The sweets that killed

Would you eat con­fec­tionery con­tain­ing metal and paraf­fin? The Vic­to­ri­ans did!

TV Times - - My Week - Caren Clark

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…

adul­ter­ation was

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?

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