Fermented Sugar by Any Other Name

Perhaps you are aware of the tiny war being waged on the “ingredients” panel of your average processed food. The law requires that ingredients be listed. But every food processor knows that more and more consumers are wary of the multi-syllabic mystery chemicals that make possible the magic of modern food. So the food industry is very interested in what grad-student types call “semantics”: how things get named.

Controversies over naming go all the way back to the dawn of processed foods. One of the first had to do with a corn derivative that was having an image problem. The common name was “glucose,” but food reformers’ attacks had made consumers suspicious of an additive reputed to be concocted of arsenic, saw dust, and glue. So the corn industry came up with a much nicer sounding name: corn syrup.

I thought of this when I read about a new additive known to the trade as Verdad Power F80, a preparation developed by Dutch company Carbion Purac that is designed “preserve the freshness and flavor of a variety of fresh and ready-to-eat foods, including sauces, salads and bread.” No stranger to the label wars, Carbion Purac assures its customers that this additive can legally be named on ingredients lists by a much more benign title: fermented sugar.

Carbion Purac claims the additive is “natural” and the product of “minimal processing.” Something about “the latest in fermentation and spray-drying technology.” I don’t know what that means. But I do know what this means: “With Verdad Power F80 we …. can now offer food processors a greater choice of label-friendly ingredients.”

Maybe I’m being too curmudgeonly. Verdad Power F80 does seem to be less of a chemistry experiment than many other additives. So isn’t that a good thing? I’m not sure. Does a dose of “all-natural” preservatives really make it that much better to chow down on Twinkies and PopTarts?

Quotations from Food Business News | New fermented sugar ingredient preserves freshness flavor and Press Release:
Corbion Purac expands Verdad® portfolio of label-friendly ingredients

October 3, 2013 at 11:20 am Leave a comment

Review: M&Ms White Chocolate Candy Corn

candy cornCandy doesn’t grow on trees. You can make it with “natural” ingredients, but there’s nothing natural about it. It’s totally artificial, a product of human ingenuity, chemistry, food engineering, and a dash of whimsy. And since candy is completely artificial to begin with, it is free to be anything.  Like, say, corn. Candy corn, I mean. No one thinks candy corn is actual corn,  no matter the resemblance. And the flavor? How could we possibly say what candy corn should really taste like? Candy corn is about as unnatural as you can get.

Candy isn’t the only artificial food we eat, of course. But what I like about candy is how it is totally honest about its origins. You won’t find candy corn in the frozen food aisle.

So you’d think, given my enthusiasm for the fakeness of candy, that I’d be a huge fan of any sort of candy innovation. And I generally am. Then along comes something like M&Ms White Chocolate Candy Corn.

If candy is fake food, then M&Ms Candy Corn is fake squared: candy-flavored candy. It makes my mind spin a bit. Which would be a more pleasant sensation, I suppose, if I didn’t find M&Ms Candy Corn to be not only existentially troubling from a philosophical point of view, but also, from the point of view of candy eating, just plain nasty.

Tasting notes: "Blech"

Tasting notes: “Blech”

Look at the morsels: bigger than normal M&Ms, bulbous and swollen. The colors lack the shiny depths of the usual M&M glaze. Instead, we have a chalky white, a toxic yellow, and an orange that is trying too hard. I’ve got to conclude that the folks at Mars weren’t giving this candy their full attention; even the proud “m” that marks each bit is missing from many of these sad specimens.

As for the taste, let’s just admit that with the possible exception of Green&Black bars, plain white chocolate is not something anyone should have to eat, ever. Waxy, salty, and overwhelmingly vanilla, yes. Candy corn, no.

The bottom line is that these mutant M&Ms have nothing to do with candy corn at all. And the M&Ms know it. Just look at that poor Red M&M guy on the package, dressed up in an ill-fitting candy corn suit. He is obviously unhappy. He is thinking, “What the he88 am I doing in this candy corn outfit?” He knows it’s not right.

MM candy corn package

Candy corn may not be “natural,” but I will not shy from naming this awkward and bad-tasting M&M hybrid for what it is: a freak of nature.

September 28, 2013 at 2:16 pm 3 comments

Hostess before Twinkies

Today, the Hostess Twinkie is the poster-cake for processed food that has gone over to the dark side. Some 35 ingredients, rumored to be sprayed into molds instead of baked, reputed to have the shelf-life of hardtack. But this is not how Hostess began.

Once upon a time, ladies would invite their lady friends over for tea. They would wear clever hats and thin gloves and pass fragile cups from which to sip ever so demurely. With the tea, there would be cakes. Any hostess who wanted to impress her friends, and avoid vicious post-tea party gossip, would want to be sure she served only the finest.

And so, the scandal depicted at this c. 1930 tea party: “What…You bought them?”


The ad’s headline seems ambivalent: is the speaker horrified by the fact that the hostess has purchased cakes for her guests? Or is she amazed that the cakes, having been exposed as store-bought, taste so very good as to belie their humble origins?

The small print rushes to clarify: Hostess Cakes are achieving enviable success because “their flavor..their texture…their dainty appearance have been a revelation to millions of women.” Hostess promises ease, deliciousness, and most important for a generation of women struggling to create the impression of total and effortless domestic mastery, “no baking failures…a cake you can serve with perfect confidence.”

