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From The Dawn Of Man To Present Day: A History Of Sweets


Britain’s sweet tooth developed as early as 8000BC – the days of cavemen, historians have revealed.

Confectionery historian Tim Richardson has created a timeline to show how our love of sweets has developed over the centuries, with Stone Age cave paintings showing our early ancestors raiding bee hives for honeycomb to get their sweetfix.

It also reveals that the first lollipops are thought to have been enjoyed way back in 1550AD, gums and pastilles came in during the 1650s while toffee was a little later, in the 1890’s.

Boiled sweets, chewing and bubble gum, liquorice, sherbet and marshmallows are also detailed in the timeline, which shows how our sweet-loving taste buds have evolved to enjoy the latest look and style candy.

‘Sweets: A History of Temptation’ author Mr Richardson created the timeline with Tangerine Confectionery, which is behind classic sweets such as WHAM bars, fruit salads, Flumps, DipDabs and Refreshers, to mark the launch of its new Softies sweets.

Tim said: “Almost everyone will admit to having some kind of sweet tooth, whether it’s boiled sweets, chews or a retro favourite which is their top choice.

“A sweet little something enjoyed during the day can be a source of simple solace and pleasure, perking us up like nothing else – people have known this for centuries, which is why sweets remain as popular as ever.

“Throughout history, many sweets have maintained their allure and popularity because they have kept up with the latest taste trends while fitting in with changing lifestyles.

“The nostalgia value of sweets has always been there but it has soared in recent years, with new ‘old-fashioned’ sweet shops opening up on high streets and booming internet sales of childhood favourite.”


The timeline shows the first records of humans eating sweets are depicted in cave paintings from around 8000BC, which were discovered near Valencia.

Between 2000BC and 1400AD, sweets started to appear in different shapes and forms around the world – from Sanskrit texts describing ‘milk-based sweets laced with sugar’ in India, to Arabic almond lozenges mentioned in Persian cookbooks.

Aniseed balls were among the comfit sweets introduced around 1450 and were originally used for the medicinal value of the herbs and spices inside the sugar casing.

Boiled sweets, originally ‘cheap versions of crystallised fruits’ appeared around 1820 while the British seaside staple rock, complete with the letters through the middle, is thought to have been invented in Morecambe in the 1830s.

But while the sticks of rock today traditionally spell out the place names, early variations were given as courting gifts, with cheeky messages running through the middle instead.

Liquorice Allsorts were invented by a salesman in the Midlands in 1899, who was carrying samples around in a case when they all got muddled up. Previously he had sold each kind of sweet in individual batches, but the ‘allsorts’ selection proved a runaway success.

It was also revealed that marshmallows came about after French confectioners imitated the medieval medicine using egg whites and sugar at the turn of the twentieth century.

After sweet rationing came to an end in 1953, loose sweets sold from jars became popular, while ‘space’ became a favourite theme in the 1970s.

The penny chew had it’s heyday in the 1980s, with Fruit Salads, Blackjacks and Mojos, all favourites of the ‘pick-and-mix’ enjoyed by children during this time.

And in the last few years, the sweet market has seen old favourites such as the Fruit Salads, Wham and Refreshers relaunched in soft, bitesize versions.

Gillian Clarke, senior brand manager at Tangerine said: “Sweets are an occasional treat that have a compelling power of transporting us back in time.

“Lots of people already have a soft spot for Fruit Salads, Wham Bars and refreshers, so this Softie update makes perfect sense.

“The new look and texture give the retro sweets a modern day overhaul while still retaining the exciting flavours and delights that made them so popular originally.”


c.8000BC – Prehistoric honeycomb

The first documented ‘sweet’ is the honeycomb depicted in a Stone Age cave painting that was discovered near Valencia. This image shows a caveman dangling on a vine while he raids a bees’ nest for honeycomb, which he is throwing down to a friend waiting below, as the bees buzz angrily around him.

600BC – Roman honey sweets

The Romans made honey sweets and cakes, including khrysokolla (sweets laced with gold) which were given to girls and women. These recipes appear in a cookbook which also gives instructions on how to fry a dormouse.

