Candy Confetti

April 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm Leave a comment

An international candy fact: those sweets we call “Jordan Almonds” are known in Italian as “confetti.”

Confetti? Isn’t that the sparkly paper we throw around at weddings and birthdays?

Turns out this strange connection between almonds with colorful sugar shells and shredded paper is no coincidence.

“Comfits” is the general name given in English for the class of sweets made by panning sugar. Before machine made candies like M&Ms and jelly beans in the 20th century, comfits were a luxury item because sugar was expensive, and because the process for building up the sugar coating was laborious. A comfit would be a hard sugar shell that you could suck on, and usually at the center would be a small anise seed, grain of cinnamon, ginger, or any kind of seed or nut. Today’s jaw breakers are basically comfits built up on a grain of sugar rather than a seed.

In Europe in the 16th and 17th century, comfits became associated with parties, festivities, and banquets. If you were in the upper classes who could afford such goods, you would surely have sugared nuts or seeds at your celebrations.

In Italy, those nut comfits were called by a name that sounds a lot like comfit: confetti. If you listen, you can hear it’s really the same word. The famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe described one Italian banquet he witnessed in the 18th century:

Now and then a masked fair lady mischievously flings some sugar-coated almonds at her passing friend to attract his attention… But the real sugared confetti is expensive, so a cheaper substitute must be provided for this kind of petty warfare, and there are traders who specialize in plaster bonbons…


Throwing around confetti–those sugar coated almonds or their fake plaster substitutes–evolved into our own festive practice of throwing around paper confetti. Although, since paper is not so tasty at the meal, we tend to throw paper confetti at non-meal festivities.

But we still do have one edible relic of the candy comfit associated with celebrations. What are those little colored candy sprinkles we put on cakes, especially children’s birthday cakes? There usually called “sprinkles,” (the long ones are “Jimmies” and the balls “non-pareils”), but they are obviously nothing other than candy confetti!

Source: The story of confetti is told in Laura Mason, Sugar Plums and Sherbet: The Prehistory of Sweets (1998). Image: “Assorted Jordan Almonds” by Nutsinbulk on Flikr

Entry filed under: General, Holidays. Tags: , , , , , , .

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

(C) Samira Kawash

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