Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

West Indian sugar produced by the plantation system was ever more available, a source of revenue for the government and the foundation of many British personal fortunes. See plantations, sugar. By the mid-nineteenth century, sugar, no longer taxed, had become a vital food for the workers in the industrial cities that were developing in many parts of the British Isles. In the damp and chilly climate, the desperate poor could buy calories, comfort, and a brief glimpse into a refined world of sweetness and light from the cheap confectionery that developed from the older aristocratic tradition. But they could not afford to buy from reputable shops; in London Labour and the London Poor (1851), Henry Mayhew recorded the large variety of sweet goods and confectionery made by sweet-stuff makers to “tempt the street eaters.” Garish colors were achieved using lead, mercury, or copper-based dyes, and public concerns were raised about cases of (sometimes fatal) poisoning. See adulteration. Gaudy stalls and shops sold dragées, lozenges, mints, and sweets molded into highly colored shapes to appeal to children. Fantasy was, and is, more important than taste when it comes to sweets. See children’s candy.