Candy, the seductive dandy
Every Saturday in late summer, as apples grew ripe for the picking, my friends home turned into a candy apple factory. In the morning his dad lugged in bushels of apples. All day, mom, dad and the kids washed apples, jabbed them with sticks and dipped them into big pots of syrup boiling and broiling like devilish red lava. They still have quirky white marks on their hands and wrists from sugar burns.
By days end, 2,000 luminous red candy apples would line every counter and table top in their home until swarms of kids converged on the place, buying up dozens of the treats for 4 cents apiece, then re-selling them in their neighbourhoods for a nickel. Pretty amazing they could unload so many, but few could resist a candy apple except for my pal and his brothers, whod be sick of the smell and the sight of the things. They havent touched one since.
Candy apples, salt licorice, English toffees, chocolate-covered coffee beans everybody, every culture has their own candy fetish, loaded with memories and all sorts of emotional baggage, mostly good but sometimes bad (as in the above candy apple saga). Kennedy Ryan, owner of the Great Glass Elevator, knows how deeply nostalgia is intertwined with candy, as every day she watches adults flock in for treats from their childhood candy necklaces or Pop Rocks or that gaudy pink Lucky Elephant popcorn with the prize inside.
Never mind the nostalgia factor. Candy is seductive. In tandem with the obvious good taste comes the good energy hit. Toffees and candies average 50 to 90 per cent sugar; sugar itself accounts for something like 20 per cent of the energy intake of people in privileged countries like ours, its so cheap and easy to get. (By contrast, when M&Ms were introduced to the Peoples Republic of China in the early 1990s, it took the average Chinese worker a days wages to purchase a package.)
We crave sweets for all sorts of reasons. Dr. Earl Mindell, known as Dr. Vitamin to some for his advocacy of vitamin supplements, says its because we were initiated to them as kids as rewards for good behaviour and for winning our favour. Who hasnt put up with a weird uncle or a crabby neighbour with an agenda who negotiated our goodwill with a dip into the candy jar?
Other doctors think that were so fond of candy and other treats because breast milk is so sweet. The craving is compounded by the fact that as babies we develop the ability to taste "sweet" long before "salty," "sour" or "bitter" and, tell the truth, who would crave "bitter"?
The average person in North America eats about 20 pounds of candy a year. Picture it like a sack of potatoes, but way better. No wonder candy is a big, sometimes cutthroat business. Not counting the production of soft drinks, which some consider liquid candy, candy manufacturing is the ninth largest food processing industry in the US.
More than 2,000 kinds of candies are produced in North America alone, and some of these have hundreds of variations. For instance, there are about 500 different recipes for nougat (a cross between hard candy and marshmallow), and about 1,000 ways to make marshmallows. Heres one recipe for making pully-chewy marshmallow (the kind you might find in your kids Easter basket or in a chewy chocolate valentine): 2.4 lb of gelatin, 16 lb of water, 63 lb of corn syrup and 20 lb of granulated sugar. Cook it to 140 degree F and whip it up.
Sounds kind of sickening, doesnt it? Actually, seeing a list of ingredients for any commercial recipe for candy is almost enough to put you off it for life. Check out what goes into a batch of rum-butter toffees: 40 lb condensed milk; 30 lb corn syrup; 10 lb invert sugar; 5 lb molasses; 30 lb fine sugar; 5 oz salt; rum-butter flavouring; and, for the piece de resistance, 15 lb hard coconut butter. Oooh! My arteries are hardening just thinking about it.
Of course, were only eating a small bit of the final outcome and another and another, until we hit 20 pounds a year. Now you can see for yourself how we ingest so much sugar in its many forms: refined cane and beet sugars (sucrose), brown sugar, various liquid sugars, corn syrups, dextrose (refined corn sugar), lactose (sugar from milk), honey, molasses, maple sugar, sugar blends (both dry and liquid), sorbitol and artificial or non-nutritive sweeteners. Each has its own characteristics, including its unique level of sweetness and "bulking" properties.
These qualities are carefully considered by commercial candy makers as they develop new recipes, which is no small feat. Is the candy too sweet? If it gets sweeter, is this detrimental to increased consumption (read: sales) since people would get their sugar fix faster? Coming up with a new candy is not as simple as sitting down in a kitchen and mixing together new ingredients to see what tastes good. It takes three to five years to successfully develop and introduce a new product. You have to anticipate consumer preferences down the line while considering your business options, including commodity prices, shelf life and whether you can get your new product placed in stores near cash registers where you want it 70 per cent of candy sales are impulse buys.
Even though there are so many different kinds of candy, according to Justin Alikonis writing in Candy Technology, the difference between them all, except for chocolate, which enjoys its own exalted status, is due to the different ways they are cooked to remove varying amounts of moisture and to control the formation of crystals. Hard candies owe their characteristic hardness to the removal of all but about one per cent of their moisture. Through the gamut of chewy candies (caramels, toffees and nougats) and soft candies (creams, fudges, marshmallows and jellies) the moisture content becomes higher and higher. Good thing to keep in mind the next time youre dehydrated after working out.
It wouldnt be the first time someone justified that candies are good for you. In an effort to defend gumdrops and malted balls in a marketing campaign in the 1960s, Americas National Confectioners Association, the group responsible for tying candy promotion to such holidays as Valentines Day, Mothers Day and Halloween, proclaimed that candy is good for you.
Sure, weve all said that to ourselves at one time or another, but this was a serious attempt at hegemony. The NCA argued that candy could actually help people lose weight. Since it raises the blood sugar level, which makes it an excellent fatigue fighter, the association argued that people should eat candy to curb their appetite. Ergo, candy as reducing aid.
I say bring on the 20-pound sack right now and the 2,000 candy apples. Were on the road to glory.
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