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Sweets 101: History and Origins of Our Favourite Sweets

We all love our sweets and we all have our favourites —  whether it’s chocolate, fruity, mint, or sour, there’s something for everyone. But have you ever wondered how our favourite treats came about?

Believe it or not, sweet treats are an ancient part of our culture, dating back to 6000 B.C. As far back as 8,000 years ago, there are cave paintings depicting humans harvesting honey from beehives with crude ladders. People would climb trees back then, fighting the bee stings, just to get a taste of the honey. How far we’ve come in harvesting our favorite sweet treats over the years.

With that, let’s look at the more profound history of our favourite treats, how they came about, and what they have become today.

The Early Days of Sweets and Honey

Sweets are treats made mainly of sugar or artificial sweeteners. There are different terms for it in different countries, but they are referred to as sweets.

It’s believed that the first people to use sugarcane juice were the Indians around 3,000 years ago. They are also known for creating the first version of brown sugar. There is also evidence that people in Papua New Guinea knew about sugarcane almost 3,000 years before that. This estimates the sugarcane and the knowledge of it for humanity to have come about around 4000 B.C.

Before the availability of sugar began travelling west, the Egyptians created the first marshmallows out of honey as early as 2000 B.C. Slaves were known later for making “honeycakes,” made from stirring honey with seeds, dates, and nuts into a mould.

Egyptian hieroglyphics display ancient Egyptians keeping bees so they could harvest honey. Greeks were also using honey to make candied fruits, flowers, and stems. They learned how to make syrup from dates and figs.

The Discovery of Chocolate & Brown Sugar

The ancient Olmec civilisations in Mexico discovered the use of cocoa powder and made the first chocolate drink. “Cacao” comes from the Olmec language meaning “food of the gods.” Mayans have records of using cacao beginning around 1200 B.C., and that’s not even the earliest indication that people used it.

Back in India as far back as 250, A. D., there is record of people making sugary treats in the shapes of people and animals. In 510 A.D., the Persian emperor Darius would attack India. The Persian army learnt about sugarcane and its uses, describing it as “a reed that gives honey without the bees.” The Persians eventually worked with the Indians to continue producing and exporting brown sugar across the world. The product was a tremendous success.

The Candy Empire came to an end in 642 A.D. The Arabs invaded India and took the recipe with them. Sweets became public domain after that.

The Evolution of Sweets

More and more sweets were being created across the world. Farmers in Spain would start to grow licorice domestically by the end of the 5th century. Central America’s Mayans would begin chewing chicle, or gum, derived from sapodilla trees to aid digestion.

Asian countries would soon begin sweetening their foods such as ginger, nuts and licorice root with sugar. It became a major part of their food culture.

Arabs in the Middle East were using sugarcane and brainstorming different ways to use it in their lives and their diet. Caramel was invented by 950 A.D, although it started as a product to remove hair. Soon came the invention of marzipan and lozenges. Sugar paste was used to create sculptures of trees of animals. The Arabs then created the very first sugar refinery on an island they named “Candia.”

Trade routes expanded east during the Crusades. Traders and knights would bring sugar to Europe. Boiled sugar candies and candied fruits became popular, but sugar was still considered a rare luxury item, not to mention expensive.  So, only the wealthy had the chance to enjoy it.

But sweets would continue to evolve. Europe invested in sugarcane, and warm places were found to cultivate the sugarcane. Eventually, sugar became more familiar with the increase in production.

In the 1500s, the Portuguese and Spanish settlers would come to the New World, and they would plant sugarcane in Brazil and the West Indies. Sugar would soon become a part of the Triangle Trade Route. Europe would trade weapons and textiles to Africa for slaves and then sell the slaves to the Americas for sugarcane and rum.

The Spread of Sweets and the Invention of New Kinds

Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez called chocolate “the divine drink which fights fatigue” since chocolate was known to provide energy. Aztec chocolate beverages had a bitter taste, and many believed that it needed something to combat that bitter taste. So, sugar was added by the Spaniards. The success was tremendous.

Colonists realised Native Americans had been tapping trees for hundreds of years, creating maple syrup and other sweets. 16th Century Europe would become more organised with the industry. By the 17th century, hard candy was released in England and would become a favourite in the American colonies.

The 1800s continued to produce more types of sweets. Rock candy was invented in Scotland, a Dutchman created the first hard chocolate candy in 1844, and the Swiss worked on their own version of chocolate candy.

By the beginning of the 20th century, milk chocolate was invented, and sweets such as lemon drops would gain popularity. Factories were being built everywhere, and new types of sweets were invented constantly.

All Your Sweet Treats in One Place

If you’re looking for high-quality sweets, look no further than us at Sweet Factory. We deliver sweet treats right to your door, and our sweets are always backed by quality. 

We even offer halal, vegan, and vegetarian treats, so no matter what diet you follow, there will be the perfect sweet for you (and your body!). 

Check out our whole list of sweets here — we’re sure to have something to satisfy any sweet tooth!