Home CandyStore.com Candy: History And The Making Of Sweets

Candy: History And The Making Of Sweets




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


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.”


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.

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 the 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.

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. T

hey 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.”

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).

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 chocolatey 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.