Samui Wining & Dining
Not All Humbug

We’ve been mass producing sweets for a very long time – no wonder we’re addicted!


Not All HumbugIt’s often said that we Brits don’t, in general, have very nice teeth. Well, have you ever been to Russia? Or to any former Eastern-Bloc country? Nevertheless, we have had some issues and anyone born in the UK since the 1950s will have grown up with ‘sweets’. And that covers the whole gamut, from penny chews to whopping great bars of solid chocolate. And, yes, they do cause a bit of damage.


Back in the day, Woolworth’s was a kids’ playground. They had pick n’ mix - buckets of it, storerooms full of it, truckloads of it even. And I suspect that those shops were the scene of quite a few (since highly respectable) people’s first and maybe only crime. Don’t tell me you never stuffed your chubby little face with fizzy cola bottles or chocolate raisins when you thought no one was watching. I lived for Saturdays as a lad and by the time I was eight, my mates and I had devised elaborate strategies for robbing the pick n’ mix bins. We all have the thick ears and slipper marks on the backs of our thighs to prove it. When caught, and subsequently handed back to our parents, we soon realised that excuses, however elaborate, weren’t going to cut the mustard.


Time moves on and I guess most of us leave our wicked ways behind and actually start paying for stuff. Other things interest us and we derive pleasure from sports, friends, nature, partners and even jobs. And we put childish things away. Well, most of them – because that deep-rooted love of all things sweet and childishly exciting stays with many of us all our lives. Even the mere mention of dolly mixtures, jelly babies, banana splits, wine gums, dib-dabs, love hearts, parma violets, sherbet fountains, refreshers and space dust get us salivating. And then there’re gobstoppers, acid drops, kola cubes, rhubarb & custards, sherbet lemons, strawberry bonbons, flying saucers, white mice, chocolate éclairs and fudge bars. Just the merest memory of the flavours and sensations takes us back to the long-since-gone carefree world of our childhoods.


However, modern Brits aren’t the first to succumb to sweet delights. Natural honey was eaten way back in prehistoric times. The Tudors savoured preserved fruits, marzipan and sugared almonds. Nougat has been enjoyed in France since the 17th century and caramel was already known in England in the 18th century. In those pre-Industrial Revolution days, confectionery was handmade, very expensive and only obtainable by the exceptionally wealthy. In the 19th century people first began to eat sweets in their modern form. Kendal mint cake was invented in 1869. And although Turkish delight was invented in 1777, it didn’t become popular in Europe until the 19th century. Meanwhile, as sugar became cheaper, new boiled sweets were developed. And other new sweets were also making an appearance around this time, including peanut brittle (1890), candy floss (1897) and liquorice allsorts (1899).


The first chocolate bar was made in 1847. And milk chocolate was invented eight years later, the same year as the first chocolate Easter egg. Modern marshmallows popped up about 1850 and toffee and fudge appeared a couple of decades later. Jelly babies made their public debut in 1864 and wine gums were first sold in 1893. Ice-cream become popular in the first decade of the 20th century and the first choc-ice was sold in 1921. A year later, ice-cream was sold in the street for the first time from tricycles with a box on front.


Many new kinds of sweets were introduced in the 20th century as manufacturers competed to dominate the growing market. Innovation was the order of the day and a successful launch of a new product could take a company into the big leagues. Dairy Milk was introduced in 1905 and Toblerone followed it in 1908. Later came the Walnut Whip (1910), the Flake (1920), Fruit and Nut (1921), Milky Way (1923 in the USA, 1935 in Great Britain), Crunchie Bars (1929), Snickers and Freddo (1930), Mars Bar (1932), Whole Nut (1933), Aero and Kit Kat (1935), Maltesers and Blue Riband (1936) and Smarties, Rolo and Milky Bar (1937). Over the coming decades more big sellers such as Polo mints hit the market (1948), Bounty (1951), Munchies (1957), Picnic and Galaxy (1958), Caramac (1959), Topic (1962) Toffee Crisp (1963), Twix (1967), Curly Wurly (1971), Yorkie, Double Decker and Lion Bar (1976) and Wispa (1983).


Boxes of chocolates were introduced early in the 20th century. Milk Tray dates from 1915, Terry’s Chocolate Orange and All Gold were introduced in 1932, Black Magic in 1933, Dairy Box and Quality Street came in 1936, Cadbury’s Roses date from 1938 and After Eight mints arrived in 1962 (however did people finish their dinner parties before then?).


It might not seem like many new kinds of confectionary have appeared in recent decades. But the demand is still there. Globally, 11.6 million tonnes are produced every year with sugar-based sweets representing 6.6 million tonnes and chocolates around 5 million tonnes. Each May, Chicago, USA, hosts the largest ‘Sweets & Snacks Expo’ in the world, attracting 14,000 confectionery and snack professionals from around the globe. Mars Incorporated, the worldwide manufacturer of confectionery and food products, has annual sales of US$30 billion and is ranked the 5th largest privately-owned company in the United States.


We Brits certainly have a sweet tooth, but, per capita, Denmark, The Netherlands, Finland, Ireland and Sweden are the top five consumers of sugar confectionery. Here, on Samui, you’ll find lots of the brand-name chocolate bars in the shops and supermarkets, although not so many Thai-style candies. For those, you’ll need to go to one of the local markets or one of the four weekly ‘Walking Streets’ that take place around the island.

There’re no rehab clinics for ‘sweetie-junkies’, nor would I go to one if there were. I love sweets and I spread the wealth by ensuring my dentist gets regular business from me. Sweets aren’t illegal, although I’ll admit my expanding waist-line should be, and, until they are, I and countless others will indulge in our addictions with wicked glee. An old advert went along the lines of, ‘A finger of fudge is just enough to give the kids a treat’. Maybe, but that will never be enough for me.


Johnny Paterson


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