History of confectionery

Just like its present day character, confectionery has a history that is colourful and lively. Entire books are written on the subject and its origins can be dated right back to the first cavemen! Just as history shows, there has always been more to confectionery than the taste. Today for example, many positive emotions are associated with sweets and chocolates; used to demonstrate love, lift the spirits, enhance an occasion or simply provide a reward to the consumer. A multi billion pound industry today that touches the lives of old and young alike, right across the globe, let’s look at some of the highlights from the history of confectionery.


Where did it all start?Liquorice Allsorts

Whilst much evidence is anecdotal, it is generally believed that cavemen first established the concept of enjoying a sweet treat. Perhaps this is where the history of confectionery starts. Much can be learnt from their drawings which depict men taking honey from beehives and dropping it into their mouths. So given that the history of sweets and the history of cakes and bakery items are somewhat entangled, it would be fair enough to suggest that it all started with honey!

Long before sugar, the Egyptians, Chinese and Indians also liked to combine honey with fruits and nuts to make natural sweet treats. Indeed Liquorice juice was extracted from the plant at this time, considered to offer many health properties. Evolution had much work to do before we could tuck into a handful of Liquorice Allsorts though.


The discovery of sugar – the “health” ingredient

Back in Roman times, sugar had been identified as a sweetener but most importantly as a product that could offer many healing properties. So initially, its use was confined to medicinal concoctions from the apothecaries.

However, when sugar processing was discovered, it became a sought after commodity and was highly traded.


The luxury of the Middle Ages

A more coherent history of confectionery originates from the Middle Ages when highly skilled and regarded confectioners became established in key cities, creating sweetmeats and treats that were only affordable to the very wealthy.

An eighteenth century confectioner found high status and great financial reward. His ingredients were expensive and if he did not have his own shop he would find ample work in the households of the aristocracy. It was fashionable to offer a “grand dessert” at elegant meals and this would include a spread of sweetmeats, biscuits and ices.


Boiled SweetsThe automation of the early 19th century

As the history of confectionery continues, sugar processing developed and some sweet treats started to be mass-produced instead of painstakingly by hand. These developments began the process of opening up the confectionery market to a much wider audience as availability grew through mechanisation and prices dropped.

Confectionery or confectionary? Read our point of view.


What about cocoa?

Good question! The Aztecs in Mexico were the first known people to use the cocoa bean to create a bitter drink. Only 1500 years later did someone think of sweetening it with a little sugar. This marriage of cocoa and sugar was perhaps the biggest stepping stone in the history of confectionery and it led to a chocolate drink making its debut in Europe, first reaching London in 1657.


The history of present day sweets and brands

So now in the history of confectionery we had the ingredients for the staggering industry that we know and love today: sugar processing knowledge that facilitated the creation of traditional sweets such as boiled sweets, bon bons and Turkish Delight coupled with the existence of a drinking chocolate sweetened with sugar.

A couple of hundred years later (not that long in our confectionery history) the very first chocolate bar was produced. In 1853, Fry’s launched their chocolate cream sticks, known later as Chocolate Cream Bars (launched 1866). Not far behind, John Cadbury had opened a Birmingham shop in 1824 selling tea, coffee and cocoa. Having dabbled in the creation of chocolate bars, he launched Cadbury Dairy Milk in 1905.


When was it launched?

There followed a rapid development in the range of mass produced chocolate bars available to buy, many still in existence today. Our knowledge on the history of confectionery can suggest the following launch dates:

1866 Fry’s Chocolate Cream BarFry's Chocolate
1905 Cadbury Dairy Milk
1910 Cadbury Bournville Plain Chocolate
1911 Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit and Spearmint Gum (UK Release)
1915 Cadbury Milk Tray 
1932 Terry’s All Gold
1932 Mars Bar
1933 Rowntree’s Black Magic
1935 Milky Way
1935 Rowntree’s Aero
1935 Kit Kat
1936 Quality Street
1936 Rowntree’s Dairy Box
1936 Maltesers
1937 Rolo
1937 Smarties
1948 Polo Mints
1948 Spangles
1951 Bounty
1958 Galaxy
1962 After Eight Mints
1967 Twix
1967 Marathon
1976 Yorkie
1977 Double Decker

Read our advice and information pages on the confectionery industry.


The future?

What we don’t yet know is what the history of confectionery will look like in years to come – we’re still writing (or eating) that bit of history! Given the incredible quantity of sweets and chocolate bars consumed today, even just looking at the enormous amount that goes through the doors at Hancocks, it’s certain that there will continue to be a strong confectionery story for many generations to come – long may they enjoy it.