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10 Sweet Facts About Candy Canes

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The sweet and striped shepherd’s hooks can be found just about everywhere during the holiday season. It's time you learned a thing or two (or 10) about them.

1. THEY’VE BEEN AROUND SINCE THE 17TH CENTURY.

While the origins of the candy cane are a bit murky, legend has it that they first appeared in hooked form around 1670. Candy sticks themselves were pretty common, but they really took shape when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany got the bright idea of twisting them to look like shepherd’s hooks. He then handed them out to kids during church services to keep them quiet.

2. A GERMAN IMMIGRANT BROUGHT THE TRADITION TO THE STATES.

It’s no surprise, then, that it was a German immigrant who introduced the custom to America. The first reference we can find to the tradition stateside is 1847, when August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decked his home out with the sugary fare.

3. THEY HAVEN’T ALWAYS BEEN STRIPED.

Candy canes without the red don’t seem nearly as cheery, do they? But that’s how they were once made: all white. We’re not really sure who or exactly when the scarlet stripe was added, but we do know that images on cards before the 1900s show snow white canes.

4. THEY’RE A (RELATIVELY) VIRTUOUS HOLIDAY TREAT.

Most candy canes are around five inches long, containing only about 50 calories and no fat or cholesterol.

5. THEY DON’T ALWAYS FIT ON A CHRISTMAS TREE.

The world’s largest candy cane was built by Geneva, Illinois chef Alain Roby in 2012.  It was 51 feet long, required about 900 pounds of sugar, and was eventually smashed up with a hammer so people could take home a piece.

6. EVERYONE HAS THEIR OWN WAY OF EATING THEM.

Fifty-four percent of kids suck on candy canes, compared to the 24 percent who just go right for the big crunch. As you may have been able to guess, of those surveyed, boys were nearly twice as likely to be crunchers.

7. MORE THAN A BILLION ARE MADE EACH YEAR.

According to the National Confectioners Association, about 1.2 billion candy canes are made annually, and 90 percent of those are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which honestly begs the question: Who’s buying the 10 percent in the off season?

8. A PRIEST PLAYED A MAJOR ROLE IN THE CANDY’S MOVE TO MASS PRODUCTION.

Bobs (that’s right; no apostrophe) Candies was the first company to really hang its hat on the sweet, striped hook. Lt. Bob McCormack began making candy canes for his kids in the 1920s, and they were such a hit he decided to start mass-producing them. With the help of his brother-in-law, a Catholic priest named Gregory Harding Keller (and his invention, the Keller Machine), McCormack was eventually able to churn out millions of candy canes a day.

9. THEY HAVE THEIR OWN (ODDLY-TIMED) HOLIDAY.

December 26 is National Candy Cane Day. Go figure.

10. THE PROCESS FOR MAKING THEM BY HAND IS MESMERIZING.

Here’s how they make candy canes at Disneyland—it’s a painstaking (and beautiful) technique.

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Odd Jobs
Dream Job Alert: Cadbury Is Looking for Professional Chocolate Tasters
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Can you taste the difference between semisweet and bittersweet chocolate? Do you have strong opinions on what makes a perfect cup of cocoa? If so, Cadbury wants to hear from you. As Insider reports, the candy brand’s parent company Mondelez International is hiring taste testers to aid in the development of their chocolate products.

The corporation, which also owns the chocolate bar brand Milka, is seeking applicants to fill four positions: three chocolate tasters and one chocolate and cocoa beverage taster. According to the job listings, Mondelez will train the new employees in sharpening their taste buds and broadening their flavor vocabulary, so no experience is necessary. The qualities they are looking for include a communicative personality, eagerness to try new products, honesty and objectivity, and a passion for all things sweet. Candidates must also be fluent in English and available to work in Reading, England, about 40 miles west of London.

Each job pays £9 ($12.44) an hour, with employees spending about eight hours a week working with other panelists in sensory booths and discussion rooms. The maximum 10 free chocolate samples they get to eat a day are a bonus.

Prospective employees have until February 16 to submit their resumes, but they should act fast: When Mondelez put out a call for taste-testers last year, they were flooded with thousands of applications.

[h/t Insider]

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Big Questions
What Makes Pop Rocks Pop?
Noshin R, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Noshin R, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Eating most candy isn’t complicated: You take a bite, enjoy a sugar-fueled dopamine rush, and repeat until you have a stomach ache. Chemist William A. Mitchell added another step to the process when he developed Pop Rocks. When the sweet, hard candy bits hit your mouth, they act up before breaking down, creating a crackling, hissing noise that would be alarming coming from any other food product. But when it happens to Pop Rocks, you know you’re getting what you paid for. So what exactly is it about the candy that makes it just as much of a science experiment as a sweet snack?

The answer lies in carbon dioxide. It’s the same gas that gives cola, beer, and champagne their effervescence, but it’s not a common ingredient in solid foods. In the late 1950s, Mitchell wondered if it was possible to create an instant soda tablet by baking CO2 into candy. Even though his idea didn’t take off, the experiments laid the basis for Pop Rocks.

Like other hard candies, Pop Rocks are made by mixing sugar, lactose, corn syrup, and flavorings. Once those ingredients are melted together and boiled, highly-pressurized CO2 is added. When the candy mixture hardens, it traps bubbles of gas exerting pressure at 600 pounds per square inch (psi). For reference, the pressure inside a champagne bottle measures in at 90 psi.

It’s impossible to detect the special component in Pop Rocks unless you taste them. Magical things happen when the candy meets up with your mouth: As your saliva dissolves the sugar, those powerful air pockets begin to burst like miniature firecrackers on your tongue. The 600 psi carbon dioxide collides with the 15 psi pressure of the atmosphere, resulting in a crack you can feel and hear. That’s why Pop Rocks are so noisy, whether you’re eating them or standing next to someone who is.

And if you’re worried that all that pressure will do some serious damage to your body, you can rest easy. Contrary to the hysteria from kids and parents, there’s never been a known case of death by Pop Rocks. That includes when it's mixed with Coke (sorry Mikey truthers).

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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