C800BC – Liquorice

Like many sweets it was first valued for its medicinal/useful qualities, and the thirst-quenching nature of liquorice root meant it was issued to Roman legionaries who were going on long route marches.

c1000AD – Arabic almond lozenges

These are mentioned in one of the earliest of all cookbooks, written in Persia, which describes lawzinaj, which were aromatic almond sweets laced with musk and amber

c1200AD – Baklava

The delicious many-layered confection infused with rosewater, invented by nomadic peoples in Turkey and probably perfected in the kitchen of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

c1350 – Sucket (candied fruit)

This was one of the most popular sweets imported from the east — oranges, lemons and pineapples preserved in sweet sugar (the forerunners of boiled sweets). Still on sale today.

c1450 – Comfits (aniseed balls and the like)

Hard sugary sweets began as medicines, since the herbs and spices the sugar encases were all perceived to be of medicinal value

c1550 – Lollipops

The first references to sweets on sticks, made by means of a special box into which syrup would be dropped onto upright sticks.

c1650 – Gums and pastilles

France perfected this art form and it was a French master confectioner who turned up at Rowntree’s with the idea for fruit pastilles, in the mid -19th century

1820s – Boiled sweets

Originally conceived as cheap versions of crystallised fruits, the ‘sweetie wives’ of the Scottish Lowlands perfected the art, creating sweets such as ‘soor plooms’, Hawick balls and Berwick cockles

1840s – Rock

Seaside rock, complete with letters, was probably invented in Morecambe in the 1830s. Early rock sticks were given as courting gifts, with the letters spelling out cheeky messages, not place names

1871 – Chewing gum

Invented by a New York entrepreneur who had first tried to market tyres, toys, masks and boots using chicle sourced in Mexico

1870s – Penny chews

Chewy sweets –began to be made in intense fruit, liquorice and chocolate flavours

1890s – Toffee

A surprisingly late invention, toffee was commercially marketed by a Scotsman called John Mackintosh who became ‘toffee king’, while the French developed caramels

1899 – Liquorice Allsorts

Liquorice Allsorts were invented by a salesman in the Midlands, who was carrying his samples around in a case when they all got muddled up. Previously he had sold each kind of sweet in individual batches, but the ‘allsorts’ selection proved a runaway success.

c1900 – Marshmallow

The medieval medicine based on the sticky root of the marsh mallow plant was imitated by French confectioners using egg whites and sugar, and later took the USA by storm

1926 – Bubble gum

This was invented after hours by Walter Diemer, an accountant who enjoyed ‘messing around in the lab’ at the sweets firm where he worked in Philadelphia. The pink colouration was a spur-of-the-moment choice

1940 – Sherbet

Sherbet became the fizzy powder we know today only in the mid to late 19th century, as a kind of imitation of the exotic original [just as boiled sweets were imitations of sucket or preserved fruit].

1953 – The end of sweets rationing

The long-delayed end of sweets rationing in Britain is a source of national joy, especially among children

1960s – A quarter of…

At around this time the traditional dominance in the sweetshop of loose sweets sold from jars in quarter-pound paper bags began to be challenged by brightly packaged wrapped sweets or multiple packs

1970s – Intergalactic theme

Space becomes an important theme in sweets marketing and packaging, with endless variations on rockets, spacemen and other inter-planetary exotica

1980s – Penny chew

The heyday of the ‘penny chew’ — small chunky/chewy sweets which were in actuality often halfpenny or four-for-a-penny chews, such as Fruit Salads, Blackjacks and Mojos (for which there are plans for a return…). Pick-and-mix continues as a high-street sweets stalwart, with Woolworths the main store to offer it

1990s – Internet shopping

The internet becomes a major avenue for sweets sales — especially of ‘retro’ or nostalgia brands which are often bought by adults for adults. The market is particularly strong for sweets sent as gifts to service personnel serving abroad

2000s – Variation

Variations on existing brands become popular: mini versions, multiple versions, chunky sizes, new flavours (orange or mint chocolate), limited editions… In addition, sweets and chocolate manufacturers begin to factor in ‘lifestyle’ by making sweets which are designed for sharing at home while watching favourite films or television, for example.

2010s – Softies

The vogue for variation is extended into the world of chews, as favourite chewy sweets begin to be marketed in soft versions and new flavours



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