Posts filed under ‘Ingredients’

Fiber Candies to Come?

Candy question of the day: why is the trade newspaper ConfectioneryNews.com publishing an article about FIBER?

“Novel Fiber May Blunt Blood Sugar Spikes” (8 Oct 2010) describes recently published research results on PGX, a “novel fiber supplement.” This research did not involve candy. Researchers spiked breakfast cereal with this soluble fiber and studied the blood sugar response to eating. Subjects who ate the fiber had more even blood sugar response.

Now confectioners are not in the cereal business. They are in the candy business. This coverage is very suggestive. There is a hint at food uses to come:

PolyGlycopleX (PGX) is a newly developed highly viscous polysaccharide complex that is reported to demonstrate a delayed onset of peak viscosity, “allowing for a more palatable and easy-to-use functional fiber,” state the authors. … The authors noted that the beneficial effects of functional fibers are highly dependent on the food matrix, adding that unpublished data has suggested PGX to be “just as effective when sprinkled on food as dissolved in water.”

Fiber that is soluble, more palatable, easy to use, and regulates blood sugar. Doesn’t need to be dissolved in water. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Stay tuned for the next generation of functional candies…

October 12, 2010 at 6:47 pm 1 comment

Dextrose: All-American Corn Sugar

Life Magazine, 8 September 1941

“Dextrose helps make candy a delicious food.” The key word here is FOOD: candy isn’t just a treat, it’s actual sustenance. This ad contrasts the old fashioned notions of grandma, who thinks of candy as a simple confection, with the new modern knowledge of nutrition possessed by the younger woman. The new generation knows that:

Candy is a veritable bulwark against between-meal fatigue. Even doctors consider candy a desireable requirement of the daily diet. … The concentrated food-energy of candy is obvious because it is simply a delicious combination of many highly nutritious foods everyone eats every day–chocolate, milk, butter, corn syrup, dextrose, sucrose, eggs, fruits and nuts.

And that’s why:

Intelligent health-minded people prefer candy products made with Dextrose because they appreciate its great value as the chief quick energy fuel of the body.  … Whenever you buy a bar or box of candy, look among the ingredients on the wrapper for “Dextrose”: it assures you always of genuine food energy to sustain your body in work or play.

Dextrose is making its debut in ads like this one. American consumers are getting to know this “ALL-AMERICAN SUGAR” which is appearing in a wide variety of familiar foods. This ad copy makes dextrose sound somewhat miraculous: food, but better than food. Among all those candy ingredients, it’s dextrose that you are supposed to look for and demand for real “food energy.” Not sucrose (sugar), not eggs, not milk, not nuts, not chocolate. To today’s consumer, this seems a little fishy. Or better, a little corny.

This ad promoting candy as delicious food appeared as a part of a series produced by the Corn Products Refining Co. promoting their sweetening product derived from corn. Dextrose had been around since the early 1900s, but was pretty much known only to the food and confectionery industry.

According to the Corn Refiners Association’s official history, the corn refining industry was born in 1844 with the development of technology to extract starch from the corn kernel. The principal use of corn starch was: laundry.

But by 1866, someone figured out how to derive dextrose from that corn starch. Something new under the sun: corn sugar (as syrup, or further refined to crystalline dextrose, a technology that arrived in the 1920s). Unlike cane sugar and beet sugar which were extracted from the sweet stalk or bulb, corn sugar was the product of a chemical reaction, an enzymatic transformation of not-sweet laundry starch to sweet syrups and powders.

Dextrose as corn syrup was an important ingredient in its own right. And as crystalline dextrose, it could be substituted for refined beet or cane sugar in some uses. Dextrose was cheaper than regular sugar, so there were some manufacturers who were substituting it on the sly prior to the 1940s. But when WWII food disruptions led to sugar rationing, dextrose suddenly had a new allure.

Chemically, dextrose is identical to glucose. Glucose is the simple sugar from which living cells directly extract energy. Our bodies use glucose immediately as it is absorbed through the blood stream (hence “blood sugar”); other simple sugars, like fructose, have to be metabolized before they become available as fuel. Corn sugar is sometimes called glucose. In fact, when corn sugar, in the form of a syrup, was first introduced as a food ingredient, producers used the term “glucose”: problems with confusion with “glue,” however, led to the new term “corn syrup” in 1914, which is pretty much what we’ve called it ever since. (See Glue-Cose for the whole story.)

