Posts filed under ‘Current Candy News’
On September 14, the Corn Refiners Association petitioned the F.D.A. to allow high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to be sold as “corn sugar.” Since HFCS has the same amount of fructose as table sugar, the CRA argues that “corn sugar” is a less confusing name. And it probably also hopes that “corn syrup” will avoid some of the bad press that HFCS has been getting. For a cut-to-the-chase analysis of what’s really going on, Marion Nestle at FoodPolitics.com is of course indispensable. Tara Parker-Pope at The New York Times also has written a useful article on the topic.
The emergence of corn syrup as an alternative to sugar, and its uses in the candy industry, provide a quite interesting context for this latest attempt to blur the lines between corn products and more traditional sugar (although scientists and nutritionists insist that the glucose and fructose are exactly the same, and the source really doesn’t matter). But corn is a powerful symbol in American history, and sugar is too. Here’s a round up of relevant previous posts, a little of the larger story that I have uncovered in my Candy Professor research:
- Glue-cose, Or, Why we call it “Corn Syrup” Back in the early 1900s, corn growers were having trouble selling their corn-derived sweetener known as “glucose,” because everyone thought it was made of glue. Enter “corn syrup,” wholesome and pure sounding, until now.
- Corn People: How It Started In the old days, corn was animal feed. WWI food shortages changed everything. Now corn was patriotic people food.
- Corn Into Candy: 1918 With WWI sugar rationing, candy makers showed their stars and stripes by substituting corn syrup and other corn-derived ingredients.
- Beer and Candy III: Annheuser Busch and Corn Syrup Prohibition gave the shift to corn sweeteners an extra boost when beer makers looked for something else they could do with grains.
- Sweetose: Better Candy from the Chemistry Lab Sweetose was modified corn syrup, made sweeter by combining maltose with glucose. A forerunner to high-fructose corn syrup.
Mars, Inc. announces today that its researchers have sucessfully decoded the genome for chocolate (specifically, the Theobroma cacao tree). This gives Mars an important edge in bragging rights over rival Hershey, who had sponsored a French government team of scientists team in a head to head race to sequence the DNA of the cocoa bean. Team Hershey isn’t quite finished yet, but promises that their report will be just as good.
You may be surprised to learn that Mars has a huge research arm dedicated to all things chocolate in support of its quest for global candy domination. Mars, Inc. is a closely held private company famous for its secretiveness and inaccessibly, so it’s hard to know just what the company is up to. But Mars seems to have an entire division dedicated to speculative chocolate pursuits; Howard Yana-Shapiro is the “global director of plant science and external research” at Mars. And Mars has other intellectual interests. Mars collaborates with UC Davis to sponsor the “Chocolate History Group.” In 2009, Mars sponsored the publication of Chocolate: History, Culture and Heritage (Wiley) featuring 57 scholarly essays by 100 experts documenting and analyzing the history and culture of chocolate.
The Mars scientists will make their genome sequence public and prohibit restrictive patents based on the genetic data. So this new science is all for the public good: it may lead to more disease resistant trees, higher yields, better tasting chocolate. One area researchers are particularly interested in is flavonoids, chemicals found in chocolate that are believed to have important heath benefits. So we may be seeing genetically modified, flavonoid boosted “neutraceutical” chocolate in the future, tasty medicine available without a prescription.
But I think these utilitarian ideas of enhancing chocolate betray a lack of imagination. Once you start messing around with the genome, why stick to such boring stuff as flavor and flavonoids? Scientists have isolated the DNA code that makes certain jellyfish flouresce, and transferred it to mice. But why not glow in the dark chocolate? Think how that would revolutionize late night snacking. And once you do that, you could go farther: how about using the gene that makes certain bacteria eat oil to create a chocolate bar the dissolves your belly fat? Or how about inserting the animal gene that makes hair grow: watch out, Rogaine! Of course, you’d have to be careful with that one, since the last thing anyone wants is a chocolate bar that grows hair.
