Why is it Called Salt Water Taffy?

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Reader Charlotte asks, “Why do they call it salt water taffy?”

Salt water taffy, contrary to what I believed as a kid, contains no saltwater from the ocean. In fact, my preferred salt water taffy, from Shriver’s in Ocean City, New Jersey, contains no salt at all and very little water. Other versions do use salt and water, but they’re not notably salty, and certainly not watery. So how did the candy get that name?

It’s not entirely clear, but according to Jersey Shore legend, it went something like this: In 1883, a storm hit Atlantic City. The boardwalk at the time was smaller and lower than it is today. During the storm, waves easily cleared the boardwalk and flooded several businesses with sea water, including a candy shop owned by David Bradley. When a young girl came in to the shop to buy some taffy after the storm, Bradley looked around his soggy store and jokingly told her all he had was “salt water taffy.” Not understanding the sarcasm, she bought some and went on her way. Bradley’s mom overheard the exchange and suggested that the name was catchy and that Bradley keep calling the candy that. 

In Fast Food and Junk Food: An Encyclopedia of What We Love to Eat—which gives a different variation of the story centered around Bradley’s boss—food historian Andrew Smith says that calling it “salt water” taffy was “simply a marketing ploy—and a very successful one, at that. The name was picked up by other vendors in Atlantic City, and then borrowed by candy makers in other coastal towns from Florida to Massachusetts. By the 1920s, saltwater taffy had become a big business, with more than 450 companies manufacturing it.”

July 31, 2014 - 9:30am
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