Today we’re all going back to the kitchen to make “real food.” But our 1930s fore-mothers were not so much worried about “real” or “manufactured” or “fake” in their food. What they were worried about was the very real risk that a “real” cake made in their own oven might actually be a disaster. In this context, processed and manufactured food was a solution to a serious social problem. (Of course, you could probably also argue that women wouldn’t have considered this a problem until Hostess Cakes came along and encouraged them to start worrying…)

Of course, it took a generation of chemists and food engineers to transform something like that lovely coconut layer cake into today’s plastic-wrapped snack food. But even today, no one could call a Twinkie or a Ding Dong a “baking failure.”

September 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm Leave a comment

Oreos Save the Environment

Oreo cookies are going “Eco.” At least, that’s the way Mondelez is spinning their most recent patent application for a new process to give Oreos their dark chocolately color.

According to a report in Confectionery News, 

“Mondelez has filed a patent for a method to give black cocoa powder its rich color using fewer environmentally damaging chemicals and no iron salts.”

Sounds pretty good, right? But here’s the kicker: this process also evidently results in an even more intensely colored black cocoa. In the patent application, Mondelez suggests the new process will mean Oreos can be made with “significantly less cocoa powder.” Sounds like the “Eco-Oreo” is really a “cheapo Oreo.”

Kind of reminds me of the last time I showered in a hotel. How much better it made me feel to re-use my towel, knowing it would help Marriott save the planet.

September 10, 2013 at 5:35 pm 1 comment

A Glimpse of the Author

With the book in production for an October publication date, the next thing to do is to pick an author photo for the jacket.

This is my first choice–what do you think?


Credit: “Head of Candy Research,” Warner Jenkinson ad, 1974.

April 11, 2013 at 10:57 am 2 comments

Cavities? Blame mom…

In my book, I have a whole chapter on cavities and how easy it was to blame candy for America’s terrible teeth.

It is never so simple, of course: there is no one thing that directly causes cavities. But we like simple answers and we like villains.

These days, experts have been paying more attention to the particular kinds of bacteria that are associated with decay, and why some people seem to have them and some don’t. There’s a theory that these bacteria may be contagious. So this means it’s not so easy to just blame candy and be done with it.

Instead, our health experts have fingered a new culprit: mothers. Here’s a poster from the NYC Department of Health and Hygeine that I saw on the subway yesterday:


Get it? Mom’s kisses and sharing are rotting baby’s teeth. Bad mother.

Sigh. I mean, maybe this is good “public health” policy and good advice. And I should be happy that more “scientific” views than “candy rots your teeth” have prevailed. But I am discouraged when the only solution seems, yet again, to blame the mothers.


April 8, 2013 at 10:20 am 1 comment

Candy Experiments, by Loralee Leavitt

13547799Candy lovers, parents, and educators have something to cheer about in this new book by Loralee Leavitt.

For several years, Loralee has been developing kid-friendly experiments with candy and posting them on her website candyexperiments.com where she promises “all candy, all science, all fun.” Now comes this beautiful, full color book that gathers all the experiments in one place, with gorgeous photos of the sometimes startling results of, say, putting marshmallows in a vacuum food saver, or nuking a 3 Musketeers bar in the microwave.

Kids will love the weird effects, but there’s a method to the madness. Loralee includes with each experiment a brief but very clear explanation of the physics and chemistry that make wintergreen Lifesavers spark and Skittle separate into different color bands when you melt them in water.

I ordered it as soon as I knew it was out, and my trusty assistant in the Candy Professor Kitchen, now 9 years old, exclaimed “this book is awesome!” We’re planning a Candy Science Birthday party. I think it’s going to be a hit with her friends!

April 4, 2013 at 1:10 pm Leave a comment

What’s in Your Easter Basket?

Any special Easter favorites, new or old?

If you want to know what I’m hoping will be in my basket, check out my Easter candy gallery at Saveur.com


March 30, 2013 at 4:54 pm 1 comment

Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure


We have a title! CANDY: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Coming in October 2013, published by Faber and Faber.

And here’s a description:

Many adults who wouldn’t dream of indulging in a Snickers bar of jelly beans feel fine snacking on sports bars and giving their children fruit snacks. For most Americans, candy is enjoyed guiltily and considered the most unhealthy thing we eat. But why? Candy accounts for only a small portion of the added sugar in the American diet. And at least it’s honest about what it is—a processed food, eaten for pleasure, with no particular nutritional benefit. What should really worry consumers is the fact that today every aisle in the supermarket contains highly manipulated products that have all the qualities of candy. So how did our definitions of food and candy come to be so muddled?

CANDY tells the strange, fascinating story of how candy evolved in America and how it became a scapegoat for all our fears about the changing nature of food. Samira Kawash takes us from the moral crusaders at the turn of the century, who blamed candy for everything from poisoning to alcoholism to sexual depravity to dread diseases; to the reason why the government made candy an essential part of rations during World War I (and how the troops came back craving it like never before); to current worries about hyperactivity, cavities, and obesity.

CANDY is an essential, addictive read for anyone who loves lively cultural history, who cares about food, and who wouldn’t mind feeling a bit better about eating candy.

March 29, 2013 at 3:36 pm 5 comments

Is Snapsy a Spy?

The Snapsy story is bigger than I thought, folks.

Look what I saw today at the drug store:

So: Hershey’s and Russell Stover, two totally separate candy companies, both come up with the idea of chocolate rabbits to break in pieces, at the same time? I don’t think so! There’s a mole in the chocolate…bunny heads will roll.

To Russell Stover’s credit, their version at least maintains the classic chocolate bunny aesthetic. As for the name, Snapsy wins over “Break -It Rabbit” hands down.

March 27, 2013 at 5:13 pm Leave a comment

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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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