Sugar candy is any candy whose primary ingredient is sugar. The main types of sugar candies are hard candies, fondants, caramels, jellies, and nougats. In British English, this broad category of sugar candies is called sweets, and the name candy or sugar-candy is used only for hard candies that are nearly solid sugar.
Sugar candy is a sub-type of candy, which includes sugar candies as well as chocolates, chewing gum and other sweet foods. Candy, in turn, is a sub-type of confectionery, which also includes sweet pastries and sometimes ice cream.
The oldest sugar candies are presumed to have been made where the sugar cane plant was domesticated. Sugar cane probably originated in Papua New Guinea, and from there was taken to Southeast Asia and other Pacific Islands, and ultimately to India and China. From India, sugar spread to the Arab states and eventually to Europe.
Sugar candy is often used to sweeten tea. Northern Germany, specifically East Frisia, has an established tea culture, where a large crystal of sugar candy (Kandiszucker or in the regional dialect Kluntje) is placed at the bottom of the cup and the hot tea added, which cracks and dissolves the crystal. Similarly in Iran, tea is consumed with sugar candy (called nabat) placed either in the tea or in the mouth. In China, sugar candy is used to sweeten Chrysanthemum tea as well as Cantonese dessert soups and the liquor baijiu.
Sugar candy is a common ingredient in Chinese cooking, and many households have sugar candy available to marinate meats and add to stir fry. Sugar candy is also regarded as having medicinal properties and is used to prepare food such as yao shan. It is a common ingredient in Tamil cuisine, particularly in the Sri Lankan city of Jaffna.
Chemically, sugar candies are broadly divided into two groups: crystalline candies and amorphous candies. Crystalline candies are not as hard as crystals of the mineral variety, but derive their name and their texture from their microscopically organized sugar structure, formed through a process of crystallization, which makes them easy to bite or cut into. Fudge, creams, and fondant are examples of crystalline candies. Amorphous candies have a disorganized crystalline structure. They usually have higher sugar concentrations, and the texture may be chewy, hard, or brittle. Hard candies, such as lollipops, caramels, nut brittles and toffees are all examples of amorphous sugar candies, even though some of them are as hard as rocks and resemble crystals in their overall appearance.
Crystalline sugar candies are chemically described as having two phases, because the tiny, solid sugar crystals are suspended in a thick liquid solution. These are also called grained candies, because they can have a grainy texture. Amorphous sugar candies have only one phase, which is either solid or liquid, and do not have a grainy texture, so they may be called ungrained.
Commercially, sugar candies are often divided into three groups, according to the amount of sugar they contain:
Each of these three groups contains both crystalline (grained) and amorphous (ungrained) sugar candies.
Historically, candy was used not only as food but also as pharmaceutical preparations, to disguise the unpleasant taste of the drug ingredients. Cough drops and some other drugs show this heritage in the form of sugar tablets containing drugs, active drug ingredients being added to hard candies, and panned sugar coatings surrounding unpalatable pills.
During the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas authorized the consumption of sugar candy during the fasting period of Lent, because "sugared spices" (such as comfits) were, in his opinion, digestive aids on par with medicine rather than food.
Shelf life is largely determined by the amount of water present in the candy and the storage conditions. High-sugar candies, such as hard candies, can have a shelf life of many years if kept covered in a dry environment. Spoilage for low-moisture candies tends to involve a loss of shape, color, texture and flavor, rather than the growth of dangerous microbes. Impermeable packaging can reduce spoilage due to storage conditions.
Candies spoil more quickly if they have different amounts of water in different parts of the candy (for example, a candy that combines marshmallow and nougat), or if they are stored in high-moisture environments. This process is due to the effects of water activity, which results in the transfer of unwanted water from a high-moisture environment into a low-moisture candy, rendering it rubbery, or the loss of desirable water from a high-moisture candy into a dry environment, rendering the candy dry and brittle.
Another factor, affecting only non-crystalline amorphous sugar candies, is the glass transition process. This can cause amorphous candies to lose their intended texture.
In George Orwell's satirical book Animal Farm which equates the Soviet Union with an animal farm ruthlessly dominated by a ruling class of pigs, a raven called Moses regales Animal Farm's denizens with tales of a wondrous place beyond the clouds called "Sugarcandy Mountain, that happy country where we poor animals shall rest forever from our labours!" Orwell portrays established religion as "the black raven of priestcraft—promising pie in the sky when you die, and faithfully serving whoever happens to be in power." The pigs bring the exiled raven back (Ch. IX), as Stalin brought back the Russian Orthodox Church.
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