Eat More, Weigh Less: Bulking up Candy with Vegetables

May 4, 2011 at 9:58 am 2 comments

The Sneaky Chef was right all along! You remember the Sneaky Chef: slip a little spinach into the brownie mix to make sure Junior eats his vegetables. Adding hidden vegetables has been promoted as a way to increase vegetable servings for picky eaters, especially kids. Now we have a new reason: appetite suppression, and maybe even weight loss.

In a study published in February, scientists added pureed cauliflower and squash to macaroni and cheese, and offered it to a hungry bunch. Another day, they served up regular mac-n-cheese to the same group. Everybody ate just as much, serving wise. But when they were eating the cauliflower-spiked version, their total consumption was nearly 300 calories less. So the vegetable bulk satisfied them with fewer calories. (For a more complete discussion of this research, see Tara Parker-Pope, “Adding Food and Subtracting Calories,” NYT 2 May 2011.)

The lesson is clear (and not surprising, if you’ve been eating as much salad as I have lately): bulk up with vegetables! This got me thinking: what about candy?

Now the idea of bulking up candy with vegetables is actually not new at all: Mary Elizabeth Hall first proposed the idea in 1912 (yes, one hundred years ago!) in Candy-Making Revolutionized (see my post here). Most famous is her recipe for Lima Bean Taffy: so delicious, you’ll never notice the beans! Call her “Sneaky Chef, beta version”.

Hall’s vision never really caught on. But with our new national commitment to slimming down, and scientific studies to back up the basic idea, it is time for America’s confectioners to step up with some bulked up candies for the twenty first century.

This wouldn’t be the first time Americans looked for ways to reduce the sugar in candy. In the U.S., the use of bulking foods and candy fillers was a way for candy makers to compensate when the price of sugar rose or availability fell, most notably during WWI and WWII (more on this in my post here). The primary fillers to take the place of sugar (and chocolate, to a lesser extent) were nuts, fruits and cereals. Nuts and fruits in particular were perishable and expensive, so there was a significant trade off. When beet sugar and corn-based sweeteners became cheap and plentiful, candy makers became much less interested in  exploring creative ways to make more candy with less sugar. So looking back at the candies of yester-year might inspire some new versions of candies with more bulk and fewer calories.

Another place to look is outside the U.S., at candy traditions in places where local tastes and preferences might be very different. For example, I think of the bean-paste based sweets of east Asia, which I confess to finding a little peculiar. But surely someone can adapt this sort of bean confection to American palates. Other countries offer candies that might travel with little translation. On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, I was astonished to discover how many sorts of local candy are produced, quite delicious and based on tropical agricultural products: orange paste, guava paste, sweet-potato, and many many varieties of coconut. Puerto Rican candy makers create grainy sugar bases and several gradations of caramel as a binder for the coconut, and may also add ginger, pineapple, or other nuts. So the bulk of the candy is fruits and nuts, and the sugar is just holding it together. These are delicious, sweet, satisfying and interesting.

I’d be very happy to see the big food conglomerates put more of their energy into developing confections along these lines, and less energy into the kind of food fakery and marketing spin that is the general atmosphere of “healthy snacks” these days.

Any other ideas?

Entry filed under: Health, Ingredients.

Corn sugar and metabolism: ancient history Please Don’t Eat the Art (or, CVS plus Chelsea Gallery plus Art Historian plus Fine Artist = Sticky Masterpieces)

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jane  |  May 4, 2011 at 7:37 pm

    When I was growing up we made something called Maine Potato Candy. I have no idea if the recipe came from Maine or just that it had Maine potatoes in it. As well as I remember, you pretty much took cooked (mashed?) potatoes and worked confectioners sugar into it. The recipe must be somewhere, but I can’t find it right now. I think you added some sort of flavoring and maybe rolled the little balls in cinnamon. I do remember it as being quite sweet with not a hint of potato taste anywhere.

    • 2. Candy Professor  |  May 4, 2011 at 8:52 pm

      Potatoes, excellent! Here is a link to a page with numerous variations on potato-based candy such as you describe; many of them incorporate peanut butter, chocolate, and/or coconut as well. One recipe in particular is sourced from Maine, so that might be similar to the one you remember, but the basic concept of mashed potato plus lots of powdered sugar plus other elements seems to be pretty wide-spread. I must say, though, that these all seem pretty rich, and the role of potato seems mostly binder rather than filler (since the sugar is not cooked, it needs something to hold it all together).


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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

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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.

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