One of the surprises in my candy research has been the intimate and unexpected connections with liquor. Brandy drops and the like barely scratch the surface. Take, for example, the case of invertase.
Invertase is one of the candy chemist’s little secrets. It is an enzyme that splits sucrose (table sugar) into smaller pieces: glucose and fructose. You can buy invertase from kitchen chemical supply companies. It is used to make fondant smoother. And most important, invertase is the magic ingredient that makes possible dipped chocolates with liquid centers. Confectioners start with a solid, fondant center made with invertase; after the solid center has cooled, the invertase goes to work and within a few days, the fondant has turned to liquid.
Invertase sounds like a scary chemical additive, but actually it is active in all kinds of natural processes. It is what helps bees transform nectar into honey. And each of us carries around our own personal supply, right in our own mouths as part of the chemistry of saliva.
Invertase was first discovered by nineteenth century chemists who were studying the effect of yeast on sugar. They noticed that the sugar changed form before it started fermenting, and eventually they isolated the enzyme that caused this effect. By 1900, processes for deriving invertase from yeast were well known, and over the next decades chemists would develop many uses for invertase derived from yeast, most importantly in candy-making.
And where did that yeast come from? Some of it may have come from factories like Fleischmann’s that were manufacturing yeast for home and commercial baking. But some of it came from breweries.
Yeast is a by-product of the beer brewing process; when the beer is done, the yeast settles at the bottom of the tank. Storage and re-use is possible, but there are some difficulties. Instead of throwing it away, some brewers’ ended up donating or selling the waste to be turned into invertase.
One chemist, by the name of Sidney Born, was able to complete his 1913 dissertation on the chemical constitution of invertase thanks to the generosity of the Jacob Ruppert Brewery, who furnished Born with 200-pound barrels of compressed yeast from time to time. Born describes a complicated and tedious process lasting several weeks; eventually, 200 pounds of yeast would yield 200 grams of invertase.
Based on Born’s process, I calculate almost a pound-for-pound transformation from yeast to finished candy product. Candy makers using invertase undoubtedly accounted for a huge quantity of brewery waste after Prohibition ended.
So there you have it: from beer to candy, via the chemistry lab, and a nice story about industrial recycling as well.
Sidney Born, The Chemical Constitution of Invertase, 1913 at Google Books
Well, it’s done. The book is finished, the manuscript is edited, the whole 118,000 words bundled up and sent off to production.
Book? Yes, that’s where I’ve been the past few months, shaping and molding all my candy thoughts into a coherent whole. I’m very happy with the result, an entirely new story about candy in America from about 1880 until today. Some of the themes will be familiar to readers of CandyProfessor, especially ideas about the way candy takes the blame for all kinds of bad things, and our essential ambivalence about candy (“evil, or just misunderstood?”). But what I’m really excited about in the book is the way I can tell a larger story about how the emergence of mass-produced candy changed what we call food, and how so much of what we eat as food today is directly descended from candy.
Alas, you (and I) will have to wait some time to see the actual book. Books, evidently, are like babies. They take about 9 months, so look for my book at the end of October, 2013. It’s called….
Oh, wait, I don’t know what it’s called. First it was called “The Candy Lure.” Then it was called “In Defense of Candy.” Then it was called “Candy: The Secret History of Food.” And now…I have no idea. There are many masters to please when titling a book: the author, the editorial staff, the marketing people, the sales people…. and while I’m thrilled to be working with an excellent team at Faber and Faber, the fact is that once an author signs the book over, the publisher gets the final word. Lots of smart minds are brainstorming at this very instant to come up with the best title ever; I can’t wait to find out what it will be!
So stay tuned. As soon as I find out what my book is called, I’ll let you know.
Pepperidge Farm, purveyor of better-than-average grocery store cookies, is tip-toeing farther into candy territory with a very tasty treat called “Signatures Chocolate Medallion Cookies Milk Chocolate Caramel.” It’s a buttery biscuit, a layer of salty caramel, and a cap of milk chocolate, which is pretty good on its own merits. But this confection is more than just good taste, if you can believe the back of the box:
Savor richness…followed by lightness…and a hidden silky caramel filling. Taste waves of pleasure, building to the Signatures sensation. Then revel in the afterglow of…Chocolateness.
All that, in a little cookie. Enjoy it alone, or with a friend.
Check out my piece on the origins and history of American caramels just posted at Gastronomica.org
For generations raised on Kraft cubes, the superiority of a fresh, small-batch caramel is largely unknown. In fact, the mediocrity of the overprocessed caramel helped chocolate bars rise to dominance in the candy aisle.
There was a time when some people thought eating candy was a good way to cut down on the booze.
Looks like the tables have turned. Now instead of all that bad sugar, you can get your candy fix with a nice shot of vodka:
This just in:
“Scientists have discovered a brain area that helps control your desire to eat sweet, hyper-palatable foods like chocolate.” read the story over at LA Times: “Craving chocolate? Activity in certain brain area might be why.”
Researchers at the University of Michigan discovered that when you chemically poke a rat in this particular brain spot, the rat eats twice as many M&Ms as rats that are just minding their business and eating M&Ms as Nature intended.
This research has obvious implications for humans, at least those with brains similar to rats. When traditional methods of craving control fail, we can turn to our nearest brain surgeon to delicately remove this chocolate-craving region.
Or, we can just eat another chocolate bar.
Some time ago I published a post on the disputed nomenclature of the candy we know as “Black Crows” (read it here). Candy lore has it that the real name was supposed to be “Black Rose,” but some miscommunication resulted in birds instead of flowers. My post was a “proof” that Black Crows must have been the original name.
But why “Black Crows”? Now I think I know.
Today in a 1917 history of the confectionery trade in the city of Philadelphia, I discover this mention in passing:
In the early 40′s, Sebastian Henrion made the first Cream Chocolates and Jim Crows, the latter, which were quite black, being named after a troupe of colored minstrels then playing.
Get it? Jim Crows, Black Crows. The candy is, after all, quite black. So when you see that dandy crow in a top hat, think “racist minstral stereotype.” Mmmm, the taste of America.
Source: Ellwood B. Chapman, The Candy Making Industry in Philadelphia, Educational Pamphlet No. 6, Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, 1917, page 4. See it here.