More at the New York Times: Andrew Pollack, Rival Candy Projects Both Parse Cocoa’s DNA (15 Sept 2010)
So, it’s back to school already. And the milk wars are heating up. Today’s NYT Food section has a great feature on the fight over schools offering chocolate milk as part of a “nutritious lunch.” Kim Severson, “A School Fight Over Chocolate Milk”
Best quote of the article: “Saying we need to add sugar and flavoring to milk to get kids to drink it is like saying we need to feed kids apple pie if they don’t like apples.” Ann Cooper (she runs the Boulder CO school lunch program, one of the districts that is going back to school chocolate milk free).
The key to the whole fight comes down, as all else surrounding food, to money: the schools only get federal lunch funds if your school lunch offering includes a grain, a vegetable, a fruit and a protein. And milk. And you only get the funds if kids take three of these five offerings. So chocolate milk, being a popular choice with the kiddies, knocks out one of the three mandatory picks. Given that the easy chocolate milk provides more leeway for kids to pass on mystery meat and gray “green” beans, schools are crying foul at attempts to insist that milk is milk, and chocolate milk is something else entirely.
Back in November (2009), when the National Dairy Council started its campaign to save chocolate milk at the school lunch counter, I wrote a post somewhere else. It didn’t make it to Candy Professor then, but it seems just as timely now. So here it is, my two cents on the Chocolate Milk Wars:
Have you raised your hand for chocolate milk? Or have you raised your finger?
The National Dairy Council (farmers) has teamed up with the Milk Processor Education Program (processors) “to provide the latest facts and science on Chocolate Milk’s role in children’s diets.” Check USA Today (12 November 2009) for a full page ad, or the web site and petition at http://www.raiseyourhand4milk.com. Seems those pesky activists and parents and nutritionists have gotten together again, and this time they want to take the chocolate milk out of the school lunch room. How dare they! After all, they say, “chocolate milk is the most popular milk choice in schools and kids will drink less milk (and get fewer nutrients) if it’s taken away.”
Really? Would it be so bad if kids drank less chocolate milk? Yeah, I get that it’s made out of milk. But is it really food? Interestingly, the National Confectioners Association was what brought the chocolate milk promotion to my attention. You know, the candy industry.
I have been thinking about candy in relation to food in the wake of Michael Pollan’s “defense of food.” Pollan encourages us to eat real food, stuff made from plants and animals in traditional, pre-industrial, recognizable forms. The highly processed, the inert, the “fortified,” the refined: these are products of industry, and not food so much as “food like substances.”
Once we can discern the difference between food and “food-like substances,” our diet returns to something healthful and sustaining and simple. And if we are mostly eating food, then there is no harm in eating some candy. So long as we’re clear, that candy is not food, not a substitute for food, and not to replace or displace food. Candy is defensible as part of our diet only when we draw a sharp line between food, what we enjoy as we nourish our bodies, and candy, something we eat purely for pleasure.
Which brings me to chocolate milk. Is it food? or is it candy? Although nobody says it this way exactly, this question is really at the crux of this latest flare up. In fact, this is just the latest salvo in a long-standing fight over the role of candy in school lunches. This was one the candy industry was probably fated to lose, but believe it or not, there was a time when candy was on the “approved” list. Clearly, if the fight now is about chocolate milk rather than chocolate bars, times have changed. But the terms of the fight have stayed eerily constant.
Chocolate milk is an odd hybrid, with an interesting history of its own. In the nineteenth century, there really was no “chocolate milk” as we know it today. Chocolate in sweetened milk was for sick people, old people, people who couldn’t stomach much else. Chocolate was viewed as providing sustenance and strength to the weak and infirm, a sort of tonic with vaguely healthful properties.
Chocolate milk in the twentieth century came to be increasingly associated with childhood. Prior to the “chocolate milk revolution” in the 1950s, cold chocolate milk was not really feasible. Hot chocolate was the childhood equivalent of hot coffee, a combination of sweetness and milkiness that seemed essentially infantile. But hot chocolate required heating milk (a delicate operation) and measuring and mixing at the stove. Not difficult, but not something kids would do alone. Instant chocolate milk mix changed the playing field: Nestle, Carnation, Ovaltine were all introduced in the early 1950s, a time when food engineering introduced the TV dinner and other “convenience” monstrosities to the American table. Now children could enjoy delicious chocolate milk any time, with no mess and no trouble. Ads for these products feature cherubic children and pudgy hands mixing and drinking dark brown elixirs.
