It all started from sugar
To write the history of confectionery, it is necessary to start with the history of sugar.
Ancient Greeks and Romans used honey to sweeten up their courses, but it seems they were aware of the existence of sugar cane, since it was farmed in the Indus River Valley.
A Greek author from the first century AC, Dyscorides, reports that sugar cane was grown on the shores of the Persian Gulf – and indeed, Persians were the first - around the fifth century – to make a massive use of it.
Islam brings sugar cane to Europe
Sugar was brought in Europe by Islam: Andalusia and Sicily were the first areas to host sugar cane plantations. In Cyprus and Crete, sugar was already used when both the islands fell under the dominion of the Venetian Republic: from that moment on, Venice became the most important European centre for sugar distribution.
After-meal digestive delicacies
Sugar's main use was that of proper confectionery: spices or dried fruit (cloves, ginger, coriander seeds etc.) were bathed in a sugar syrup and fried in large pans. The procedure was usually repeated several times, in order to thicken up the sweet wrapping. The digestive power of these “candies” had a great reputation, and they soon became after-meal favourites: their success was so big that people started carrying them around in small bags while away from home, and to keep a certain amount of them in their room – hence the name epices de chambre (“chamber spices” in French).
Venice, the capital of sweetness
At the beginning of the fifteenth century, Venetians were no less than the most famous confectioners in the whole world: their sugar decorations were true masterpieces, and they were normally offered to passing personalities while they were in town. A disposition by the Town Senate tried to control this ephemeral practice, by ruling the sugar amount at the disposal of each confectionery maestro. In the same period, it was also in Venice that the first books on the art of confectionery were published: they were soon translated in the main European languages, and had the effect of spreading this art all over Europe – and above all in France.
From cane to beet sugar
Sugar reached the United Kingdom one century later, when sugar cane plantations extended to Guinea, Madeira and Brazil. From that moment on, Lisbon will take the place of Venice as the sugar trade capital.
Cane sugar processing started in the seventeenth century, grew during the eighteenth century, and literally boomed in the nineteenth century. Confectionery began specializing in several branches, particularly in France. The sector's impressive growth was mainly due to the discovery of beet sugar, whose lesser costs played a key role in bringing sugar almost everywhere.
French confectionery conquers the world
In the nineteenth century, France became the biggest sugar producer in Europe. As a consequence, French confectioners' creativity enriched this newborn market with a wide variety of products – a real joy for children and grown-ups all around the world.
A short history of chewing-gum.
Ancient Greeks were the first to use latex, an elastic substance of vegetable origin, but it was the Mayan who discovered the chicle, the sap of the sapota, a Central-America red fir tree, which used to be chewed after being boiled.
In the nineteenth century, the chicle was introduced in the United States by Mexican general Santana, who was trying to raise funds to finance the liberation of Mexico City. He started a society with Thomas Adams, a local inventor, in order to turn sap into a chewing product. However, a proper commercial activity began only after Santana's death, when Adams – along with some businessmen – founded the American Chicle Co.
In 1890, a Kentucky grocer marketed a chicle tablet, coated in a sweet substance and with the addition of an aromatic balsam: chewing-gum was officially born. In a few years, the brand new product became widespread in the United States, and soon after everywhere around the world, thanks to a dexterous trader named William Wrygly.
In Italy, chewing-gum arrived soon after the end of WWII, thanks to the American soldiers. It became fashionable through cinema, too, with Marlon Brando starring in popular movies like “On The Waterfront” and “The Wild One”.
Nowadays, chewing-gum is made elastic through synthetical, colourless and flavourless resins and elastomers, and is processed with various flavours and colours, sugar or sweeteners
A short history of torrone
In his “De re culinaria”, Apicius describes a confection that could be the forefather of modern torrone: it was prepared with honey, almonds and albumen. Curiously enough, the name seems to derive from the Latin verb torrere (“to toast”), referring to the almonds that were used for the preparation.
Some says that torrone could have Arabic origins: the prove could be a confection made by almonds, honey, sugar and spices, imported in Italy from the Middle East by Venetian traders. This product became famous from the Middle Ages on: it was usually prepared for Christmas, and for every other important festivity.
White torrone was also a wedding banquets' favourite: reportedly, the wedding between Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti, held in Cremona, in 1441, included a confection made of almonds, honey and albumen, whose shape resembled that of the town tower, called Torrione. According to the local tradition, it was the “Torrione” that named the “torrone”: however, Cremona has always been undisputedly famous for its delicious confection, that soon begun to be requested from everywhere in Italy.
Until the last century, torrone was prepared by bakers, at the end of bread processing: and it was a baker's boy, Secondo Vergani, to found the first factory specialized in its production, back in 1881, thus starting the modern industrial production.
Since then, the creativity of torrone-making maestros (the so-called torronari) has produced endless varieties of this confection: compact, soft, large-sized, reduced to small, chocolate-coated bon-bons. Apart from Cremona, several other towns are renowned for their torrone-making tradition, such as Alba, Mombercelli and Novi Ligure, in Piedmont – but also Siena, Benevento and the Abruzzo and Calabria regions. Moreover, Sicilian torrone is reputed among the most refined ones.
A short history of licorice
As ancient Chinese manuscripts prove, licorice has been used for its healthy properties for ages. In facts, it was considered very important in Ancient Egypt, and the Greeks were aware of its antiseptic, antiphlogistic, cough soothing, antispasmodic and expectorant properties.
Scythians thought that licorice had thirst quenching properties, and always brought it with them during their trips across the desert.
At the beginning of 1300, Palestro de Crescenzi, in his “De agricoltura” treatise, wrote that “[...] anco la regolizia masticata e tenuta sotto la lingua mitiga la sete e l’asprezza della lingua e della gola” (trad. from ancient Italian: “ [...] and even licorice, chewed and held under the tongue, soothes the thirst and sharpness of both our throat and tongue”).
In Italy, licorice is very well known since a long time ago, and picked up in Calabria above all. 1715 saw the birth of factories for the processing of the root of this spontaneous plant, which grows mainly in the plains near Cosenza, while chronicles from the end of the nineteenth century witness remarkable licorice exports towards both France and England.