Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

pharmacology, the study of drugs and their effects, deals with how medicine is made and how it is delivered; in short, how to sugarcoat the bitter pill. The clichés may be hard to swallow, but the metaphors are grounded in reality: sugar is commonly used in making and administering drugs, both licit and illicit.

There is more to sugarcoating than meets the eye, or even the tongue: sealing, subcoating, smoothing, coloring, and polishing are involved in the process. Perhaps people would be less inclined to take their meds if the color were irregular, so manufacturers strive to prevent mottling. Sugarcoating was proposed by a pharmacist from Chambéry named M. Calloud in 1854; the idea was to envelop medicinal substances to disguise their unpleasant taste. His recipe, perhaps inspired by a French formula for happiness (vivre d’amour et d’eau fraîche), consisted of flax seed, white sugar, and spring water. Later, many layers of syrups with increasing concentrations of dye were applied, a process that could take days.