Chocolate milk was a big part of twentieth century childhood, to be sure. But chocolate milk at home as a snack or a treat in the context of all the other foods that mother has chosen is one thing. And for the most part, those 1950s kids were skinny and didn’t know a thing about diabetes or pediatric heart disease.
For most U.S. kids in the twenty first century, chocolate milk every day on the school lunch line is something else. For kids with serious food and health issues, the line between food and candy needs to be drawn, and it needs to be crystal clear. And we all need to acknowledge: chocolate milk is candy. That is to say, chocolate milk should be enjoyed as a treat, occasionally, not as a daily beverage.
They say kids won’t drink milk unless its flavored. They say at least chocolate milk has the nutrients of milk. They say it’s better than soda.
By this logic, I should have a screwdriver with my oatmeal every morning. Because otherwise, I just won’t drink that orange juice.
Teach kids to drink soda, they drink soda. Teach them soda is a bad choice, give them water, they’ll drink water. Chocolate milk is no different. Pandering to the lowest denominator, the sweet tooth, and insisting that children will do no better if given the chance is just patronizing. The school lunch programs are making huge improvements. In the New York City schools, they are eating the whole grain breads, they are learning about fresh fruits and vegetables. Alice Waters has her kids eating okra and kale, for pete’s sake. Will kids drink less milk when it’s not sweet chocolate? Some. But that’s because they had the chocolate to start with. We need a little re-education here. There is no reason they can’t learn to appreciate the difference between real food and nutritionally tarted-up candy.
These candies look vaguely familiar, right?
That’s what Hershey Chocolate thought too. So in 2007 they filed a suit for trademark infringement against the manufacturer, Kenneth Affolter, and his company Beyond Bomb. Affolter was already in prison for conspiracy to manufacture and distribute marijuana plants. The Hershey rip offs were technically legal under California law. But Hershey understandably was disturbed. Imitation being, in this case, not exactly the kind of flattery they were looking for.
Beyond Bomb has a special market niche: creating marijuana-laced products for the pseudo-legal “medical marijuana” market in California. I say “pseudo-legal” because although California law allows for the sale of marijuana for medical purposes, the Feds still consider it illegal.
But in the grey area of California’s standards, a whole industry has sprung up. It isn’t just baggies and pipes. It’s brownies, cookies, ice cream, peanut butter, and granola bars. And yes, lollipops and candy bars, all laced with cannabis.
Beyond Bomb quickly withdrew these candy bars after Hershey got on their case. But they made a reappearance last week in the passage of S.258, the Saving Kids from Dangerous Drugs Act that was passed in the Senate. When the bill was first crafted in 2007, the big scare was candy meth. Candy meth turns out to have been mostly a fantasy, so keeping hope alive for this bill needed new culprits. Enter the medical marijuana business.
When this bill passed the Senate last week, Senator Feinstein’s office refered explicitly to the marijuana candy products that the bill would penalize, products with names like Rasta Reese’s, 3 Rastateers and Munchy Way. Pot brownies are on the suspect list as well. While college students fear the worst, the Senator’s office has reassured them that the penalties only apply to anyone selling these drug-laced candies to kids under 18.
So here’s the problem: who was selling 3 Rastateers and Munchy Way bars to kids under 18? It’s not like dealers package these up and roam the school yards. These were being sold in heavily regulated, very carefully run medical dispensaries. I’m not saying all the dispensing was strictly “medical,” but what the pot industry in California is trying very hard to do is be a normal business, not to be drug dealers. Earlier this year the patent office briefly approved a trademark category for marijuana related products; entrepreneurs rushed in to grab the best trademark names before the higher ups realized that, insofar as pot is still illegal, it didn’t look good for a federal agency like USPTO to be encouraging things with trademark protections.
And I think this why the Saving Kids from Dangerous Drugs Act finally went through this year. The development of the pot business is drawing a lot of attention. The Act is a way of putting pressure on the marijuana advocates and doing everything possible to prevent that business from normalizing. Kids are just an excuse, a smokescreen. The California experiment suggests that “medical marijuana” is a pretty flexible category. Those who would like to keep pot on the illegal side of psychoactive substances get a lot farther with “save the children” than with “save the stoners.”
This whole episode reminds me of the dust-up over Camel Orbs earlier this year, see my comments on Tocacco Candy.
