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Why Bubble Gum Is Pink and 7 Other Candy Questions Answered

Have you ever wondered why people give bags of Jordan almonds as wedding favors? Or why circus peanuts taste like bananas? Pop an after-dinner mint and settle in, as we dive into these and other common questions about your favorite candies.

Why Is Bubble Gum Pink?

Balls of pink bubble gum on a light pink background
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In 1928, an accountant for the Fleer Chewing Gum Company began toying with new recipes. At the time, chewing gum was extremely sticky. But this accountant, a man named Walter Diemer, struck upon a recipe that was less gluey and more stretchy, qualities that allowed him to do something unprecedented — blow bubbles. The color of the gum (the original Dubble Bubble) was supposedly born out of necessity: A diluted red dye was the only food coloring Diemer had available, which thankfully turned the grayish concoction pink.

Why Are Gummy Bears Shaped Like Bears?

Pile of differently colored gummy bears
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In 19th-century Europe, it wasn’t uncommon to see trained bears frolicking down the streets in celebration of a parade or festival. Called “dancing bears,” these animals would skip, hop, whirl, twirl, and perform an array of tricks. Fast-forward to the 1920s, when German candymaker Hans Riegel was searching for a clever way to sell his gelatin-based confections to children. Recalling the two-stepping bears of yore, Riegel decided to make an Ursus-shaped candy called Tanzbär (literally “dancing bear”). The snacks were a huge success. Today, you probably know Riegel’s company as Haribo.

Why Do Circus Peanuts Taste Like Bananas?

Close-up of circus peanuts
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The circus peanut is like a Zen koan: The more you think about it, the more your brain hurts. After all, it’s an orange peanut-shaped marshmallow with a taste reminiscent of a stale banana. (Even the makers of the circus peanut find it perplexing: “The circus peanut is such an enigma,” remarked Kirk Vashaw, then a Vice President at the Spangler Candy Company.) While the peanut’s origins are murky, the Wall Street Journal suggests that the “peanut-shaped marshmallows … were actually supposed to taste like peanuts … but the flavoring wasn’t stable. So they used banana oil instead, which was inexpensive and didn’t degrade.” There's also a rumor, shared by Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern, that the odd flavoring was the result of a "freak banana-oil accident."

What’s the Origin of the After-Dinner Mint?

Group of green and white spiral mints
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Invented in Great Britain, the “curiously strong” Altoid has been freshening mouths since the 1780s. But foul-smelling breath isn’t the reason candied mints became a mainstay at restaurants. In the mid-20th century, peppermint oil was touted as a digestive aid. In the early 20th century, sprigs of mint were offered to diners at the end of meals; eventually restaurants began offering buttermints, scotch mints, polo mints, and After Eights with the bill. (The creators of Altoids, however, were ahead of the pack. They had been marketing the mints as a “stomach calmative to relieve intestinal discomfort” for decades.)

Pastel colored Jordan Almond in a glass jar
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Jordan almonds are a type of dragée, a French confectionary technique that involves coating a treat in a hard decorative shell. Their name has nothing to do with the Middle Eastern country. Rather, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word is a descendant of the French and Spanish words for garden: Jardin. (Centuries ago, a “jardyne almaunde” referred to a specific variety of almond grown in the yard.) Eventually, a sweetened variety would become popular at Italian weddings; According to The Knot, “fresh almonds have a bittersweet taste, which represents life; the sugarcoating is added with the hope that the newlyweds' life will be more sweet than bitter.” Greek wedding guests are often given gift bags with odd numbers of Jordan almonds in them to represent indivisibility, while Italian guests receive five almonds representing five wishes: health, wealth, happiness, fertility, and longevity.

What Is Black Licorice?

Close up of pile of black licorice
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Redundant, for one. The extract from the licorice root, which comes from an herbaceous shrub grown in balmy climates, is naturally black. (Other confections sharing the name — like red licorice, Twizzlers, and other rope candies — don’t contain licorice at all.) Real licorice contains a natural sweetener called glycyrrhizin, which is significantly sweeter than sugar, making it a favorite of candymakers for centuries.

What Is the Origin of “Sweet Tooth”?

Candy shop with bins full of different types of candy
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Back in the late 14th century, English speakers began using the word “tooth” as a way to say “has a taste for.” (Such as: “Jim has a tooth for steak.”) This is where we get the word toothsome, to describe a pleasant meal. It’s also the origin of “sweet tooth.” In 1390, author John Gower had the first known usage in print, when he included the phrase in his lengthy poem Confessio Amantis: “Delicacie his swete toth Hath fostred.”

Why Was PEZ Invented?

Plate of PEZ candies in yellow, orange, and pink
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PEZ was never intended for children. The sugary tablets were originally created in 1927 to help adults quit smoking. The inventor, Eduard Haas III, was an Austrian businessman and a vocal anti-smoking advocate, and he believed a “cessation mint” made of compressed peppermint oil could help Europeans kick the habit. The PEZ (which is a condensed form of the German word for peppermint: pfefferminz) were first sold in tins and rolls, but for a 1949 trade show, Haas and his business partner debuted a dispenser that looked like a cigarette lighter. The product didn’t curb American smoking habits though, so the company pivoted to fruity flavors and turned the dispensers into toys. In the mid-’50s, PEZ dispensers resembling Santa Claus and Popeye the Sailor Man flew off the shelves, so characters like Mickey Mouse and Bozo the Clown soon followed.

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