The sweets that killed
Would you eat confectionery containing metal and paraffin? The Victorians did!
sweets could be toxic…
‘Adulteration could cause food
FOOD The Sweet Makers Wednesday / BBC2 / 8.00Pm
Sweet-toothed Victorians just couldn’t get enough of toffees and chocolates, but as BBC2’S The Sweet Makers shows this week, consumers in the 19th and early 20th century may have been putting their lives at risk because of the toxic ingredients some confectioners were using.
The show’s co-presenter, food historian Dr Annie
Gray, tells us more…
a big problem… ‘Small-scale confectioners would compete in a large market so they would add products that were cheap even if they weren’t officially edible. We got our confectioners on the show to try to see if they could make toffee with paraffin because it’s a cheaper fat.’
Metal was used for food
colourings… ‘Previously, some dyes were naturally derived from things like spinach, but later they would put vinegar with copper to get a green verdigris colouring and sometimes lead was used.’ poisoning or stomach upsets, but it could be worse if you were weak or malnourished. There was the case of a confectioner who accidentally used arsenic in his sweets instead of plaster of Paris – a mistake that had fatal results.’
sugar was cheap… ‘In 1874, the duty on sugar was slashed, so confectioners could buy lots of it. It meant the working classes could afford to consume more of it, so it was no longer just for the
rich and middle classes.’
sweets were like
something from Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory… ‘Boiled sweets were huge, and the flavours and colours were fantastical. They often came in fancy boxes that people would save up for with coupons and you could even get a free clock with them!’ Queen victoria sent Boer war soldiers chocolate… ‘And Queen Mary did the same in the First World War. It’s heartrending to read letters of thanks the soldiers sent back. It meant so much to these men dying in the mud of Flanders to receive a bar of chocolate. But many never ate it because they liked having this link to home or something to save until after the war.’
Sweet treat: delicious… but deadly?