

Different levels of additives affect the texture and taste significantly and ultimately determine what kind of candy you end up with. There are many different types of ingredients used create the many different types of candy. The final product is mostly a result of the heat and duration of cooking and cooling and the added sweeteners and flavors.


Though sugar is the main ingredient in candy, some newer candies are made with saccharin and other artificial sweeteners. Candy may also include any number of a wide range of ingredients. These ingredients include eggs, flour, fruits, milk, nuts, and natural or artificial flavorings.

Solid Sugars

  • Granulated sugar is plain white table sugar (or sucrose). Though most candy makers prefer cane sugar due to beet sugar's tendency to foam, the final product shows very little difference, if any.
  • Brown sugar is less refined than white sugar and contains small amounts of molasses. Light brown is often preferred over dark brown sugar in candy making because of its slightly more delicate flavor. When cooking with milk, the acid in brown sugar can cause curdling. A pinch of baking soda while it boils should take care of it.

Liquid Sugars

  • Corn syrup is made from cornstarch and is mostly composed of glucose. It's used in hard candy to control the graining (or crystallizing) tendency of sugar. If too much corn syrup is used in making softer candies, they won't be tender enough. Caramels get tough and overly chewy with too much corn syrup. Hard candies become too sticky.
  • Molasses, a sweet thick dark syrup, is a byproduct of sugar refining. It offers a more pronounced, bolder flavor.
  • Honey is an invert sugar (equal parts glucose and fructose). This is important when making hard candy as the inclusion of 10-15% invert sugar prevents the crystallization of sucrose. Honey also has a softening effect and since the flavor remains in the candy, it is often recommended to use a mild, lighter honey.

Milk Products

  • Whipping Cream is a sweet cream with a high percentage of butterfat (between 35-40%). It is used to add flavor, fat and milk solids to candy.
  • Milk is often used in conjunction with whipping cream to add more milk solids to candy. The higher percentage of fat content, the richer the candy.
  • Evaporated milk is literally milk from which the water has been evaporated. It contains butterfat, ranging from about 0. 5% in skim to about 8% in whole evaporated milk, and is used to provide more body to candies like caramels by offering extra milk solids. The use of evaporated milk can cause an objectionable "cooked" taste in certain candies if not added carefully.
  • Sweetened condensed milk is a mixture of pasteurized whole milk that has been condensed (60% of its water evaporated) and up to 40% sugar. A sweet and sticky ingredient, there is no satisfactory substitute in candy recipes that call for it.


  • Butter and other fatty ingredients help interfere with crystallization. Butter also gives candy a smooth texture and breakability to candies like toffee. Margarine should not be used in the place of butter for candy making. The difference in flavor is significant. If margarine must be used, it should be a high-quality, vegetable oil version.


  • Baking chocolate (or "chocolate liquor") is a combination of cocoa solids and cocoa butter and is considered pure chocolate. It is obtained when cacao beans are processed to make chocolate products. There is no sugar added yet. There are a number of ways in which chocolate liquor can be handled to make many different chocolate products.
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder is pressed chocolate liquor that results in the removal of three quarters of its cocoa butter. Finely ground, it is used to give an intense chocolate flavor to baked goods. There are two types of unsweetened cocoa powder: natural and Dutch-processed.
  • Dipping chocolate is sugar and additional cocoa butter added to chocolate liquor along with certain emulsifiers to keep the fats in suspension. Milk solids can be added for a milder milk chocolate flavor.

Other Ingredients

  • Marshmallow crème (or "mazetta") adds light and fluffy texture to fondants. Mazetta is normally a homemade version of marshmallow crème. For most recipes they are perfectly suitable substitutes.
  • Cream of tartar is used in small amounts to produce a creamy texture in candy and frostings. It is sometimes used in the place of corn syrup to control crystallization in fondants.
  • Citric acid is used as a solution of about 50%. Powdered acid is used for harder candies. Acids affect the flavors of fruit, peppermint, and cocoa candies. Citric acid is found naturally in lemon juice but can now be produced by fermentation through the action of certain molds on sugar syrups or molasses.
  • Flavoring oils and extracts are widely used to influence the flavor of candy. Oils are preferable for hard candies as the added liquid of extracts causes too much steam. Oils also tend to be about twice as strong as extracts as well. There is a great guide to specific oils and extracts at
  • Salt is sometimes used to add or balance flavor. It is rarely a required ingredient and merely a matter of personal preference.
  • Nuts of all kinds are used to enhance the flavor and texture of candy. Due to high fat content, nuts can make candy go bad more quickly than normal. The shelf life of candy with nuts is much shorter than other types of candy. Some of the most popular nuts used in candy are peanuts, walnuts, cashews, pecans and macadamias. Almonds are also very popular, although they are not technically nuts (they're drupes).


Chocolate is the most popular form of candy and is often combined with many different food groups to form complex treats. Notable chocolate mixtures are chocolate covered fruit, nuts and even meats and insects. Other popular forms if candy are: candy bars, hard candy, lollipops, licorice, jelly beans, gummy candy, mints, taffy, and now even sugar free candy. More to come on this topic...


