What Do Candy Canes Have to Do with Jesus? Candy Cane Facts You Need to Know

The holiday season begins when the candy canes start showing up. I love the old school peppermint sticks but I’ll eat those fancy new flavored ones as well. You know, those weird ones that are like brown and green and have some kooky flavor like pickle? I’ll take them all. Candy canes seem so simple, but they do bring a litany of questions. Where did candy canes originate? Who invented candy canes? Why are candy canes red and white? Let’s discover all the twists and turns about candy canes!

Where did candy canes originate?

According to legend, candy canes were invented by the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany, in 1670. Apparently, he wanted his younger singers to shut up during the church ceremony, so he invented a sugary stick for them to suck on. In order for the church to approve of the youngsters eating sugar, they were made to resemble a shepherd’s crook in honor of the shepherds in the story of Jesus’ birth. According to this tale, the red and white stripes in the candy cane represent the purity and the blood of Jesus. 

Now, is any of this folklore true? Probably not, but it makes for a good origin story. Pulled sugar candies like candy canes were popular in Germany in the 17th century. The candy cane precursor was most like just a white stick—the red stripe didn’t become the norm until the late 1800s. The hook was probably added later so they could be hung as decorations. According to the National Confectioners Association, the first well-documented instance of candy canes being used to celebrate Christmas was in 1847 in Wooster Ohio, when a  German-Swedish immigrant named August Imgard used them to decorate a Christmas tree.

So, who invented candy canes? 

While we can’t be sure who exactly invented candy canes, we do know that a man named Bob McCormack from Albany, Georgia helped popularize them in the United States. He started making candy canes in the 1920s as Christmas treats to give out in the community. They became so popular that Bob couldn’t keep up with demand. So, his brother-in-law, Gregory Keller, created a candy cane making machine. The McCormack family continued making candy canes and shipping them across the country. Bobs Candies, as the company came to be known, continued to produce candy canes and other confections up until 2005 when it was bought from the McCormack family by the Ferrara Candy Company.  

best candy canes

Best Candy Canes

What’s the best type of candy cane to buy this holiday season? We tasted a bunch of the top brands on the market to find the best candy cane for your holiday feasting.

How are candy canes made?

Candy canes can be made and rolled by hand, but these days the process is mostly automated. That’s good, because nearly 1.76 billion candy canes are made in the U.S. each year. And that would be a lot of rolling. Candy canes are made with sugar and corn syrup. Those two ingredients are heated, cooked, and poured onto a cooling table where flavoring, usually peppermint, is added. The sweet stuff is then put into a kneader, then a puller, getting air into the mix and changing color to white. At this stage, the red stripes are added with food coloring and cylinders roll the mass into long thin sticks. Finally the sticks are cut and sent to a machine that adds the signature crook. 

Are candy canes gluten-free? Are candy canes vegan?

Most candy canes contain sugar, corn syrup, natural flavorings, and colorings. Nothing in the ingredients indicates that there is any gluten, so, yes, candy canes are technically gluten-free (but if you’re super-sensitive be aware that candy canes might be made in a factory where other gluten-full products are being made). Most candy canes are vegan, as well. But if you want to play it safe, look for candy canes that say “vegan” on the box. It’s possible that the red food dye could contain animal product, but that is usually not the case these days. 

Do candy canes expire? How long do candy canes last?

Candy canes don’t go bad for a while. As long as you store them in a cool dry place, candy canes can last for well over a year. Candy canes don’t last that long in my house, though. I usually eat them right away and then I throw all the leftovers at Santa. He dances for them.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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