What a delicious experience, rummaging through the history of candy! From ancient sugars to the our holiday-season goodies, it teaches us one essential fact: plants and candy are connected by a very old and beautiful love (of food) story. It’s a simple equation. No plants, no sugar; no sugar, no candy.
Since ancient times, sugar has been used as medicine and as a spice, a preservative, a condiment, a colorant (after caramelization) and a sweetener. A rare and therefore valuable product, its primary source was sugar cane, which itself came from New Guinea. In our day, most sweets are factory-produced from sugar (sucrose) derived from sugar cane or sugar beets, and glucose syrup extracted from corn starch.
So much for the sugar in candy. But what about their flavor? There too, plants have a role to play. Leaves, flowers, roots, bark – natural flavors can be derived from every part of the plant.
- Fruit flavors (raspberry, strawberry, pineapple and so on) are generally derived from processing the pulp. In the case of citrus fruit (oranges, lemons, limes...), the essential oil, which contains the flavor, is extracted from the peel.
- First used for its medicinal properties, mint is appreciated today for the refreshing sensation it produces. An intense essence is obtained from the leaves: a few grams is all it takes to “impregnate” one kilo of sugar.
- The floral flavors in our candies are courtesy of violet, rose or lavender flowers. The chocolaty taste, meanwhile, has its source in the fermentation of cacao beans. And we get cinnamon from the inner bark of certain trees.
- The underground parts of plants are also exploited in traditional confectionery. The taste of (black) licorice comes from the juice extracted from the rhizomes of a shrub (Glycyrrhiza glabra) of the same name. And in times past, the roots of the marshmallow (Althea officinalis) were used to make…marshmallows! They’re rich in a substance that swells in contact with water and delivers a product reminiscent of gelatin.
- Finally, even the sap can contain flavor, as is the case with our sugar maple. After evaporation, the sap yields an amber syrup with a unique and exquisite aroma, which is used in making delicious candies, among other products.
These days, nature has been gradually imitated and replaced by the artificial flavorings of our factory-made candy. Conceived and manufactured in laboratories, they imitate the taste and smell of natural flavors, but with much less subtlety.