Hard Candy

The other day, for various reasons, I was sent on an errand to find some hard candy – something like sour balls.  So… I went to the WalMart.  Not a single form of hard candy except cinnamon disks, Life-Savers, and lemon drops.  I tried the grocery stores, as well as the convenience stores.  No better luck there.  I did find a range of old-fashioned hard candies – if not sour balls – in the local ranch supply store.

But this search got me to thinking.  When I was younger you could find a range of hard sugar candies in every grocery store… and not just Life-Savers and lemon drops.  Now… it’s as though every form of hard candy except lemon drops is an endangered species of confectionery. WalMart and the supermarkets have an entire double aisle of candies, ranging from a vast array of chocolate in some form or another to an even greater array of “soft” candies, such as “gummi” candies, chewy worms and animals of all sorts, gourmet jelly beans… I couldn’t even begin to describe all the varieties.  What they all have in common is that they’re soft, sweet, if also sometimes sour or hot, and easily chewed and swallowed in large numbers. 

After considering this considerable amplitude of soft confectioneries, I realized that, at least in some ways, the growing emphasis on softness and ease of consumption reflects to a large degree changes in the American life-style… as well as provides a supplementary reason for the increasing percentage of overweight and obese Americans.

Candies aren’t the only area where this has occurred.  When I was a boy, a Coke was a treat, and the small glass bottle was considered more than large enough. Although recently, some soft drink companies are offering small cans and bottles, the majority of soft drinks, both regular and diet, come in at least 12 ounce cans, if not 16 ounce bottles and larger.  The same is true of beer

As for candy, though, consider this.  It takes more time and effort to suck – or crunch – a hard sugar candy.  Sour balls and other hard sugar candies were designed to last. Hard candies are, I fear, a remnant of a time when sweets were not so common, and, for many in economic times that were harder than now [no matter what the media analysts say], they were a small luxury to be savored, not to be gulped down one right after the other in rapid succession.

And like our candies, we’ve gone from being hard and tough to softer and squishier… and a lot larger.

9 thoughts on “Hard Candy”

  1. Jon Moss says:

    As a former parent (well, I’ll always be a parent, but my kids have left the building … er home as it were), I’m glad to see hard candies reaching extinction. As do most dentists, I’d surmise.

    While it may last longer, the enamel on your teeth won’t. Leaving pure sugar in your mouth for that long breeds all kinds of bacteria.

    I’ll take something chocolate (and nutty) over that any day.

    1. Richard Hamilton says:

      Xylitol (a “sugar alcohol”, which is a chemical term, they’re neither in the conventional sense) is a natural sweetener that does not promote tooth decay, and even helps reduce oral bacteria by either starving them or making it harder for them to adhere to surfaces, or both.

      Xylitol-based hard candies are available. They don’t taste quite the same, but are not (to me, at least) unpleasant. Many sugar alcohols have a slight cooling effect as they dissolve.

      However, most sugar alcohols (xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, etc) other than erythritol are incompletely absorbed in the small intestine, and may cause digestive upset or have a laxative effect if consumed in sufficient quantity.
      (Erythritol is absorbed, but passed unchanged by the kidneys)

      In other words, guilt-free hard candies in moderation are an option for just about anyone not exceptionally sensitive to the side-effects of sugar alcohols.

  2. Bob Howard says:

    We had very little growing up, so I agree, at least from my perspective, that we savored the little luxuries far more than most today. I like the metaphor for the larger social trends, though. And the specifics certainly are there–look at the whole “super-sizing” phenomenon and the “Big Gulp” sodas–human beings are not biologically equipped to even process that much liquid in a single sitting!

    I agree with Ms. Moss, though, nostalgic as we might be for those hard candies and “all-day suckers,” they’re awful for your dental health. Besides, I’m a chocaholic with no intentions of every seeking treatment for my addiction, and all other treats just can’t compete!

  3. Richard Hamilton says:

    It may be a regional, marketing, or supply issue as much as anything cultural.

    Thanks mostly to ADM and the corn lobby, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has largely replaced sugar as a sweetener, although to my way of thinking it doesn’t taste the same, and is blamed by many as a contributor to obesity.