But by the 1940s, corn refiners and food producers were using the term dextrose to refer to any kind of sugar derived from corn. In any event, corn sugar, glucose, corn syrup, and dextrose pretty much mean the same thing as far as the chemistry of sugars goes. In many contexts today,  the word glucose is reserved for the sugar that is zooming around in your blood, while the term “dextrose” refers to the corn sugar that is chemically identical but hasn’t entered your blood stream yet.

Confused? It’s confusing. The FDA defines “corn sugar” as a particular chemical [alpha]-D-glucopyranosetates and then notes that this chemical is “commonly called D-glucose or dextrose.”  Dextrose (a.k.a. glucose) is also found in fruits and honey; I’ve seen references to processed sugar from grapes referred to as “grape dextrose.” Fructose is another sugar that is commonly found in fruits and honey. Table sugar is sucrose: a fructose bonded to a glucose. Like I said, it’s confusing. But bear with me. The identity of glucose and dextrose turns out to be the key.

The problem in the 1940s is: how is the corn refining industry going to transform their cheap sugar substitute, something that food processors don’t even want consumers to know they are using, into a desirable commodity? Answer: by using advertising to rebrand Dextrose as the patriotic, scientific, nurturing alternative to that other sweet stuff. Remember how I said that dextrose is glucose, and glucose is the form of sugar directly metabolized by the body? Here’s the way that gets translated into selling dextrose:

Life Magazine, 1 June 1942

The text reads in part:

The chief fuel for bodily activity is a sugar called Dextrose. Dextrose is formed in Nature by the action of sunlight upon plant life. Human life depends on it for energy…. Keep the energy of sunshine in your body. Demand foods “Enriched with Dextrose.”

So according to this ad, dextrose isn’t just an ingredient or a sweetener. It “enriches” the food with the “energy of sunshine.” The funny thing is, dextrose actually is not produced in corn by the sun. Dextrose is the result of lab work performed on corn starches.

You can also notice how utterly nonsensical this idea of “energy” turns out to be. Behind the claim that Dextrose is energy from the sun is simple carbohydrate science. Dextrose is sugar carbohydrate, sugar carbohydrate, like all carbohydrates, is metabolized by the body for energy. All sugars give this “energy,” as do all breads, pastas, apples, bananas, and pickles.

Another thing to notice is the emphasis on nature here (and this is decades before anybody is talking about “natural foods”): no mention of corn refining or enzymatic extraction. The path of dextrose is all natural: is from sun to plant to body. And the baby seals the deal: dextrose is the sugar in infant formula, the food for the beginning of life. If it’s good for babies, how can it be bad?

The sharpest arrow in Corn’s quiver, however, was patriotism. This is during the Second World War, remember. Corn is an American crop. Sugar from Corn is All-American Sugar:

Life Magazine, 9 November 1942

Dextrose is the sugar that comes from American crops, the bounty of American agriculture, the wholesomeness of the American farm. Dextrose might even help America win the war:

We, who must be strong, can build our strength upon the produce of our own farms. For instance, in our native fruits, vegetables and grain, we have an abundant supply of the natural sugar, DEXTROSE, which is food energy in its purest form–energy vital to the toiling, fighting Americans.

This ad doesn’t quite say it, but the contrast with traditional sugar is implicit. Most Americans have associated refined sugar with cane sugar (although most of our sugar actually comes from beets). Cane is refined in the U.S., but the sugar cane is grown in hot, tropical places. The images of sugar cultivation popular in the first part of the twentieth century featured exotic tropical plantations worked by sweaty, dark skinned bodies. In this context, promoting corn sugar as “All-American” is also hinting that the other sugar is not quite so American at all.

In contrast,

Dextrose is an ALL-American sugar, derived from American corn, refined in American factories, distributed by American companies.

Today, the Corn Refiners Association is struggling to re-brand High Fructose Corn Syrup as “corn sugar.” Seems Americans have decided that everything that has gone wrong in the last 30 years is the fault of HFCS, which is a fairly recent invention and reeks of the science lab. Re-branding it as “corn sugar” makes it seem more…natural. How funny to note that 70 years ago, corn was fighting pretty much the same battle to have sugar derived from corn accepted as a natural and wholesome food ingredient.