Most candy ships well. Heavy candies like fudge, nougat and caramels and hard candies ship better than brittle candy or light truffles. Chocolates tend do well if they are insulated with several layers of newspaper.

Proper packaging will help ensure the quality of candy during shipment. Place the candy in foil, plastic bags, or small containers if it is not already in some sort of wrapper. If it's brittle, start by cushioning the layers of candy with clean paper towels to help avoid breaking. If softer in nature, you may want to put it in a hard container made of plastic or another solid material. Pack the candy well in the shipping box. Several layers of crumpled newspaper or similar cushioning should be packed around the candy or its plastic container. Movement within the shipping box increases the chance of damage to the candy. So, make sure it fits snuggly in the box. Marking the box with words like "Fragile" or "Perishable" when appropriate is also advisable.

Since some candy is relatively sensitive to moisture and heat, it may be wise to plan your shipping around the weather at both the starting point and destination. Also be aware that since candy is often dense and heavy, shipping prices that are based on weight can be upwardly affected.


Gelatin is a major component of some gummy and mallow candies. Because most gelatin is derived from animal bones of some kind, this can be a problem for vegans, vegetarians, or followers of certain religions. Though some gelatin is made from the bones of fish instead of land animals that does not solve the problem for vegans.

There are alternative ingredients that can be used such as pectin and several other substitutes. Keep in mind that these alternative ingredients can affect the texture and overall quality of the candy. If eating food with animal products is against your belief system, you may want to check with the manufacturer before choosing the gelatin-based candy for you.

This article was authored by in 2010, and originally appeared as a Google Knol at: It won multiple awards on their service, but unfortunately Google closed down Google Knol in 2011.




  • Sweets: A History of Candy. by Tim Richardson. Bloomsbury, 2003.
  • How Sweet It Is (and Was): The History of Candy. by Ruth Freeman Swain and John O'Brien. Holiday house, 2003.
  • Candy: The Sweet History. by Beth Kimmerle. Collectors Press, 2003.
  • The Ultimate Candy Book: More than 700 Quick and Easy, Soft and Chewy, Hard and Crunchy Sweets and Treats. by Bruce Weinstein. William Morrow, 2000.
  • Candy Making Basics. by Evelyn Howe Fryatt. Sterling, 1999.


Love, Ann, and Jane Drake. Sweet!: The Delicious Story of Candy. Toronto, Ontario: Tundra Books, 2007.

Burleigh, Robert. Chocolate: Riches from the Rainforest. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc. , 2002.

Kendrick, Ruth A. , and Pauline H. Atkinson. Candymaking. Los Angeles, CA: HPB Books, 1987.

Swain, Ruth Freeman. How Sweet It Is (and Was): The History of Candy. New York, NY: Holiday House, 2003.

Kimmerle, Beth. Candy: The Sweet History. Portland, OR: Collectors Press, Inc. , 2003.

Sir Charles S. Davis III, GCTJ, Prior of St. Clair. A Brief History of the Crusades and the Knights Templar. 12/18/97. Electronic Scotland.

Chao, Vickie. Science and Technology in Ancient India. 2008. Ed Helper.

McDowell, Julie L. and Felicia M. Willis. Candy's a Dandy Process Industry. 2001. Today's Chemist at Work. .

Trivedi, Bijal P. Ancient Chocolate Found in Maya ‘Teapot. '07/07/2002. National Geographic Today.

Bailey, Kathryn. Intro to Candy Making. 2008. Food Network Canada.

Kunkel, Dennis. Table Sugar Crystals (Sucrose). 2007. Dennis Kunkel Microscopy.

Science of Candy: Science of Sugar. The Accidental Scientist: Science of Cooking. © The Exploratorium,

Smith, S. E. What Is Chocolate Liquor?2008. Wise Geek.

Jaworski, Stephanie. Cocoa Powder. Joy of Baking. 2008.

Evaporated Milk. Kitchen Dictionary, RecipeZaar. 2008.

Sweetened Condensed Milk. Kitchen Dictionary, RecipeZaar. 2008.

What and Where is Cream of Tartar? Ochef. Food News Service. 2006.

Maple Syrup history. Canadian Maple Syrup. 2008.

Chocolate does not contain caffeine. All About Chocolate - No Caffeine. Xocoatl: Theobroma Cacao. 2001.


Fig. 1: Colors and buttons. by iz*source. Flickr.

Fig. 2: Prehistoric honey hunter, eastern Spain, c. 6000 BC. Gould, J. L. and C. G. Gould. The Honey Bee. New York : Scientific American Library, 1988.

Fig. 3: Bas relief from the sun-temple of Niuserre Any. Brewer, D. J. and D. B. Redford
1993 Domestic Plants and Animals: The Egyptian Origins. Warminster: Aris and Philipps, 1993. (126)

Fig. 4: Cut Sugar Cane. Grain.

Fig. 5: Pouring Sugar Piles. Alibaba.

Fig. 6: Sugar Crystals. by petr19710. Flickr.

Fig. 7: Mexican Hot Chocolate. by Virtual Frolic. Flickr.

Fig. 8: As Whom The Fables Name. Original image by Cinema Cowgirl. Flickr.

Back to blog