Candy Professor

Chocolate? Tootsie Rolls

In honor of Katharine Weber, True Confections, and her brilliant “Little Sammies” candies, I am dedicating this week to Tootsie Rolls.

Who really likes Tootsie Rolls, any way? Not quite chocolate, not quite caramel, not quite taffy. I remember getting lots of Tootsie Rolls in my Halloween bucket, and wishing for less. Now that I buy Halloween candy to give away, I know why: it’s cheap. It’s chocolate-ish, but without the expense of actual chocolate.

Actually, its this not-quite-chocolate that goes a long way toward explaining the endurance of Tootsie Roll in the candy universe. Before air conditioning and refrigeration, selling candy in the summer months was a tricky proposition. Chocolate, of course, was out. Summer candies were your taffies and your marshmallows, things that could bear some heat and humidity and not suffer too much. The genius of Tootsie Roll was to create a summer candy that was a flavor never before seen in summer candies, the flavor of chocolate.

This ad to the retail trade from 1910 promises “They melt in the mouth… But NEVER in the case.” Reminds me of another slogan about melting in the mouth… But the point here is that, because they are individually wrapped, they won’t stick together. And because they are what they are, they won’t collapse in a puddle if you ship them in July.

Notice that in 1910 they were called “Chocolate Tootsie Rolls.” Granted, Tootsie Roll’s idea of chocolate is a pretty vague one. Harvey Wiley, who became famous as a pure food crusader, analysed the contents of Tootsie Rolls for Good Housekeeping Magazine. Here’s what he had to say:

Chocolate Tootsie Rolls: About 40 per cent, glucose and 48 per cent, of sugar. Not enough chocolate to give a characteristic flavor or to warrant name.

I’m with Wiley on the chocolate flavor problem. Notice they dropped the “Chocolate” in the name of the candy, so now it’s just “Tootsie Roll.” But they were still using the word “chocolate” on the wrapper in the 1940s and 1950s. If you eat one of these with your eyes closed, and you don’t know what it is, I doubt “chocolate” will come to mind. As far as I’m concerned, the chocolaty flavor of Tootsie Rolls is mostly the power of suggestion.

It’s pretty amazing to think that the Tootsie Roll has been around for one hundred years at least. When you eat one today, you are eating the same candy your great-grandmother might have pulled from her sticky pocket. The Tootsie Roll story is a classic tale of an immigrant with an idea and a dream. Here’s the official company history from the Tootsie Industries web site:

The Tootsie Roll story began in 1896, when Austrian-born Leo Hirshfield opened a tiny candy shop in New York City. Taking full advantage of his confectioner’s background, Hirshfield hand-crafted a variety of products, including an individually wrapped, oblong, chewy, chocolate candy that quickly became a customer favorite. Sold at a penny apiece and affectionately named after Hirshfield’s five-year old daughter, Clara, whose nickname was “Tootsie,” Tootsie Rolls propelled Hirshfield’s modest corner store into burgeoning candy enterprise that has evolved in little more than a century into the multinational corporation, Tootsie Roll Industries.

But wait just a second. That 1910 ad we were looking at, it doesn’t say anything about Leo Hirshfield. The company advertising “Chocolate Tootsie Rolls” is called Stern & Saalberg. So were there two companies making Tootsie Rolls in the early 1900s? Is this a Tootsie Roll impostor, a chewy chocolaty thief? Where is Leo Hirshfield?

A fudgey mystery is afoot… Stay tuned!

Check out my review of True Confections for more on Katharine Weber’s candy fancies.