More Dextrose: Candy makers also promoted Dextrose in the 1940s as a benefit of their candy products, as you can read about in my previous post, Candy and Corn: Rich in Dextrose!

September 29, 2010 at 9:32 am 1 comment

Candy and Corn: “Rich in Dextrose!”

In the department of “virtue out of necessity,” I bring you the story of DEXTROSE.

Dextrose candy: doesn’t quite roll off the tongue. In fact, if you don’t know what dextrose is, which I confess I didn’t until I started Candy Professor, it doesn’t even sound edible! But for most candy-buying and eating purposes, dextrose is just another kind of sugar that can be used for particular candy effects. In particular, “compressed dextrose” is the technical term candy people use to describe the powdery hard candies: Altoids, Smarties, candy necklaces, and all those Made-in-China candy trinkets like robot puzzles and building blocks that you can eat when you’re done.

But still, what is dextrose?  Dextrose is sugar produced from corn. Today is is one of many many kinds of sugars that food processors can use for various effects. Like compressing it to make candy necklaces. But in the 1930s and 1940s, dextrose was the major competitor and substitute for the more traditional refined sugars from beet and cane.

Three Ears of Corn

Americans did not automatically embrace sugar from corn. As we can see today in the backlash against high fructose corn syrup, American consumers are suspicious of the whole corn refining process. In my next post, I’ll take a look at the marketing materials produced by the Corn Refiners Association back in the 1940s to sell Americans on this new kind of sugar. The story I want to tell today is about dextrose and candy:  how candy makers took a problem, sugar shortages, and turned it into a big candy plus.

As WWII disrupted the world food supply, cane and beet sugar prices were rising and sugar shortages seemed likely. But sugar made from corn was not affected. So food processors began looking for ways to use corn sugar in the place of more expensive beet and cane sugar.

Beet and cane sugar processors were not happy about this; in 1940 they sued to force peach canners to identify dextrose as an ingredient when they used it as a sugar substitute. This lawsuit shows how the public acceptance of dextrose was in transition; the department of Agriculture had allowed use of dextrose without disclosure on the grounds that it was not an injurious ingredient. But the beet and cane sugar refiners seemed to think that peach canners might be less likely to substitute dextrose if they had to claim it on the label.

Sweet is sweet, but the sugars are slightly different. Cane sugar and beet sugar, you may recall, are “disaccharides”: they combine glucose, which our body uses directly, and fructose, which is first metabolized by the liver. Corn sugar, called dextrose in processing uses, is virtually all glucose.

If you had to claim “dextrose” as an ingredient, it might turn consumers off. After all, what exactly was this dextrose to the average American? It sounds kind of chemical-ish. But instead of “cheap sugar substitute,” what if you could sell it as a miracle food? And so, dextrose stormed the market as: PURE ENERGY!

Curtiss Candies, the manufacturer of Baby Ruth and Butterfinger bars, put serious money into advertisements that boasted that the candy was “rich in dextrose, the sugar your body needs for energy”:

Life Magazine, 13 Nov 1939 (detail)

See the little guy on the side? He’s sort of the candy bar cheerleader, and in the 1939 wrapper he’s saying “Slice and Serve for All Occassions.” Fancy!

Soon, though, the cheerleader had a new name: N.R.G. (get it, energy!).  And a new cheer: “Rich in Dextrose.” In this 1940 ad, little N.R.G. appears as a runner, ready to win the race. The text next to the runner explains:

By actual energy tests, a 150-lb athlete can run almost 4 miles at a speed of more than 5 m.p.h. on the FOOD ENERGY contained in one 5c bar of delicious Baby Ruth candy.

And even though “dextrose” sounds like a pitch for the newest scientific views, the strawberries and the ad copy reassure us that dextrose is all natural and all good.

Life Magazine, 11 March 1940

And here’s N.R.G. in 1942: Baby Ruth gives food energy to soldiers overseas and office workers at home. And what about  that mama with the little baby? Dextrose is “an essential in infant feeding.” Is that candy bar for hungry mom, or sweet-loving baby?