See also my post on the background of this bill and the “candy meth” myth.
Last Thursday (July 29) the Senate just said NO to drug dealers disguising their wares as candy to appeal to the kiddie market, passing S.258 by unanimous consent. S.258 is also known as the Saving Kids From Dangerous Drugs Act, originally proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.
This bill has been around the block a few times already. It had been proposed in the 2007, 2008, and 2009 legislative sessions as well. The Saving Kids From Dangerous Drugs Act tends to rise and fall on the rumors that kids are buying drugs disguised as candy. It was first drafted in response to the sudden appearance of a street drug called Strawberry Kwik: methamphetamine flavored with strawberry. The bill enhances regular drug dealing penalties for anyone who:
manufactures, creates, distributes, or possesses with intent to distribute a controlled substance that is flavored, colored, packaged or otherwise altered in a way that is designed to make it more appealing to a person under 21 years of age, or who attempts or conspires to do so.
One of the reasons this bill never got anywhere before now is because “candy-flavored meth” that was the major impetus for the original bill doesn’t actually exist.
Around 2007, alarming reports of a concotion with the street name “Strawberry Quik” suggested that drug dealers, seeking new marketing opportunities, were headed for the swing-set set. Regular methamphetamine is white or brownish and bitter. You can smoke it or snort it, but it won’t taste very good. In a widely circulated USA Today expose, a DEA spokesperson claimed that candy flavored meth crystals were available in at least eight states, and that in addition to the infamous strawberry, meth could be enjoyed in chocolate, cola, and other soda flavors, and even a red meth that was being marketed as “a powdered form of an energy drink.” (“DEA: Flavored Meth Use on the Rise,” 3/25/2007, USA Today)
A bulletin issued by the Nevada Department of Public Safety, who had first broke the story of strawberry meth in January 2007, explained: “Strawberry Quick,” the bulletin said, “is popular among new users who snort it because the flavoring can cut down on the taste. Teenagers who have been taught meth is bad may see this flavored version as less harmful. ‘Strawberry Quick’ is designed for the younger crowd.” (quoted in USA TODAY article)
But despite all the alarmed reports of candy meth, no one ever produced any of the product. It was like the Loch Ness Monster of illegal drugs, surely out there but always somewhere else. When samples were produced, it turned out that they were colored, but not flavored. Such coloring was, experts explained, a frequent by product of the manufacturing process, although in some cases it appeared colors were added as a sort of “branding” technique. (Bob Curley, 22 June 2007, “Meth Ado About Nothing: Flavored Meth and Cheese Heroin Stories Smack of Fearmongering” JoinTogether.org)
One chemist who had previously run a meth-lab also pointed out that adding sugar candies or drink mixes to meth wouln’t work: “The sugar group would break down the methyl group during cooking, ruining the batch.” (Micah Burns, quoted in Bob Durley, “Does ‘Flavored Meth’ Even Make Sense?” JoinTogether.org 22 June 2007) We assume that meth lab technicians were not, by and large, signing up for candy making classes.
It wasn’t until 2009 that the DEA received a small sample of “translucent crystals and tiny purple specks that had a distinct grape candy-like odor,” described as the “first such submission” of a purportedly candified methamphetamine. But the photo didn’t look like meth cooked up to resemble candy. It looked like crystals of methamphetamine mixed with crunched up grape Lifesavers. To at least one untrained eye (mine), the “candy meth” sample seemed less the devious candy cookery of clever meth marketers, and more likely the work of somebody who had heard from the alarmed news accounts that you could mix candy with meth, and was giving it a try.
In any case, by that time, the DEA was actively distancing itself from the candy meth stories:
“Flavored methamphetamine” (most notably “strawberry meth”) has received extensive and often alarmist coverage in the mass media over the past two years. However, this is the first confirmed sample of “flavored methamphetamine” submitted to a DEA laboratory, and is also the first such report by any laboratory to Microgram. A small number of exhibits with unusual colors have been submitted to the South Central Laboratory (Dallas, Texas) over the past two years; however, none of the latter samples had any noticeable fruit or candy-like odors. “Intelligence Alert: ‘Flavored Methamphetamine’ in Everett, Washington,” DEA Microgram Bulletin Jan. 2009 LINK
So when Saving Kids From Dangerous Drugs was about saving kids from candy meth back in 2007, any body who looked into the matter could figure out pretty quickly that the whole thing was sort of a hoax. Yet here is the bill yet again. What’s with the renewed efforts to put the Saving Kids From Dangerous Drugs Act back on the policy agenda?
