What Is Salt Water Taffy and Does It Come From the Ocean?

My family, like many others in the Pennsylvania-Delaware-New Jersey tri-state area, would always vacation at the Jersey shore aka “down the shore.” Let me be clear: It’s not that Jersey Shore, the gym-tan-laundry one. It’s the Southern Jersey shore, which starts at Atlantic City and extends south to Cape May. As a kid, our favorite destination was Ocean City, a child’s boardwalk oasis with TWO different ride piers.

And no trip to Ocean City is complete without the following boardwalk traditions: Mack & Manco Pizza (now called Manco & Manco), Kohr Brothers ice cream, a trip to The Surf Mall, and, most importantly, fudge and salt water taffy from Shriver’s. And now, I’m happy to share the simple joys of the salt water taffy with the world.

What is salt water taffy?

Traditional taffy is a chewy, stretchy candy that comes in bright colors and a wide variety of flavors. It is often circular in shape and wrapped in wax paper to keep the taffy soft for easy chewing. Salt water taffy is essentially the same thing, though it often comes in a long, cylindrical shape. 

Taffy candy has been around since 1817, but the salt water variety got its start in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the 1880s. Anyone who has been to present-day Atlantic City might be surprised to learn that it was once a whimsical resort town popular with Victorian bathers in full-body suits and handlebar mustaches. Sad to say, the only whimsy from that bygone era that still remains is the candy.

James Fralinger was the first and most successful salt water taffy salesman in Atlantic City and his enterprise soon expanded to other beachside towns like Ocean City. A competitor of his—Enoch James—is credited with softening up the taffy recipe and mechanizing its production. Both names still adorn candy shops on the boardwalk.

Why is it called salt water taffy?

One tale claims that a Fralinger’s worker, either through laziness or ingenuity, replaced fresh water with seawater in a batch of taffy and magically created something special. Another says that after a nasty flood, the surviving boxes of taffy were coated in seawater and sold to unsuspecting children who just thought it tasted better. Sadly, these stories are mostly apocryphal.

The real reason for the name likely comes down to a marketing tactic. In Philadelphia and some of its surrounding areas, the word taffy is used in place of lollipop; Tootsie Pops, Dum Dums, and the like are all “taffies.” So, it could be that, to avoid confusion, the moniker salt water taffy (as in, taffy sold by the sea) was adopted.

What is salt water taffy made of?

For the most part, there is no actual salt in salt water taffy. The most common ingredients in salt water taffy are sugar, cornstarch, corn syrup, glycerine, water, and butter, along with a variety of natural and artificial flavors and colors, depending on the type.

How is salt water taffy made?

All the ingredients are cooked up and they form the sticky base for the taffy. This base is cooled and the flavors and colors are added to it. The big hunk of taffy is then stretched using a machine; this process aerates the candy making it soft and chewable. Other machines stretch and shape the taffy into a long rope, cut it, and wrap the pieces individually.

If you ever have the pleasure of visiting Shriver’s on the Ocean City boardwalk, you can watch the entire process; it’s a lot of fun and the memories I have there will stick with me forever.

Is salt water taffy vegan or gluten free?

Unfortunately, many salt water taffy recipes include butter, which makes them not vegan-friendly. Good news for celiacs, though: Most salt water taffy is gluten free!

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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