Life Magazine, 9 Nov 1942

More posts on sugar, corn and candy:

September 24, 2010 at 10:49 am 2 comments

Campfire in the Pantry (Marshmallow Chronicles, Part V)

When the Imperial Candy Company/Redel Candy Corp. of Milwaukee launched their new marshmallow line in 1917, they were clearly thinking about just one thing: Campfires. Marshmallow and campfires were the peanut butter and jelly of the ‘teens, and so they named their new confection “Campfire Marshmallows.”

The earliest packaging encouraged marshmallow munchers to roast the goodies around the flaming logs, or at least to imagine a forest surround. Here is a 1918 ad that sets the sylvan tone:

Although the campfire image suggests a rough masculinity, marshmallows were frequently marketed in ways that connected their appearance and texture with qualities of women and children. For example, a competing brand put out by the manufacturer of  Cracker Jack was called “Angelus” and featured a cherubic little girl as the trademark. Along similar lines, in this 1919 ad Campfire brand makes a saucy connection between the puffy white mounds of marshmallow and the little cheeks of these cute rascals:

We can see in these ads that something dramatic has changed between 1918 and 1919. The 1918 box is really emphasizing the campfire theme. It even has the slogan “you can toast them if you like.” In contrast, the 1919 package was simplified and streamlined. And that wasn’t the only change afoot at Campfire headquarters.

In 1919, Campfire broke ranks with the leading marshmallow manufacturers. It launched an audacious new marketing campaign with one aim: to stock every pantry in America with marshmallows. American cooks had been experimenting with marshmallows for more than a decade, to be sure.  (On scientific cookery at the turn of the century and the culinary rise of the marshmallow, see my post on Candy Salad). But Campfire wanted more: to redefine marshmallow altogether, to push marshmallow out of the candy store and into the baking aisle.

Campfire acted on multiple fronts to push marshmallow forever more onto grocery shelves. They changed the shape of the marshmallow to round, the better to cook with. Before that, marshmallows sold as candy were square. And they put the marshmallows in six ounce boxes, rather than the traditional candy-serving of two and 3/4 ounce. They launched a new advertising campaign which promoted marshmallow desserts: jellies and cakes and parfaits. And they put out a cook book featuring both familiar and entirely new recipes “showing the many uses of Campfire in preparing dainty desserts, cakes, puddings, etc.” The booklet was described in ads such as the one above, and included in the marshmallow package.

This 1920 ad features an even more elaborate dessert display, and the explicit suggestion that Campfire marshmallows deserve a permanent place in the kitchen pantry:

There was much to be gained in this push into the kitchen. As an admiring article in Printers Ink explained:

It is easy to see why Campfire keeps entirely away from the confectionery idea and bases its whole appeal on cooking and baking. … Regarded as candy, marshmallows would be purchased only semi-occasionally. Looked upon as a cookery staple most valuable in the preparation of new and dainty dishes it can have a steady demand.

But Campfire did not entirely abandon its marshmallow roasting history. Ads in Boys Life Magazine in 1920 and 1921 reminded Scouts of their summer camp marshmallow pleasures. In an early example of “kid-fluence” marketing, Campfire counseled:

Tell mother about these tempting Marshmallows today. Tell her there’s a recipe folder in every package. But be sure to tell her to get Campfire–the kind of Marshmallows you had at camp. (see the ad here)

Campfire Brand marshmallows today are manufactured by Doumak, Inc. It was Alexander Doumak who invented the modern extrusion process in 1948. Since 1900, marshmallows had been made using the starch mogul system, which involves dropping marshmallow goo into starch molds and letting it set. Doumak came up with the revolutionary idea of squeezing the marshmallow mixture out into a long tube and cutting it into pieces. It was faster and easier than the starch moguls. And that is the marshmallow we have today: tubes of white puffs in a sack, and sold as grocery.

Sources: All advertising images appeared in Confectioners Journal in the years indicated. “Changing a Confectionery into a Staple Article of Cooking,” Printers Ink, Jan 27, 1921 p. 97-100. For a detailed explanation of the modern marshmallow manufacturing process, see How Marshmallows are Made.

June 25, 2010 at 11:29 am 3 comments

Candy Salad (Marshmallow Chronicles, Part IV)

The rage for all things marshmallow that newspapers noted in the early 1900s also inspired creative cooks to propose new ways of incorporating marshmallow into desserts. While candy promoters sometimes struggled to have their products accepted as “good food,” in the case of marshmallow the passage between candy and pantry staple seemed exceptionally smooth.

