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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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Hate Red M&M's? You Need a Candy Color-Sorting Machine
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You don’t have to be a demanding rock star to live a life without brown M&M's or purple Skittles—all you need is some engineering know-how and a little bit of free time.

Mechanical engineering student Willem Pennings created a machine that can take small pieces of candy—like M&M's, Skittles, Reese’s Pieces, etc.—and sort them by color into individual piles. All Pennings needs to do is pour the candy into the top funnel; from there, the machine separates the candy—around two pieces per second—and dispenses all of it into smaller bowls at the bottom designated for each variety.

The color identification is performed with an RGB sensor that takes “optical measurements” of candy pieces of equal dimensions. There are limitations, though, as Pennings revealed in a Reddit Q&A: “I wouldn't be able to use this machine for peanut M&M's, since the sizes vary so much.”

The entire building process lasted from May through December 2016, and included the actual conceptualization, 3D printing (which was outsourced), and construction. The entire project was detailed on Pennings’s website and Reddit's DIY page.

With all of the motors, circuitry, and hardware that went into it, Pennings’s machine is likely too ambitious of a task for the average candy aficionado. So until a machine like this hits the open market, you're probably stuck buying bags of single-colored M&M’s in bulk online or sorting all of the candy out yourself the old fashioned way.

To see Pennings’s machine in action, check out the video below:

[h/t Refinery 29]

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See How Candy Canes Are Made
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According to legend, a 17th-century German choirmaster bent sugar sticks into shepherd’s crooks and gave them to children acting in his Nativity pageant as a treat for good behavior. Lo and behold, the world’s first candy canes were born.

Over the years, manufacturers have perfected their own methods of making the holiday treat. In the below video from Lofty Pursuits, a Tallahassee, Florida-based purveyor of hard candies, you can watch how the expert team of candy-makers turn seemingly everyday ingredients like sugar, water, and corn syrup into a sticky mixture. Gradually, the pliable concoction is folded, stretched, rolled, cut, and bent into candy canes—a mesmerizing visual process for anyone who’s ever sucked on one of the sugary confections and suspected it came from somewhere other than Santa’s workshop.

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