What is Candy?
Oh, sweets. The dream-like pleasure of being surrounded by candies in all its colors, textures, aroma, shape, size and sugar content is stuff for fantasies – child-like fantasies that most people have imagined a time or two in their lives. Whether you are two or eighty-two, there are still some things that never go out of style. And one of them is candy.
According to the dictionary definition, candies are any variety of confections made with sugar, syrup and sometimes combined with chocolate, fruit, nuts and many more. Also known as sugar candy, they can come in different colors, sizes, flavors, textures and aroma.
The term was first used in the 13th century and has since evolved to mean a lot of things in modern language. In North America, candy can mean candy bars, licorice, chocolate, sour candies, salty candies, hard candies, tart candies, gumdrops, marshmallows, taffies, caramels and many more. In Europe, candies are called sweets or confectionary. In Australia and New Zealand, they are called lollies. But no matter what name we call them, they are sweet and brings to mind happy times and stress-free memories of childhood.
Candies were used medicinally in ancient times. It is known as a digestive and treatment for sore throat, which was only available to the wealthy. But instead of sugar, since it was not yet available during those times, honey was used to coat flowers and fruits to preserve them in Ancient China, Middle East, Greece, Rome and Egypt. The process is still prevalent today and is commonly seen as a type of garnish instead of as sweets.
During the Middle Ages, candies were made using sugar and a combination of other spices like cloves, aniseed, juniper berries, pine kernels, almonds and ginger. These types of candies were called “chamber spice” and were typically served to guests in banquets to help promote digestion because digestive problems were very common during those times due to eating un-balanced and not fresh food.
The introduction of candy in the United States happened during the early 18th century from France and Britain. These sweets were only made available to wealthy people since only a few early colonists are proficient in making sugar and various confections. It was considered a great luxury because of its rarity. The simplest form made during those times was the “rock candy,” which was made from crystallized sugar. Because of industrialization, the candy business expanded in conjunction with the increase of supply of sugar in the US. More and more people can now enjoy candies and has since then became a popular treat not just for children, but for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Candies come in a wide variety of choices. It can be soft, chewy, hard or brittle. It all depends on the process of heating it went through. Some of the common candies available in the market are: toffee, caramel, praline, chocolate, jelly beans, gumdrops, candy canes, taffy, lollipop, rock candy, chocolate coated fruits and nuts, fudge, tablet, cotton candy, hard candy (or boiled sweets in the UK), candy bars and peanut brittle. Some candies like gummi bears and marshmallows contain gelatin that was derived from animal collagen found in bones and skin. Therefore, vegans avoid these candies as much as possible. Candies with kosher gelatin are also avoided by some vegans since it is derived from fish bones. Gelling agents like pectin, agar, gum Arabic and starch are used in place of gelatin.
There are different classifications of candy: the chemically made and the commercially made. Chemically made sugar candies are divided into two: the amorphous and crystalline candies. From the name itself, crystalline candies are produced through the process of crystallization. Their appearance resembles that of hard crystals with small facets. Examples of crystalline candies are: creams, fudge and fondant. Amorphous candies have higher sugar content and they are mostly chewy, brittle or hard. Examples of this group are toffees, caramels and nut brittles.
Commercially made candies are divided into three groups that are largely based on the amount of sugar they are made with. Hard candies or creams are about 100 percent sugar or so. Nougats and marshmallows contain about 95 percent sugar and lastly, caramels and fudge has around 75 to 95 percent sugar with additives to complete its flavor and structure.
Candy is basically made through a simple process of dissolving sugar in water or milk, subsequently forming sugar syrup that is put over fire to boil and reach a thick concentration and viscosity. It will then caramelize and can be molded or poured in molds to create shapes and design. Different types of candy depend on the ingredients, the heating process and the texture.
Proper storage plays a big role in the shelf life of candies. They must be kept in places that are dry and not susceptible to mold and direct sunlight. Milk chocolates and caramels can become unfit for consumption after a year, whereas the dark variety can last up to two years after its manufacture date. Hard candy, on the other hand, can last indefinitely if stored in a good area. Chewing gums and gumballs can be good until 8 months and soft and creamy candies like candy corn can last up to 8 to 10 months.
Before, candy was sold unwrapped in open markets and streets, exposed to insects and dirt. After several epidemics associated with candies broke out, manufacturers began to wrap or put candies in bags to keep them safe from germs. But because some modern machinery ran on petrol, there had been reports of excessive amounts of lead found in some candies. So caution is needed before buying.
Caution is also needed when consuming chewing gum, especially mint-flavored gum, because it increases heart rate, short-term memory loss and lessen the amount of oxygen in the body. Because of its high glycemic index, candy can cause rapid increase in blood sugar levels and is a main concern for those afflicted with diabetes. Non-diabetics are also advised to be careful in consuming sugary foods and sweets as well since prevention is better than cure.
Candy is also associated with dental problems like cavities. Sugar attracts several types of bacteria in the mouth like streptococcus mutans, which metabolizes sugar and creates acids in the mouth that eventually corrodes the tooth enamel. Dentists often remind people of proper oral hygiene by brushing teeth regularly to avoid serious dental problems.
Despite the negative effects of eating candy, there are also health benefits from it. Dark chocolate, when eaten in moderation, can be very healthy. It has anti-cancer components and antioxidants that help battle free radicals. It is also known to be a source for calcium, sodium, magnesium and protein. Candies made with mint and peppermint, like candy canes, can aid in digestion since peppermint oil is known to help soothe an upset stomach and is very effective in killing germs.
Candy consumption is stated to be related to long life too. It was pointed out by scientists that people who do not eat sweets have a higher mortality rate compared to those who do because they eat less meat and vegetables and are prone to smoking and drinking alcohol. But over-consumption of candy can lead to various sugar and carbohydrate-related diseases like obesity and diabetes. So moderation must always be kept in mind.