The  years of marshmallow’s transition from specialty confection to national candy craze were also the years of stunning innovation in American cooking. The movement known as “domestic science” advocated a rational approach to cooking that emphasized consistency, nutritive value, uniformity, and blandness and rejected the traditional, the intuitive, and the flavorful. Untamed, messy, irregular foods were not modern or hygienic. The task of the scientific cook was to regulate, control, and master her ingredients.

At the pinnacle of turn of the century scientific cooking stood white sauce. There was no dish that could not be improved by the addition of a coating of white sauce, a bland mixture of milk, butter and flour. And while marshmallow was perhaps slightly less versatile, to a generation of scientific cooks trained at the knee of white sauce, its white, bland appeal must have been irresistible. Just as white sauce improved every meat and vegetable, so would marshmallow improve every cake, pudding and ice cream.

At first, the marshmallow incursion was limited to the most simple and straightforward sorts of additions. Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cook book included a recipe for “marshmallow cake” in 1896, yellow cake with a marshmallow crème in between the layers. Recipes for marshmallow cakes and marshmallow frostings were published several times in the Boston Daily Globe’s “Housekeeper” column in the early 1900s, suggesting that home made cakes featuring marshmallows were a popular dessert item.

The cake recipes added sweet to sweet: marshmallow’s pure sugar hit would intensify the dessert sensation offered by tender cakes and succulent sugar frostings.

But marshmallow would not be stopped. By the ‘teens, the layering of sweet on sweet led to dessert innovations like gingerbread with melted marshmallow, ice cream re-frozen with melted marshmallow then topped with marshmallow, and cakes with names like “Ecstasy” or “Heavenly Pudding” which combined “marshmallows, candied fruit, macaroons, white cake, gelatin, and whipped cream in one fashion or another.”

These and other marshmallow creations are described by Laura Shapiro in Perfection Salad, an indispensable history of the emergence of “scientific cookery” at the turn of the century. Shapiro’s book explains the trends and attitudes that would pave the way for a new phenomenon that flourished at mid-century: Candy Cookery. The marshmallow was just the beginning.

As a distinctively American style of cooking and presentation took hold of American stomachs and American kitchens in the early 1900s, sweet flavors were less and less confined to the final course. The versatile marshmallow presented the inventive cook with sweetness, volume, and texture, but no particular flavor or color to intrude on other ingredients.

Nothing was immune from marshmallow improvement. The line between dessert and salad quickly blurred. Shapiro describes Fanny Farmer’s famous Los Angeles Fruit Salad: canned pineapple, grapes, walnuts, and marshmallows, “an innovation in sweetening that was remarkable even by [Farmer’s] own standards” (Shapiro 194). And many marshmallow concoctions defied categorization entirely. Shapiro describes a Boston Cooking School Magazine recipe for cream cheese and marshmallow sandwiches to be served for tea, as well as the mania for toasted marshmallows stuffed with raisins as a luncheon buffet specialty. Such culinary innovations seemed to fall entirely outside traditional categories of salad, dessert, or even candy.

Marshmallows were destined for great things in the kitchen. By 1913, the grocery magazine Table Talk was pushing marshmallows as a regular pantry staple. In an article titled “Marshmallow Mixtures” Eva Alice Miller scolds the cooks of America for their narrow marshmallow prejudice:

Many housekeepers consider marshmallows simply a confection, and make no use of them in their cooking. They are very useful, however, in many ways, and make a pleasing variety in the bill of fare.

Alongside the pudding and pie recipes, Miller included instructions for Marshmallow Omlette, Marshmallow Toast, Marshmallow Salad, all of which would seem at home on a breakfast or lunch plate.

Marshmallow cooking was no joke. Witness this antique marshmallow tin for Gordon’s Household Marshmallows (offered for sale by Rion’s Relics). It is big enough to hold ten pounds of the puffy stuff. Eat up, America!

For more on turn of the century ideas about American cookery, see Laura Shapiro, Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century (1986; University of California, 2009).

June 23, 2010 at 8:00 am 3 comments

Vegetable Candy Revolution

I finally got my hands on the 1912 candy cookbook classic, Candy-making Revolutionized. Until now, I’ve only known this book by reputation, and it was the reputation of a total crack-pot. The “revolution” that author Mary Elizabeth Hall promises is this: candy from vegetables.

