History of Candy Canes and Why They Taste So Cool

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Candy cans are a symbolic symbol of Christmas. Their red and white stripes decorate trees and homes throughout the holidays while the minty flavor gives a taste of delicious flavors.

According to the National Confectionery Association, a U.S.-based organization that advocates for the candy industry, candy cans are the No. 1 selling non-chocolate candy in the month of December – 90 percent of sales are between US Thanksgiving Day and Christmas.

But how was this love holiday event connected to Christmas? Not to mention why candy cans make your mouth cool? As someone who researched chocolate and sweets, I thought it was appropriate to answer some important candy questions this holiday season.

A Christmas Legend

There is some mystery about the origin of candy cans as there are no definite records of their invention. One well-respected story suggests that in 1670, a choirmaster in Cologne, Germany, handed out sugar sticks to children as a means of being handed over at a long nativity feast.

The choirmaster asked a local candy maker to turn the sugar canes into hooks so that they resembled the shape of a shepherd’s staff. Shepherds are common symbols in the Christian faith and can be seen in the Christian story of the birth of Christ.

Another theory suggests that the hook was created just to make the candy canes easier to hang on Christmas trees.

However, these are stories with little evidence to support them. The first recorded case of candy canisters occurred in 1847 when a German-Swedish immigrant named August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decorated a small blue spruce tree with the candy.

Peppermint and candy medicine

Even the iconic flavor of candy cans is full of mystery because no-one knows who first created pepper creatures.

Peppermint is a strong-smelling hybrid plant, a cross between watermint and spelled. Peppermint is one of the oldest medicinal herbs in the world used for the treatment of stomach-related ailments such as nausea and vomiting, in eastern and western medicine.

Throughout the 18th century, candies were medicinal, meaning that your local apothecary was also your candy maker. That’s because the prescribed medicinal ingredients were usually unpleasant for herbs.

To help make the patient consume the unpleasant medicine, chemists stopped the herbs in sugar. Peppermint was often added to these sugar mixtures as its cooling flavor helped to mask the taste of horrible tasty drugs. The Altoids pepper plant was invented in 1781 by the London burner Smith & Company, who also made pharmaceutical lozenges.

candy cans
The original flavor of Altoids has a high concentration of peppermint oil.

It was not until the 19th century that the apothecary and candy maker began to become separate professions. After the U.S. Civil War, the price of sugar fell, opening the door to a candy boom. By the mid-19th century peppermint had become a popular European candy. However, it is not yet clear who exactly developed the idea.

The first mention (at least in the United States) of pepper-flavored sugar canes appeared in the 19th century. A cookbook written in 1844 with the title The perfect Confectioner, pastry chef and Baker includes instructions on how to make peppermint candy sticks.

Red and white stripes

One thing for sure is that the red and white stripes on a candy cane are a modern invention.

Candy cans were originally white, but by the early 20th century streaks began to appear. Before the end of the 19th century, Christmas cards at that time featured nothing but simple white candy.

Some believe the strips came from candy maker Bob McCormack in the 1920s. The McCormack company became a major producer of peppermint candy cans in the late 1950s. By the late 1950s his company was producing 1.8 million sticks of candy per day and had a national sales of US $ 3.3 million. Through the creation of a machine called Keller Machine, the automation of candy cans production increased from thousands a day to millions.

Menthol mixture

Most people love peppermint candy cans for the refreshing, cool taste it leaves in their mouths. Peppermint oil and extracts, especially the essential oil menthol, are used to flavor candy cans. Menthol is an alcoholic known for its waxy, crystalline appearance and relies on mint’s cooling sensation.

candy cans
Menthol Crystals.

We see mint as cold because methanol activates specific receptors found in the sensory neurons of the skin and mouth. When menthol binds to an ion channel called TRPM8, it sends an electrical signal throughout the length of the neuron.

The TRPM8 receptor is usually activated by cold temperatures such as frozen or slushy water. Menthol, however, is able to bind to the TRPM8 protein that stimulates it in the same way as something cold. When TRPM8 detects menthol, the receptor sends the signal to the brain that there is something cold in the mouth.

If you don’t care for minty candy cans, don’t worry, you’re still in good luck. Candy manufacturers also make candy cans in a variety of other flavors and colors.

Pickle, anyone?

The Conversation

Veronica Ann Hislop, Graduate Student in Molecular Food Science, Ryerson University and Dérick Rousseau, Professor of Chemistry and Biology, Ryerson University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.