Although I don’t have the biggest sweet tooth, I do enjoy candy every now and again. My favorite candy is chocolate-covered gummy bears.
Candy has become a sweet tradition for many holidays throughout the year: trick-or-treating for Halloween, cakes and cupcakes for birthdays, chocolate bunnies, jellybeans, and Peeps for Easter, and candy canes for Christmas. To learn more about how chocolate became a Valentine’s Day tradition, read this month’s Ag Adventure page.
All of these holiday candy traditions have one thing in common: agriculture.
Sweeteners with agricultural ties include honey from bees; sugar produced from sugarcane, sugar beets, stevia, and coconuts; and syrup from corn, agave, barley malt, brown rice, and maple trees. Sugar can also be made from monk fruit, a gourd that is grown on vines in Asia, and syrup that has been made from the roots of yacón, a tuberous plant from South America. Naturally-occurring sugar alcohols, including erythritol and xylitol, are found in fruits and vegetables and are considered sugar substitutes.
According to the USDA, there are also six FDA-approved high-intensity artificial sweeteners: saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, neotame, and advantame. These sweeteners are called “nonnutritive sweeteners,” because they contain zero or low amounts of carbohydrates, calories, or energy.
Advantame, which was approved by the FDA for use in 2014, is derived from aspartame and vanillin, the main chemical compound of vanilla bean extract. Vanilla comes from the bean seed pod of orchid plants. Advantame is 20,000 times sweeter than granulated sugar.
Here is more information about ag-related sweeteners:
- Sugarcane is grown in the U.S. in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and Hawaii. Sugarcane is a tall perennial grass. It is planted from cane stalk cuttings, and it matures in 1 to 2 years. Two to four crops are harvested from the original cuttings before the sugarcane is replanted.
- Sugar beets are grown in 11 states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming. Sugar beets tend to be grown in rotation with other crops.
- Unless marked “pure cane sugar,” granulated sugar is sugar beet sugar or a mix of sugar beet and cane sugar.
- Corn is grown in every U.S. state, and Illinois is the nation’s top corn producer. High-fructose corn syrup is a sweetener made from corn starch at corn refineries.
- Stevia is a natural sweetener and sugar substitute derived from the leaves of an herbal shrub native to Paraguay and Brazil. The plant, Stevia rebaudiana, is related to chrysanthemums, chamomile, sunflowers, dandelions, and marigolds through the Asteracea family. Stevia is grown in Georgia and North Carolina.
Many candies have originated in Chicago, including Blommer Chocolate Company’s chocolates; Brach's candy corn; Curtiss Candy Company’s Baby Ruth and Butterfinger; Fannie May’s chocolates; Frango mints; Ferrara’s Lemonheads, Jujyfruits, Chuckles, Atomic Fireballs, Red Hots and Boston Baked Beans; Johnson’s Candy Company’s Turtles; Leaf Candy Company’s Whoppers, Jolly Ranchers, Milk Duds, Payday and Heath Bars; Mars, Inc.’s M&Ms, Three Musketeers, and Snickers; Schutter-Johnson Company’s Bit O’Honey; Tootsie Roll Industries’ Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Pops, DOTS, Junior Mints, Sugar Daddy, Sugar Babies, Charleston Chews, and Dubble Bubble; and Wrigley Company’s gum.
I hope your Valentine’s Day is “sweet!” Enjoy the holiday knowing more about candies’ ties to local companies and agriculture.