When I first heard about this book, I made snarky comments about the preposterousness of potato creams and lima bean taffies. I assumed Hall was another of those “food faddists,” prophets of health who promoted wacky ideas like chewing your food one hundred times or eating only uncooked foods.

After all, we know that “vegetable” and “candy” are at the opposite ends of the food spectrum. Vegetables are good for you. Real food. Eat your vegetables. And candy? Barely food. Certainly, of all the things you can eat, the one that is the very worst. So I assumed that Hall’s proposal to make candy that is really vegetables was another of those food tricks: disguise and dishonesty, sneaking in the virtue under the mask of artificial vice.

I was wrong. Hall is not trying to sneak or disguise anything. Hall doesn’t have an axe to grind, and she has nothing at all against candy. She just thinks that making candy with vegetables is a good idea. And now that I’ve read the book, I have to admit to a certain admiration for Hall and her project.

The vegetable candy future Hall envisions is “purer, more wholesome, more nourishing” than that of the past, to be sure. But there is much more to recommend it.

Half the book is dedicated to decorative and artistic candy forms made with potato-based confection. She gives recipes for a sort of potato-sugar modeling dough. This substitutes for marzipan at a substantially lower cost. The potato can be shaped, molded, colored, painted, and eaten. Hall proposes this craft as a home-based business with in the reach of even the most rustic hausfrau. Every village that can muster up a ration of potatoes and sugar will be showered with potato candy roses and potato candy violets. In schools where home economics and fine arts are taught to young ladies, potato confectionery promises the most ingenious combination of the two disciplines: every girl will learn the principles of line and color while turning out edible potato castles and gnomes.

Beyond this decorative use, Hall presents vegetables in candy as having their own distinctive merits. There are colors like the red of beets and the orange or yellow of carrots that are vivid and lovely. There are new flavors from novel ingredients like green beans and rhubarb.

But the best thing about vegetable candy, at least to Mary Elizabeth Hall’s way of looking at things, was the way it solved the problem of appetite. Hall didn’t see anything wrong with candy, nor with the craving for candy. Quite the contrary: Hall thought of candy as a good form of energy food, and saw the craving for sweets as natural and benign. But children didn’t always know when to stop, and that might make them sick to their little tummies. Vegetable candy solves the problem:

Sugar it of course contains, but the vegetable base supplies no small part of the bulk; consequently children may eat their fill of it and satisfy their natural longing for candy without having gorged themselves with sugar.

It is worth noting here that the virtue of the vegetables in the candy is not the vegetables themselves, but their physical property of “bulking.” Americans were not, in 1912, all that interested in vegetables. No one had ever heard of vitamins, and the nutrition science of the day focused teaching people to view their food “scientifically” as so many calories or so much protein or carbohydrate.

Today, we have a totally different perspective on vegetables. Candy itself is trending “healthy.” So I’m wondering how long it will be before some 21st century entrepreneur discovers these recipes?

Candied carrot-rings, candied parsnips, and sweet potato patties incorporating coconut and nuts all would find, I suspect, an eager market in the artisanal food stalls popping up in every major city these days.  And the recipe for tomato marshmallow sounds brilliant. Think tomato as fruit, think the color and a little subtle flavor. Candy making techniques have not changed in the last hundred years, anybody could follow these recipes. Any takers?

The recipes are here. The time is right. Mary Elizabeth Hall was just a century before her time.

Related Posts:

Source: Mary Elizabeth Hall, Candy Making Revolutionized: Confectionery From Vegetables (1912). Available at Google Books. The image at the top of the post is the frontispiece of the book, all examples of the confections described within.

June 2, 2010 at 9:56 am 5 comments

Zzang! Candy Bar Blows Candy Professor Out of the Water

I am not in the candy review business. At least not on most days. And then I eat something new and… ZZANG!

That’s Zzang!, as in the candy bar, from Zingerman’s Bakehouse of Ann Arbor, Michigan. It comes in a few varieties, but it was the “Original” that got my attention. I had just intended to taste the thing, really just a nibble. And then another, and another, and I ate the whole thing. (So that’s why you see the Zingerman photo here. All I had left after that particular debauch was the box, below.)

