A history of Victorian sweets

The Victorian era ran from the 18th century to the 19th century in the United Kingdom. Named after the queen of the same name, it’s a long time ago now. Modern times are completely different. Everything from housing arrangements, fashion, tradition and industry has changed but what about sweets?

What confectionery items did the Victorians enjoy and are any of them around today?

A close up picture of wine gums

It was a time for inventions and there was a lot that went on in the world of sweets. In Victorian Times, we started importing sugar from the West Indies and this meant that it was much cheaper and more accessible of a resource.

They actually thought that sugar was a healthy addition to the diet and it became common in recipes for puddings and drove a fondness for sweets….though they were wrong in their assumptions.

Types of sweets

Victorian Chocolate

The first chocolate bars appeared in1847, Victorian chocolate wasn’t quite what it is today, in that milk chocolate didn’t make an appearance for another 30 years. It didn’t go to plan at first, because chocolate doesn’t get on with milk very well or any liquid for that matter. The real magic happened in 1875 when a Swiss chocolatier called ‘Daniel Peter,’ had the incredible idea of adding powdered milk to the chocolate instead.

This is probably why Swiss chocolate is often assumed to be the best, it was the original so they’ve made it longer than anyone else.

Delicious sweets

Historically, sweets were something reserved for the wealthy, much like other treats such as white bread and cake, this was definitely the case in Victorian times.

The Modern marshmallow was invented in roughly 1850, though they have been around for thousands of years (see what are marshmallows.) What also occurred the next year, in 1951 was the Great Exhibition in London.

This lead to French-style sweets with soft cream centres making it into UK shops which became Victorian era favourites. Up until that point, hard boiled sweets were rock solid as confectioners hadn’t worked out how to add a soft, flavoured centre to them. This meant that hard-boiled sweets were born.

Toffee was first created in the 19th century, it’s possible that it got its name from the tough texture and an earlier spelling of ‘toughy,’ which makes sense to us. It’s close relation, fudge came a little later in the 1880s and that one was invented in America.

Jelly beans were created by William Schrafft, which he urged people to send them to soldiers during the American Civil war in 1861.

There’s a debate there though as some people say they’re basically Turkish Delight. Kendall Mint cake was invented by accident, in Cumbria in 1869.

In minty fashion, peppermint and fruit-flavoured, hard-boiled sweets in the same oval shapes, were particularly popular too. Especially the lemon flavours.

Close up of Jelly beans

Peanut Brittle!

Around that time came a game changer; peanut brittle. I don’t know how you feel about it but when it’s covered in chocolate it’s like something sent from confectionery heaven. Wine gums made an appearance in shops in 1893 made the man himself Charles Gordon Maynard, hence the company name. Next came candy floss in 1897, the fluffiest sweet of all, like biting into tasty clouds.

Although it was made many years earlier, in 1777 Turkish Delight stared selling like hot cakes in Europe at the start of the 19th century.

Liquorice Allsorts arrived in 1899, prior to that, liquorice was used as a medicine

Some of the Victorian styles of sweets lived on as you’ll see from the above list, you can still purchase them today, in most supermarkets.

Ice Creams!

Ice creams are actually really old and could be found as far back 618AD in China so it’s nothing new. What really change in the Victoria times was the way we consume it.

Ice cream cones were invented by Italio Marchiony, the patent was officially granted in December 1903 and obviously changed the course of ice cream forever, as both snacks and traditional desserts.

Bubble gum was created by Walter Diemer. It went on sale in 1928 though was originally created more than 20 years before.

Then came vanilla ice cream coated in chocolate, the choc-ice, which first went on sale in the USA in 1921.

The Victorian sweet shops

At first, sweets were sold in regular shops but as they became more affordable, entire shops filled with sweet treats started to appear, with large jars behind the counter, similar to ones you’d purchase pick n mix from. They were even sold in paper bags.

The main items they’d stock would be similar to most of those mentioned in this blog but could also include, marzipan slices, Liquorice Allsorts, jelly babies, lime fruits, bonbons (what are bonbons?) and chocolate limes. 

Lozenges, caramels, strawberry drops and chocolate kisses were also pretty popular in Britain. You’ll notice these are still around today in the 20th century and really easy to get hold of too. 

Toffee was in big shards and chunks and broken down with a hammer and cutters for children to in 30g servings.

The history of Victorian confectionery

The next time you head to a sweet shop for your favourite sweets, have a little think about where they came from. Were they found on the table of Charles the 1st? Did Queen Elizabeth indulge in similar treats while away from the congregation? 

That liquorice stick you’re eating was inspired by something that used to treat an illness, how mad is that? Even though we take these things for granted, every day, they’ve each got a sweet story of their own to tell.


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