It’s not about selling meth disguised as candy to kids. It’s about selling pot legally to grownups. More on that in on Friday.
Color me flabbergasted.
It’s the “edible Puff Pop.” It is a lollipop. And a pipe. You eat it and you smoke it. And it does not appear to be a joke.
It’s made by a New Jersey outfit called Smokeclear, Inc. You can see the press release here.
Now there have always been all kinds of candy pipes and candy cigarettes. But they were just candy. You pretended to smoke them. Pretended, get it? And maybe kids acted all cool and mature and maybe these candy smokes led to all kinds of delinquency, and maybe not. But there was no actual smoke involved.
The Puff Pop, on the other hand, is a functional smoking implement. The round lollipop has a bowl and a hole and you put your stuff in it and light it and smoke it through the hard candy. Stuff…I don’t know what, surely legal tobacco and not any other wacky weeds…
These Puff Pops have been tried and tested: the bowl won’t crack or melt when you light your stuff on fire. And they come in yummy flavors: grape, lemon/lime, green apple, blueberry cola and strawberry. It is, as the manufacturer puts it, “an edible pipe that’s user friendly.” Smokeclear expects they will sell in smoke shops, but also in convenience stores. And candy shops, no doubt.
Because that’s a good idea: edible lollipop pipes. I’ve just spent two weeks researching lollipops and their associations with children, and now this. People, WHAT are you thinking?!
2009 was the final year for the “All Candy Expo,” the National Confectioner’s Association’s major trade show. For 2010, the event has been renamed: “Sweets and Snacks Expo.” It’s happening this week in Chicago. I wish I were there. Katharine Weber has a great scene in her novel True Confections based on the Expo, and she makes it seem like a lot of fun (and if you’re there this week, look for Katharine, she’s at the Expo signing copies of her book).
But I’m a little sad about the renaming of the event. Candy doesn’t even merit mention in the event name. The event will feature:
“Confectionery. Chocolate. Candy. Gum. Salty Snacks. Cookies. Popcorn. Biscuits. Breakfast Snacks. Nutrition Bars. Meat Snacks. Fruit Snacks. Granola Bars. Nuts.”
Candy is still up front, but the line of alternatives seems long and decidedly un-candy-like.
A lot of what used to be called candy is now re-imagined as “snacks” (which I guess sounds more like food and therefore more respectable). Meanwhile, candy like everything else these days is trending “healthy.” Which may be about things that are better for you, or it may just be about things that seem better for you. We’re seeing a lot of pseudo-candy on the grocery store shelves: foods that are candy-like, but that promise some other virtue. Fruit juice, all natural, organic, vitamin fortified, and the like. Candy can’t just be candy.
And clearly, there is a lot of candy that doesn’t want to be seen as candy. If you wander over to the snack aisle, you might find items like “Welch’s Fruit Snacks,” or Betty Crocker’s “Fruit by the Foot.” Fruit, right? Um, not exactly. Because whether the sugar comes from apple juice or pear puree or sugar cane crystals, it’s still sugar. But since these products look like something from fruit, they are somehow exempt from the stigma associated with candy. Just ask the Washington State Tax authorities who didn’t even consider those “fruit snacks” when they put together the list for the new candy tax.
The rise of candy taxes in Washington, Colorado, Illinois, and the murmurings heard elsewhere, tell us which way the wind is blowing on candy. American’s will still want it, and still eat it. But it won’t be called candy. And it will likely be manufactured and packaged in some way to evade legal definitions on candy. Even today, products like Milky Way candy bars and Look candy bars are exempt from the Washington tax because they contain flour. So just add a pinch of flour to your recipe, and presto, your candy is tranformed into tax-free food.
As far as the tax goes, I really don’t care. But I do think there is something important about honesty and transparency and clarity in what we eat and how we choose.
Candy is a lovely thing. How sad it would be to hide it, to distort it, to smother it because we can’t call a thing by its name.