ZZANG! It’s “Butter-roasted peanuts, caramel and peanut butter honey nougat dipped in dark chocolate.” Sound a little familiar? This is what a Snickers Bar would taste like if it went to Exeter and then to Princeton. Only the finest. I mean, the finest. These are the ingredients:

Dark chocolate, butter roasted peanuts, sea salt, caramel (organic muscovado brown sugar, corn syrup, cream, water, butter), nougat (honey, sugar, water, peanut butter, egg whites, sea salt).

That’s it. Take a bite with me: Smooth, creamy nougat with a soft chew, peanut flavor so rich and buttery, big crunches of peanuts melting into salty caramel and the smoky bite of the dark chocolate. Intense, chewy, everything a candy bar should be. And fresh. Zingerman’s puts a 60-day freshness recommendation on the box. Mine was nearly “expired” and it still was the freshest tasting candy bar I’ve ever tried. What would it be like really fresh? I’m on a quest for the next fresh shipment.

Now these are the ingredients of a Snickers Bar:

Milk Chocolate (Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate, Skim Milk, Lactose, Milkfat, Soy Lecithin, Artificial Flavor)Peanuts, Corn Syrup, Milkfat, Skim Milk, Vegetable Oil (Partially Hydrogenated Soybean and/or Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil)Salt, Lactose, Egg Whites, Chocolate, Artificial Flavor.

Don’t get me wrong. Snickers is basically my favorite U.S. candy bar. Snickers is widely recognized as the ultimate in salty, fatty, sweet satisfaction. Food scientists love to wax rhapsodic about the way the nuts crunch down and moosh into the caramel, with the chocolate melting everywhere: a perfect release of texture, flavor, and sensation. All that, and still you can buy one for the change you find under your sofa cushions.

No one has ever improved on a Snickers bar. Until now. Just look at those ingredients again. Skim milk, lactose, and artificial flavor are not even in the same ball game. Of course, when you go to the opera, it costs a lot more than when you go bowling. Zzang! set me back $5 for a bar just a wee bit bigger than your standard Snickers (see the stats below).

Zingerman’s tags the Zzang! line of candy bars as “taking candy bars back 100 years.” But really we should be saying 80 or 90 years at most. Candy bars like this were not too common until the 1920s. The Snickers bar went on the market in 1930. Fun fact: according to Jan Pottker in Crisis in Candyland, the first Snickers bars were nude of chocolate coating (weather issues).

The real question is, would a candy bar made in the 1920s taste anything like a Zzang!? Alas, I fear the answer is no.

A candy bar maker in the 1920s would have been using smaller, cheaper peanuts roasted in oil, not butter. Instead of fresh cream and eggs, the nougat and caramel would most likely be made out of pre-cooked bases, which would be more stable and easier to make into the final candy product. Maybe  something like this nougat product from the White-Stokes company:

The sweeteners in the nougat and caramel might have included larger portions of corn syrup or other sugar substitutes. The other ingredients would probably have been fine, but nothing special. Chocolate would not have been so carefully selected and prepared so as to assure the maximal mouth feel and flavor. Salt might have come from the sea, but it wouldn’t have been the pure, mineral, intense experience we associate with today’s sea salt.

No matter how much they resemble their old time cousins, the Zzang! and similar new artisanal nostalgia candies are completely of the twenty first century. It is our most modern idea of finding the freshest, the most exquisite, the most unusual, the best, and combining it all to make the most delicious of food stuffs, no matter the difficulty or the expense.

It is elitist in a way; Zzang! and similar candies will never be produced at the volume of our dollar bar standbys. But you might decide that one Zzang! bar is totally worth the trade off of giving up five Snickers bars. Or you might not.  The important thing to me is that these things exist, not that they have to be the standard for every one all the time.

I was wrong when I said it was the end of candy. It’s just the beginning. Candy has never been like this.

Sources: I bought my bar at the Brooklyn Larder. The Zingermans Candy website lists places that sell the Zzang! around the land and also offers mail order. Candy image from Zingermans. White-Stokes ad from Confectioners Journal 1920. I first got turned on to Zzang!  by Rebecca Marx’s review in the Village Voice, “Fat Pants Friday”

Stats: Snickers: 2 ounces, 270 calories, less than a buck. Zzang! 2.5 ounces, 240 calories, 5 bucks.

May 28, 2010 at 8:14 am 5 comments

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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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