Food and Drink 

Behind the sweetness of treats

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Someone asked a friend the other day, are you a sweet or a salty? What? she replied. The questioner was referring to her preference for snacks: when the munchies attack does she grab a bag of Werther’s or a bag of potato chips?

While the two sides of the snack debate will defend their respective choices to the end of time, I’ll ’fess up now that I’m a sweet-head, one who comes by it quite honestly.

My mom’s gene pool is to blame for this addiction. Growing up, we kids all knew she’d trade her first-born, that would be my older sister, at least for a few hours, for a box of chocolates. Her parents, and their parents, invariably had a dish of candy on hand in a pretty little bon-bon dish. Favourites were Bridge Mixture, licorice allsorts, Rob Roy mix with those funny nuggety peanuts that look like little brown space satellites, and English toffees wrapped in brightly coloured foil and cellophane. They also all had false teeth.

In spite of my mouth full of fillings, or perhaps because of it – after all, almost all my tooth surfaces are impermeable now – I love my candy. Here’s the scoop on some classic favourites:

Jujubes: The name alone is enough to make you smile. My sister and I loved just saying jujubes, never mind their fascinating filling-pulling texture and delirious sugar high. (American readers note: our Canadian variety of jujubes are quite different, and arguably more delicious than yours.)

Everybody has his or her favourite. In days of early discovery, mine was green and my sister’s was black, allowing us to pick through a bowl of them in relative peace.

The original jujubes are also known as Chinese dates or Chinese jujubes. These dark red, plum-like fruits are from the Ziziphus jujuba , a thorny tree native to Asia, but now grown around the world, including Texas and Mexico. The jujube fruit is a bit dry and spongy, sweet, with maybe a bit of tartness, packing double the amount of vitamin C of an equal weight of oranges. In the Orient it was traditionally valued for its restorative qualities, and its ability to soothe sleepless nights.

Candy jujubes, on the other hand, are a dental and nutritional nightmare of sugar, corn syrup, starch, gelatin and flavorings. Don’t read the ingredient list, or you may never buy them again: the coating to prevent them from sticking together is petrolatum – isn’t that Vaseline? But they’re so much fun to chew and pick out of your teeth!

Halva: If there’s a block of this tasty little confection in the house, I can’t leave it alone till it’s gone. Again, this has as much to do with the flavour as the texture, an unparalleled delight of grainy, compressed layers, with a pleasant resistance. Sort of like a soft Crispy Crunch bar.

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