June is National Candy Month. How much does mankind like candy and its chief ingredient, sugar or honey?

Well: Our species evolved with a built-in sweet tooth.

The history of candy dates back to cavemen. They ate honey and honeycomb; but took the next step to make candy from it, by drying it into a taffy-like substance.

Sweet substances (sugar, honey, agave, etc.) don’t become candy until they are transformed into something more. The basic definition of candy is a flavored sugar, honey or syrup. Flavored sugar water and other ingredients (cream of tartar, citric acid, food color, etc.) is heated and cooled in different ways to produce different types of candy.

  • In India and New Guinea, where sugar cane originated, early man sucked the sweet juice from the cane. It took until around 250 C.E. for sugar candy to be invented in India. The word “candy” derives from the Sanskrit qandi, candied.
  • What would become known as candy can be traced back as far as 2000 B.C.E. to the ancient Egyptians, who made candy by adding figs, nuts, dates and spices to honey. They also added honey to the sap of marshmallow roots, creating the first marshmallow candy (the history of marshmallows).
  • Around the same time, Greeks used honey to make candied fruits and flowers. The candy was set in ovens.
  • We’re a long way from chocolate. Around 1500 B.C.E., the Olmecs in what is now the south of Mexico began to cultivate cacao beans. But they turned them into an unsweetened drink. Hard chocolate did not emerge until 1847.
    As sugar spread around the world, it was used to make sweets (and of course, to sweeten foods).

  • The Chinese sweetened ginger, licorice root and nuts with sugar.
  • During the Middle Ages, sugar candies became more available—although only for the wealthy, as sugar was very expensive.
  • In the 14th century, Venetians began to import sugar to make candy.
  • In the 15th century, Dominican friars introduced licorice to England (it was first used medicinally in Egypt 3000 years earlier). At some point, a manufacturer began to add honey to the licorice, turning it into a branded candy called Pontefract cakes (also Pomfret or Pomfrey cakes)(the history of licorice).
  • The 16th century saw the growth of candies at mom-and-pop confectionary shops: fruit drops, gum drops, etc. It was all hand-work until the Industrial Revolution engendered mass-made candy in the early 19th century.
  • By 1650, hard candies were being made in America.
  • Candy canes were invented in 1670, by the choirmaster of the Cologne [Germany] Cathedral (the history of candy canes).
  • Toffee was invented by the British in the early 1800s. Subsequently, Americans invented “soft toffee”: caramels.

    While lollipops first appeared in 17th century England, many of the candies familiar to us were invented in the 19th century. Here’s a timeline of modern favorites, thanks to Candy History:

  • 1847: The first chocolate bar os made in 1847 by Joseph Fry & Co. in England. The founder’s grandson discovered a way to mix melted cacao butter, cocoa powder and sugar to create a paste that could be pressed into a mold. The resulting solid chocolate bar was later called Fry’s Chocolate Cream Bar. Here’s the history of chocolate.
  • 1854: The first box of chocolate box appears (previously, they were wrapped in paper and string).
  • 1861: Cadbury sells the first heart-shaped box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day, starting the tradition of gifting boxes of holiday chocolate.
  • Abut 1862: Jelly beans are invented in Boston.
  • 1880s: Wunderle Candy Company creates Halloween candy corn (the history of Halloween candy).
  • 1886: Fudge is made by accident (the history of fudge).
  • 1891: Doscher Brothers Confections of Chicago releases French Chews taffy.
  • 1893: William Wrigley, Jr. creates Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum and Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing Gum.
  • 1893: Thomas Richardson introduces Pastel Mints in Philadelphia.
  • 1894: Milton Hershey creates his iconic chocolate bar in Pennsylvania.
  • 1896: Leo Hirshfield creates Tootsie Rolls in New York City.
  • 1897: The first modern cotton candy machine is patented by John C. Wharton and William Morris of Nashville.

    Jordan Almonds
    [1] The first candies were fruits and nuts coated in honey, and later in sugar, like these Jordan almonds (photo courtesy Williams-Sonoma).

    Honey Hard Candy
    [2] Honey hard candy. Here’s the recipe from Manu’s Menu (photo © Manuela Zangara).

    Homemade Lemon Drops
    [3] Lemon drops. Here’s the recipe from Flavorite.

    Licorice Disks
    [4] The first licorice candy was made as honey-sweetened disks. Licorice had been used for thousands of years medicinally, and the honey was initially used to make it more palatable (photo courtesy Dutch Sweets).


  • Cotton candy is introduced at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis (the history of cotton candy).
  • Mid-1920s: The H.B. Reese Candy Company introduces peanut butter cups (the history of peanut butter cups).
  • 1902: Necco makes first conversation hearts – popular Valentine Day candy with messages printed on them.
  • 1905: The Squirrel Brand Company of Massachusetts introduces first peanut bar.
  • 1907: The first foil-wrapped chocolate.
  • 1912: Life Savers introduced, shaped like life preservers. Initially made from peppermint, five fruit flavors followed.
  • 1913: Goo Goo Clusters, the fist bar that combined milk, chocolate, caramel, marshmallow and peanuts.
  • 1920: Baby Ruth candy bar. It was not named after the famous baseball player.
  • 1921: Chuckles, colorful sugared rectangles.
  • 1922: Hans Riegel created chewy candy called Dancing Beas, later known as Gummi Bears.
  • 1923: M&M/Mars Milk Way Bar – first candies from popular Mars family.
  • 1928: Heath Bars.
  • Late 1920s: Butterfingers become second top selling candy of that time, right below Babe Ruth bars.
  • 1930: M&M/Mars introduced the Snickers Bar.
  • 1932: Introduction of Three Musketeers.
  • 1933: Kraft Caramels.
  • 1938: Krackel Bars are launched, containing almond, which were soon removed.
  • 1941: M&Ms launch in six colors.
  • 1949: Junior Mints.
  • 1949: Smarties.
  • 1954: Peanut M&Ms.
  • 1960: Starburst fruit chews.
  • 1963: Sweet Tarts.
  • 1976: Civil War-era jelly beans are marketed as Jelly Bellies.
  • 1978: Reese’s Pieces.
    And then…to infinity and beyond!


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