Sugar: A Global History (Edible) by Smith Andrew F

Sugar: A Global History (Edible) by Smith Andrew F

Author:Smith, Andrew F. [Smith, Andrew F.]
Language: eng
Format: mobi
Publisher: Reaktion Books
Published: 2015-03-31T16:00:00+00:00

5

Sweets and Candies

When sufficient sugar is added to certain foods, whether infused by cooking or applied as a coating, it functions as a preservative by inhibiting the activity of microorganisms. This quality made it possible for traders to carry products such as candied orange peel and sugar-coated almonds over long distances. Solid chunks of sugar (both rock candy and loaf sugar) could also easily be traded. It was through such trade that sweets and candies were introduced in areas where sugar cane was not grown, and where particular fruits and other ingredients were not available.

Through trade routes from southern Asia, sugar confections had reached the Middle East by the seventh century, later spreading to Europe. These early confections, such as comfits, pastes, marzipan, pastilles and rock candy, were the point of origin for many present-day sweets and candies, and traces of their centuries-old heritage still linger today. Early European confectionery traditions have evolved into modern sweets – Jordan almonds, marmalade, sweet pies, cake icing, taffy, toffee, bonbons, jawbreakers (gobstoppers), lemon drops, M&M’s, Good & Plenty and ice cream – to name just a few.

Comfits (from the French confit, meaning ‘candied’ – confetti in Italian) were initially sugar-coated medicines. Doctors and other healers used the miraculously sweet substance to coat the bitter seeds, nuts, roots, spices, herbs and vegetable extracts they prescribed for various ills, doubtless helping the medicine go down. A sick person might need extra calories, which were easily supplied by sugar; depending on the number of comfits consumed, they may also have given a weak patient a little burst of energy.

Comfits that included candied aromatic seeds, such as anise, coriander, cloves, caraway or cinnamon, were common. In India (and in Indian restaurants elsewhere), plain or candy-coated fennel seeds may still be offered at the conclusion of a meal to aid digestion and freshen the breath. Comfits also included sugar-coated nuggets of candy flavoured with an extract from the roots of plants of the genus Glycyrrhiza, a small, leguminous shrub native to Europe, Asia and the Americas. The roots have a sweet, anise-like flavour, and a confection was made by squeezing their juice and then cooking it down to thicken it. Called ‘liquorice’, it became an important sweet throughout Europe from the Middle Ages onwards.

Today, liquorice candy is manufactured in many shapes and flavours throughout the world, although in many cases the actual root extract has been replaced with anise and artificial flavouring. In the United States, the most famous liquoriceflavoured candy is Good & Plenty – little beads of chewy liquorice with a pink or white candy coating reminiscent of traditional Indian comfits. It was first made in 1893. The artificially flavoured liquorice twists called Twizzlers were first sold in 1929. Today, most liquorice sold in the U.S. is mass-produced using synthetic ingredients, but elsewhere, notably in the Netherlands and Scandinavia, real liquorice in various shapes, hard or soft, from mildly sweet to pungently salty, is practically the national snack.



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