You’ve heard the myth of Milton Hershey, right?
You know, the guy who started one of the biggest candy companies the world has ever seen. I’m talking about the daddy of delicious treats, the purveyor of sweets, the king of cocoa!
Well, I’m here to tell you that before Mr. Milton created one of the most iconic chocolate candy bars ever, he began his confectionery journey somewhere else—somewhere a little more sticky, like caramel.
You read that right, Milton Hershey (founding father of Hershey Company) originally sold caramel long before he ever dabbled in chocolate!
How do I know this?
Like all good candy lovers, I like to go beyond the act of eating candy and get a taste for its origins—where it comes from, who made it popular, and why are people today still snacking on this sweet.
As such, when I started to do some research on caramel, I came to find out that this stuff runs deep in the candy history books and has quite a backstory. So for your reading pleasure, here are the chronicles of caramel—the sticky sweet that has tingled taste buds for over 400 years.
What the heck is caramel, anyway?
Before I give you the lowdown on caramel’s history, it’s first important to really understand exactly what caramel is. We’ve all grabbed a Whether’s Original or Caramel Cube from our grandmother’s secret stash at her house, but few people know what’s packed into that gooey and chewy sweet.
Caramel is a combination of a few simple ingredients—sugar, water, fat, and milk. Now when combined in different orders, you can yield very different forms of caramel.
For instance, the traditional “dry method” of caramel making starts with boiling just your sugar and adding the other three ingredients after, whereas the alternative “wet method” boils sugar and water together as one and then adds the fat and milk later—this is what most caramel manufacturers do.
Depending on the method that you choose, your caramel will look and taste quite different—the dry method leads to a thicker, darker caramel that is used in hard candy, while the wet method tends to be used for more liquified forms of caramel, like the syrup you drizzle over ice cream.
Where did the caramel come from originally?
Nobody knows when the first caramel confection was actually crafted, but some say there are traces of caramel dating all the way back to 1000 A.D.—though it wasn’t brought to the states until the 1650s.
But these first caramels aren’t quite like the ones we snack on today. These things were hard candy—I’m talking rock solid—due to the combination of sugar and water that they were boiling over kettles.
Eventually, people got tired of chipping their teeth on these treats, so people started tossing milk into the mixture, giving it a creamy texture and stretchy consistency. This is what would become the foundational recipe for most modern-day caramel.
Today, there are hundreds upon thousands of different types, textures, and flavors that you can get your hands on, all containing that sweet caramel taste people know and love.
Yes, Milton Hershey sold caramel before chocolate…
Before you get up in arms over that statement, allow me to elaborate.
My man Milton is a candy connoisseur—I’m talking about one of the most passionate candy lovers in the game of sweets. As such, he was always looking for a way to make a living creating the sweets that he adored, so he opened his first candy operation in 1886 named the Lancaster Caramel Company.
The Lancaster Caramel Co ran from 1886-1900 under the supervision of Milton Hershey, slinging thousands of caramel treats every single day. At one point, Hershey employed over 1200 people in his caramel factory, making it one of the largest candy producers in the United States at that time.
During the Lancaster Caramel Co’s final years, Hershey shifted his focus toward chocolate and created the Hershey’s Chocolate Company as a subsidiary of Lancaster. Then in 1900, Hershey sold off the entire caramel business to The American Caramel Company for a sly $1 million thinking that it was just a fad and chocolate had more long-term potential.
I wonder what would have happened if he held onto it?
So what’s the most popular caramel candy in the world?
This debate could go on for years, but there is one icon that tends to stand above all the rest—Werther's Original Hard Candies.
I’ll be the first to tell you, these little caramel candies will take you straight back to grandma’s house when you were 7 years old. I can vividly remember them sitting on the side table next to her reading glasses and weathered sudoku book, waiting for me to grab a handful and stuff them into my pocket for future consumption.
Nonetheless, Werther’s has been a staple in the caramel community since 1909 when it was first created by Gustav Nebel in Werther, Germany. His combination of real cream, butter, refined sugar, brown rock sugar, and a pinch of salt was different than all other caramel candy at the time and when the world got a taste of it, they needed more.
Since then, Werthers has dominated store shelves and secret candy stashes for decades and continues to deliver one of the best caramel confections in the world.
All this sweet talk, it’s time to eat…
You on the other hand, probably could use some caramel candy in your life. So why don’t you head over to our caramel aisle, grab a few of your favorite sweet and sticky sweets, and cure those caramel cravings right now? See you there!