    I suspect HFCS lends itself better to squishy things, since it’s a liquid.

    While you may not find much hard candy in Wal-Mart, I’m reasonably sure I could find Brachs or Jolly Rancher in most grocery or drug store chains. And one can still find practically anything online. That may be the difference as much as anything: Wal-Mart deals in volume, and in a nationwide market, not so much in regional specialties; and with online
    availability of just about anything, they probably don’t need to. I can find jawbreakers, atomic fireballs, various fruit (sort of) flavored candy, and more online in seconds.

    Finally, quite a bit of candy manufacturing has moved overseas; that may affect the lineup some.

    The big jars of hard candy in convenience stores seem to me to be mostly a feature of older independent stores though, not something so often seen in chain stores.

    My father was a diet-controllable diabetic; so I grew up with relatively little candy, low-sugar desserts, and no soda. To this day, the only soda I really like is the high-end low-volume stuff (like Reed’s XXX Ginger Ale), and that not often. I’d almost rather go thirsty than drink a cola.

    On the other hand, a previous poster’s remark about how much fluid the human body is meant to deal with at once, I don’t identify with. I also grew up in Phoenix AZ, where because of the heat and dryness, drinking enough fluids is not to be neglected. Clearly, drinking very massive quantities at once is dangerous (and in foolish stunts has even been fatal), because it lowers electrolyte levels severely. But I wouldn’t think twice about drinking a quart of water or unsweetened iced tea with a meal. If sweating heavily, one probably needs more electrolytes; but otherwise, most of us probably get more than enough, although not in the right balance (too much table salt, not enough potassium, magnesium, etc). Since I’m seldom all that active, plenty of fluid and potassium supplements (or a banana) is probably the best choice for me.

    1. Jon Moss says:

      I too would rather go thirsty than drink a soda. Water or unsweetened iced tea for me! 🙂

  4. Grant says:

    Interesting, on a social note, that every commenter so far has directly or indirectly, favorably mentioned and or endorsed candy…

    It has been my observation that this particular issue seems to be one that people will acknowledge, but refuse to face. As a society we often condemn sweets, overeating, soda, energy drinks, and so on an so forth, but for the most part it doesn’t appear to have sunk in. We acknowledge that it is bad for us, at least out loud, but when it comes to actually changing our habits… well that’s a different story. I think this mentality is changing and people are starting to take this seriously, but it is slow in coming.

    1. Jon Moss says:

      While I do favor chocolate and nuts for a treat, I rarely indulge. Once a week or every other week. I just don’t have much of a sweet tooth (and in fact I prefer the darkest chocolate available).

    2. Richard Hamilton says:

      Most things that don’t hurt others or set a bad example are reasonable _in_moderation_, although one should be prepared to forego non-essentials when necessary, and to abstain from that with which one finds moderation unreasonably difficult.

      As obvious as that is, it must be a lot harder to do than to say, or the consequences of over-indulgence would be observed far less often. 🙂

      So…candy a few times a week or less, for someone with no relevant health problems, and who isn’t short-changing higher priorities for resources to consume candy, should not be any sort of moral issue…as long as they don’t eat it in front of someone who does have a problem with it (and brush their teeth afterward).

      Some people may find themselves drawn to an ascetic lifestyle, and I won’t criticize that much, save that it too can become immoderate (hair shirts? self-flagellation? Sorry, but while unavoidable pain may be a learning opportunity, _looking_ for pain is just kinky). Most of us could probably borrow some simplification and de-cluttering from them. But even if we want to keep in mind some higher purposes, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with treating ourselves kindly from time to time.

      1. Bob Howard says:

        As Oscar Wilde said so well, “Everything in moderation…especially moderation!” (more or less–did not look it up). Agree we can go too far with toward the asceticism, but also am puzzled by the harshly negative reaction to the First Lady’s support for more healthy eating. She’s not, as some seem to say, denying us our cookies or ordering the country to abandon dessert–she’s simply promoting a reasonable, rational approach to improving the way we stoke our inner furnaces. She also showed by her own actions that occasional treats are a vital part of that reasonable diet (and not necessarily hypocrisy). Let’s just try to eat a bit more healthily without going overboard (and preachy!).

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