Candy Cane on A Dash of Science.com

The Candy Cane

History

According to tradition, candy canes were invented in Cologne, Germany in 1670. The choirmaster wanted a way to keep the children quiet during the living nativity held on Christmas Eve. He asked a candy maker for sweet sticks. To justify having the treats in church, he asked to have them made with a hook on the end so they looked like shepherd’s crooks. The idea was a success and the candy cane quickly became a standard Christmas treat.

 

How Candy Canes Are Made

The process for making candy canes is really fun to watch. Candy cane “dough” is made with sugar, corn syrup, and water. A candy maker takes the dough and folds flavoring into it. Once the flavor is incorporated, the candy gets put into a pulling machine. The candy gets stretched and folded back onto itself multiple times. This incorporates air into the dough which makes it opaque.

Once the pulling is complete, the candy is formed into a large rectangle. This block typically weighs around 50lbs! Colored candy stripes are added to the outside of the block and the entire thing is put into a machine with rollers that stretches the candy until it is the thickness of a candy cane. More rollers twist the candy so the stripes wrap around the cane. Finally, the candy is cut to size and the end is bent into a hook.

This video does a pretty good job of showing the process.

 

Bonus: About Peppermint

peppermint plant

Peppermint is the traditional flavor for candy canes. The botanical name is Mentha x piperita and it is a hybrid of spearmint and watermint. Peppermint is fun because it has a slight cooling effect when you eat it. The chemical compound menthol binds to receptors of temperature-sensing nerve cells in the mouth. This tricks the brain into thinking the mouth is cooler than it actually is.

 

That is all I have today. Hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

 

Images: Gesine Kuhlmann,  Aleksa Lukic

Sources: 

  • Introduction to Food Science by R.O. Parker, 2003
  • On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee, 2004

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