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September 22, 2019

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Classic candies to whet the appetite

FROM a milk tea at Happy Lemons that one must wait five hours for, to a 55 yuan ice cream from Godiva, White Rabbit, a time-honored Shanghai confectionery company, is very ambitious in re-introducing and expanding the brand and its products.

In just a few months, White Rabbit has carried out multiple campaigns to be in the center of the spotlight amid a generation of trendy wanghong concepts. The candy brand not only collaborated with other food and beverage brands, but also launched a range of skin-care products with domestic fragrance specialist Scent Library and a series of clothing, as well as a liquid milk drink version of the famous milk-flavored soft candy.

What White Rabbit has achieved in making tradition fashionable again also brought people’s attention to other Chinese candies that are unique in flavor and culture.

This week, we are rounding up classic Chinese candies and exploring the flavors and tales behind the sweet treats.

Candies, anyone?

Children growing up in different parts of China are eating different kinds of candies with regional features. Hainan, for example, a tropical province, is famous for its coconut candies.

White Rabbit is a milk-infused soft and chewy candy in the shape of a small cylinder, while WoWo is a square soft milk candy of similar flavor. White Rabbit candies are wrapped in an ultra-thin piece of glutinous rice paper that prevents the candy from sticking to the wrapper, while WoWo is in small plastic packets.

There are two flavors of WoWo milk candy — original and coffee. The candies come in colorful packets and they are most popular with young school students.

Peanuts nougat is a classic candy one can find in most stores across Shanghai. It’s a semi-hard, chewy and highly affordable candy made with milk, sugar and toasted peanuts. The candies come in very small servings so they are perfect to carry.

Huameitang, or preserved plum candy, is a very sour sweet that can make a person salivate just by thinking of the flavor. Traditional preserved plum candy also has a hint of saltiness to it.

There’s another version of plum candy that stuffs a whole, extra sour preserved plum inside a piece of maltose sugar. This candy provides two unique tastes separately and there’s a lollipop version as well.

Similarly, aged tangerine peel candy made with powders of dried tangerine peel and sugar is also a sour-flavored candy that can boost the appetite. The candy is sometimes offered by restaurants before a meal.

Watermelon bubblegum candy is another snack that was popular in schools in the 80s and 90s.

The small, round bubblegum is covered in colorful watermelon-like strips, but the flavor is the same in different colors.

Dada bubblegum is a pink, strawberry flavored candy that’s sold in a plastic container as a thin roll, much like Scotch tape. The 120 centimeters of bubblegum can last a long time.

A lot of Chinese candies are linked with folk tales and tradition. Zongzitang, which is one of the oldest Chinese candies, is named after the glutinous rice snack eaten in celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival. The zongzi-shaped candy is made of maltose sugar, rose pedals and pine nuts.

The crystal-like hard candy is glossy and transparent, so one can clearly see the filling of rose petals and pine nuts. The taste of zongzitang is light, sweet and aromatic. Although candies are mostly sold as a snack that can last months in sealed packaging, some Chinese candies are best enjoyed fresh.

Longxutang, or dragon whiskers candy, is a very artistic, handmade sweet treat that’s often sold on traditional shopping streets. The candy is usually sold and made fresh because of its short shelf life.

It’s constructed of super thin candy floss that’s mainly made of maltose sugar with the help of glutinous rice flour and additional flavors of different nuts. The maltose sugar is first boiled and melted in a pot until it thickens and then left to reach a solid state when the candy is quite flexible.

Next, a chunk of sugar is formed into a ring over glutinous rice flour, then the steps of pulling, twisting, stretching and folding are repeated over and over until numerous strands are created. The sugar dough is constantly rolled in glutinous rice flour to prevent sticking.

The candy can be eaten as it is but also can wrap fillings such as sesame seeds and peanuts.

Dragon whiskers is one of the traditional Chinese foods that has made its way abroad. It can be made at home and one can find different recipes in English to make the fresh candy.

Sesame candy stick is another rural style, fresh candy that’s often sold on the streets in some places during the Spring Festival season. It’s more common in the north and has a very hard, crunchy texture. It has very strong sesame seeds aroma, but the candy can stick to the teeth.

Ginger candy, made with fresh ginger juice and brown sugar, is a hard candy with a pungent and spicy ginger flavor. Originating in the south, ginger candy is best enjoyed fresh, especially in humid climates.

Winter gourd candy is an extremely sweet candy made with strips of winter gourd, which are preserved in sugar and then dried. Although it’s called candy, it’s actually a type of guofu, or preserved fruit. The candy is not so popular nowadays because children have a lot more options to choose from, and adults find it too sweet and unhealthy.

Herbal candy is another major category of Chinese confectionary. Because of traditional Chinese medicine, many people believe the healing and soothing properties of certain herbs and they are made into portable candies for easier consumption.

Eucalyptus leaf candy is a sweet to sooth the throat. The triangle-shaped hard candy is refreshing and sweet with a hint of bitterness. It has menthol, camphor, eucalyptus oil and thymol added in the sugar and maltose sugar mixture.

Ginseng candy is another traditional herbal creation that has gained mixed reviews. While some people love the strong, medicinal flavor of the hard candy, a lot of others are voting it to be one of the most disgusting snacks in China.

The candy is made with maltose and ginseng extracts, the latter is believed to have the property of boosting the body.

Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa, which is a Chinese herbal cough syrup created a few decades ago with loquat leaf extract and an array of TCM ingredients, also has a candy version that can be found in convenience stores.

In 2018, the Wall Street Journal published a story about the herbal supplement claiming its success in New York as a secret remedy. Sales increased in the US as some celebrities are also taking it to sooth coughing.

The candy is hard, dark brown and quite refreshing in taste. It’s a little bit sweeter than cough syrup. The round tin box makes the candy very easy to carry on the go, and a piece can effectively sooth the throat.

Nin Jiom also sells three more flavors of herbal candies, plum candy, lemongrass mint candy and tangerine-lemon candy. The fruity flavors are easier for the palate.

Pear paste candy is another Shanghai specialty, it’s made with pure white sugar, pears and over a dozen TCM herbs including apricot kernel, tendril-leaved fritillary bulb, tuber of pinellia and poria cocos.

The candy is presented in the form of brown bar and the flavor differs from different brands. The early pear paste candy brands can date back to Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).


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