The Revolutionary Story Behind Mary Jane Candies

These small, molasses sweets have been around for more than 100 years, but beneath their sticky exterior, Mary Jane candies contain a revolutionary tidbit.

In 1884, Boston entrepreneur Charles H. Miller decided to try his hand at candy-making. Like many young businessmen, Miller didn’t have a lot of working capital when he entered the confectionary market, and so with no storefront or workspace, he opted to make candy in the kitchen of his own Boston home, with help from his three sons. After spending 30 years handcrafting candies in their home-based shop, Miller's son, Charles N. Miller, came upon the perfect flavor combination that would solidify the family name in candy history: a sticky mixture of peanut butter and molasses.

Mary Janes were sold out of dime stores as penny candies starting in 1914, and the Charles N. Miller Company thrived off of marketing the taffy-like sweets as being inexpensive treats. Early slogans persuaded sweet-tooths to “use your change for Mary Janes.”

Rather than naming the sticky candies after an historical figure or family pet, Miller chose to honor his favorite aunt by naming the chews after her. Or at least, that's the company line. Some have contested the validity of Miller’s name choice, suggesting that the story about his aunt is a lie and rather, Miller selected the name as a ploy for free advertising from the popular early century Buster Brown comic strip, which featured a character named Mary Jane. (While Buster Brown was created 12 years before Mary Jane candies—and the style of girls shoes actually are named after the cartoon lass—there’s no hard evidence to support this theory.)

The molasses chews were wrapped in yellow wax paper donning one red stripe, and featured a small girl named Mary Jane. Despite 100 years in production, the outside (and inside) of Mary Jane candies has remained virtually the same as when Miller first concocted the treat more than a century ago, except for specialty editions like full-sized Mary Jane bars, some covered in chocolate, and the occasional Halloween mix.

But besides his confections, what made Miller's Boston house-turned-candy shop so special was an earlier occupant, one who is best known in textbooks for his midnight ride that warned fellow colonists about incoming British Redcoats. That's right—American folk hero Paul Revere lived in the North End home at 19 North Square for 30 years (including in 1775, when he made a name for himself on that famous ride).

Fast forward more than 200 years, and Miller’s candy company was sold to Stark Candy in 1989. Within a year, the recipe and rights for Mary Jane were sold to NECCO, the same company that produces Conversation Hearts and NECCO Wafers. And in a move that brings the fun link between the candy and the legendary patriot full circle, NECCO continues to produce Mary Janes—unironically—in Revere, Massachusetts.

Even as an occasional dentist, we think that's a connection Paul Revere could rally behind.

New Jersey's Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Has Opened

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Earlier this year, Food & Wine reported that Bourdain's home state would honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants. And that trail is now open.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail draws from the New Jersey episode from season 5 of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, and the trail was officially inaugurated last week. Among the stops included on the trail:

  1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
  1. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
  1. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
  1. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
  1. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
  1. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
  1. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
  1. Donkey's Place // Camden
  2. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

The Reason Why 'Doritos Breath' Stopped Being a Problem

iStock/FotografiaBasica
iStock/FotografiaBasica

In the 1960s, Frito-Lay marketing executive Arch West returned from a family vacation in California singing the praises of toasted tortillas he had sampled at a roadside stop. In 1972, his discovery morphed into Doritos, a plain, crispy tortilla chip that was sprinkled with powdered gold in the form of nacho cheese flavoring.

Doritos enthusiasts were soon identifiable by the bright orange cheese coating that covered their fingers. But there was another giveaway that they had been snacking: a garlic-laden, oppressive odor emanating from their mouths. The socially stigmatizing condition became known as "Doritos breath." And while the snack still packs a potent post-mastication smell, it’s not nearly as severe as it was in the 1970s and 1980s. So what happened?

Like most consumer product companies, Frito-Lay regularly solicits the opinions of focus groups on how to improve their products. The company spent more than a decade compiling requests, which eventually boiled down to two recurring issues: Doritos fans wanted a cheesier taste, and they also wanted their breath to stop wilting flowers.

The latter complaint was not considered a pressing issue. Despite their pungent nature, Doritos were a $1.3 billion brand in the early 1990s, so clearly people were willing to risk interpersonal relationships after inhaling a bag. But in the course of formulating a cheesier taste—which the company eventually dubbed Nacho Cheesier Doritos—they found that it altered the impact of the garlic powder used in making the chip. Infused with the savory taste known as umami, the garlic powder was what gave Doritos their lingering stink. Tinkering with the garlic flavoring had the unintended—but very happy—consequence of significantly reducing the smell.

“It was not an objective at all,” Stephen Liguori, then-vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay, told the Associated Press in April 1992. “It turned out to be a pleasant side effect of the new and improved seasoning.”

Frito-Lay offered snack-sized bags of the new flavor and enlisted former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman to promote it. Ever since, complaints of the scent of Doritos wafting from the maws of co-workers have been significantly reduced, and the Nacho Cheesier variation has remained the Doritos flavor of choice among consumers.

When Arch West died in 2011 at the age of 97, his family decided to sprinkle Doritos in his grave. They were plain. Not because of the smell, but because his daughter, Jana Hacker, believed that mourners wouldn’t want nacho cheese powder on their fingers.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER