In the last few years, the sweet market has seen old favourites such as the Fruit Salads, Wham and Refreshers relaunched in soft, bitesize versions.

But when did people start putting things in the mouths that have gone a long way to keeping dentists in business?

1. 8000BC – Prehistoric honeycomb

The first documented ‘sweet’ is the honeycomb depicted in a Stone Age cave painting that was discovered near Valencia. This image shows a caveman dangling on a vine while he raids a bees’ nest for honeycomb, which he is throwing down to a friend waiting below, as the bees buzz angrily around him.

2. 600BC – Roman honey sweets

The Romans made honey sweets and cakes, including khrysokolla (sweets laced with gold) which were given to girls and women. These recipes appear in a cookbook which also gives instructions on how to fry a dormouse.

3. 800BC – Liquorice


Like many sweets it was first valued for its medicinal/useful qualities, and the thirst-quenching nature of liquorice root meant it was issued to Roman legionaries who were going on long route marches.

4. 1000AD – Arabic almond lozenges

These are mentioned in one of the earliest of all cookbooks, written in Persia, which describes lawzinaj, which were aromatic almond sweets laced with musk and amber

5. 1200AD – Baklava

The delicious many-layered confection infused with rosewater, invented by nomadic peoples in Turkey and probably perfected in the kitchen of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul

6. 1350 – Sucket (candied fruit)

This was one of the most popular sweets imported from the east — oranges, lemons and pineapples preserved in sweet sugar (the forerunners of boiled sweets). Still on sale today.

7. 1450 – Comfits (aniseed balls and the like)

Hard sugary sweets began as medicines, since the herbs and spices the sugar encases were all perceived to be of medicinal value

8. 1550 – Lollipops

The first references to sweets on sticks, made by means of a special box into which syrup would be dropped onto upright sticks.

9. 1650 – Gums and pastilles

France perfected this art form and it was a French master confectioner who turned up at Rowntree’s with the idea for fruit pastilles, in the mid -19th century

10. 1820s – Boiled sweets

Originally conceived as cheap versions of crystallised fruits, the ‘sweetie wives’ of the Scottish Lowlands perfected the art, creating sweets such as ‘soor plooms’, Hawick balls and Berwick cockles

11. 1840s – Rock


Seaside rock, complete with letters, was probably invented in Morecambe in the 1830s. Early rock sticks were given as courting gifts, with the letters spelling out cheeky messages, not place names.

12. 1871 – Chewing gum

Invented by a New York entrepreneur who had first tried to market tyres, toys, masks and boots using chicle sourced in Mexico

13. 1870s – Penny chews

Chewy sweets –began to be made in intense fruit, liquorice and chocolate flavours

14. 1890s – Toffee

A surprisingly late invention, toffee was commercially marketed by a Scotsman called John Mackintosh who became ‘toffee king’, while the French developed caramels

15. 1899 – Liquorice Allsorts

Liquorice Allsorts were invented by a salesman in the Midlands, who was carrying his samples around in a case when they all got muddled up. Previously he had sold each kind of sweet in individual batches, but the ‘allsorts’ selection proved a runaway success.

16. c1900 – Marshmallow


The medieval medicine based on the sticky root of the marsh mallow plant was imitated by French confectioners using egg whites and sugar, and later took the USA by storm

17. 1926 – Bubble gum

This was invented after hours by Walter Diemer, an accountant who enjoyed ‘messing around in the lab’ at the sweets firm where he worked in Philadelphia. The pink colouration was a spur-of-the-moment choice

18. 1940 – Sherbet

Sherbet became the fizzy powder we know today only in the mid to late 19th century, as a kind of imitation of the exotic original [just as boiled sweets were imitations of sucket or preserved fruit].

19. 1953 – The end of sweets rationing

The long-delayed end of sweets rationing in Britain is a source of national joy, especially among children

20. 1960s – A quarter of…

At around this time the traditional dominance in the sweetshop of loose sweets sold from jars in quarter-pound paper bags began to be challenged by brightly packaged wrapped sweets or multiple packs

21. 1970s – Intergalactic theme

Space becomes an important theme in sweets marketing and packaging, with endless variations on rockets, spacemen and other inter-planetary exotica

22. 1980s – Penny chew

The heyday of the ‘penny chew’ — small chunky/chewy sweets which were in actuality often halfpenny or four-for-a-penny chews, such as Fruit Salads, Blackjacks and Mojos (for which there are plans for a return…). Pick-and-mix continues as a high-street sweets stalwart, with Woolworths the main store to offer it

23. 1990s – Internet shopping

The internet becomes a major avenue for sweets sales — especially of ‘retro’ or nostalgia brands which are often bought by adults for adults. The market is particularly strong for sweets sent as gifts to service personnel serving abroad

24. 2000s – Variation

Variations on existing brands become popular: mini versions, multiple versions, chunky sizes, new flavours (orange or mint chocolate), limited editions… In addition, sweets and chocolate manufacturers begin to factor in ‘lifestyle’ by makingsweets which are designed for sharing at home while watching favourite films or television, for example.

25. 2010s – Softies

The vogue for variation is extended into the world of chews, as favourite chewy sweets begin to be marketed in soft versions and new flavours.softies-news

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