Where Does a Candy Bar Come From?

Thousands of years of exploration and invention are packed into that snack. Here's part of the story.

Chocolate already had a centuries-long history when Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter changed it forever. In the mid-1800s, chocolatemakers across Europe were racing to find a way to combine chocolate and milk to make a smoother product. The problem: Milk contains water, and water makes chocolate disintegrate. Peter experimented for eight years, trying to find a solution. Success came in 1876, when he took his problem to a maker of condensed milk. Chocolate mixed with sweetened, condensed milk did the trick. And the milkmaker? He decided to go into the chocolate business, too. His name was Henri Nestl.

THE Aztecs of Mexico were probably the first to blend cocoa and vanilla. Whitish cocoa beans from the pods of the cacao tree were roasted, ground, and mixed with spices to make a frothy, bitter drink they served cold and called cacahuatl. (The main spice in the recipe was chili peppers!) The Aztecs conquered Indians of southern Mexico who used the seed pods of a climbing orchid as a flavoring - vanilla. When put in cacahuatl, vanilla helped make it less bitter. The Spanish conquistadors added cane sugar and other refinements to the drink in the 1500s. Hot chocolate was Spain's secret recipe for 100 years, until Spanish monks disclosed it to the French.

PEANUTS have their roots in South America. Incan pottery decorated with peanuts has been found in Peru dating back 3,500 years. In the 15th century, Spanish explorers took peanuts from there to Africa. In the 1700s, African slaves brought the peanut to the American South. (The word "goober," another word for peanut, comes from the Kongo word nguba.) At first, peanuts were used as pig food. But with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1860, soldiers on both sides found peanuts in their rations. P.T. Barnum's circus began selling roasted peanuts to audiences in the 1870s. The cheap seats in theaters everywhere soon became known as "peanut galleries."

SUGAR plantations began in India around 4000 BC. Explorers had found the tall grass-like plant (sugar cane) growing wild, probably on the island of New Guinea, near Australia. Sugar-cane cultivation gradually spread to the Middle East from India. By AD 700, sugar was in the bakeries of Baghdad. Crusaders (1000-1200) sampled sugar in the Holy Land and took it home. Around 1500, Spain began cultivating sugar in the Caribbean. By the 1670s, sugar was so valued that the Dutch traded Manhattan to England for the sugar lands of Suriname in South America.

ANCIENT Egyptians didn't invent cows, of course, but they may have been the first to milk them. The earliest pictures of cows being milked date back to Egypt and Iraq in 3000 BC. They show Egyptians standing behind cows to milk them. (The name of the wise herder who started milking from the side is lost to history.) Cattle were first domesticated perhaps 12,000 years ago from wild herds that roamed Africa and Eurasia. Until the 1860s, fresh milk went straight (and warm) from cow to customer. The invention of condensed milk, powdered milk, and the mechanical cooler changed all that.

WHAT? There's corn in my candy bar? Yes, in the form of corn syrup. Sometimes it's called "high fructose" (FRUC-tohss) corn syrup, and it's a sweetener. Corn was "discovered" by native Americans long ago. (They were eating popcorn 1,500 years before movies!) But the first Western European to record seeing the corn was Christopher Columbus. At the time, he still thought he was in India somewhere. In his journal entry for Nov. 5, 1492, he wrote that "Indians" in Cuba ate a tassled crop called "maize." And that's what most of the world still calls it.

Other Ingredients

If you've ever read a candy-bar label, you know there's lots of other stuff in there - weird-sounding stuff. What is it? What's it for? Susan Scheney helped us decode a wrapper. She's a food expert with the National Confectioners and Chocolate Manufacturers Association.

Carrageenan (KAIR-uh-GHEEN-un): It's made from a type of seaweed called Irish moss. It's a gum used as a stabilizer and emulsifier. (An emulsifier helps suspend particles evenly in a liquid.)

Citric acid (SIT-rick): An acid found in citrus fruits. It is used to flavor fruit-flavored candy and drinks. It also is used as a preservative: It keeps food from turning brown when exposed to air.

Dextrose, fructose, lactose, maltose, sucrose: If it's an ingredient and it ends in '-ose,' it's a sugar. Sugars are carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are made up of carbon atoms and water molecules. Sugars are named and classified by how many carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms each molecule of the sugar contains. Sucrose, for example, has twice as many carbon atoms as dextrose.

Sorbitol (SOR-bih-tol): Also a sweetener. It's made from dextrose, a sugar found in fruits, but it does not contain sugar. Sorbitol tastes intensely sweet.

Soy lecithin (LESS-ih-thin): Made from soybeans. It helps hold together (bind) ingredients. Lecithin was first identified in egg yolks.

Vanillin (vuh-NIL-in): This artificial vanilla is made from wood lignin, a byproduct of papermaking. It's cheaper than vanilla made from vanilla beans.

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