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Honeycomb toffee: The story of sugar

Even though we all know we should avoid eating too much sugar, this white or brown luscious substance is an elementary part of our daily diet. Every culture around the world has its beloved sweet confectioneries to be proud of. It is not to say much to that, say since sugar has conquered the world, it has become an essential element of most of the cuisines of both Eastern and Western cultures. One of the simplest and most widespread confectioneries is the so called honeycomb toffee which has many names in different countries such as cinder toffee in Britain, hokey pokey in New Zealand, sponge candy in the US, törökméz in Hungary, dalgona in Korea and karumeyaki in Japan. The recipes and the preparing processes are slightly different in every country, but the main idea of heating sugar with a pinch of baking soda is the same. This delicious confectionary is a mere celebration of sugar itself.  

Sugar has changed the world fundamentally. By mass production and consumption of sugar not only our diet had become sweeter but the “white gold” has had a major impact on the history of America. The everyday word “sugar” refers to sucrose which is refined from sugar cane or sugar beet. Sugarcane cultivation and the global trade of sugar have significantly formed the global economy and the cultural heritage. The “bittersweet history of sugar” was coupled with the colonisation of the Global South and the Atlantic slave trade. Consuming sugar is so obvious for us but it was not the case in Europe before the 17th century. During the Middle Ages sugar was a niche product and therefore only the richest could afford to eat sugar once in a while. During those centuries sugar was considered as a unique eastern spice and medicine. Unlike in Europe, the consumption of sugar in Asia has a much longer history. The first chemically refined sugar appeared in India approximately 2500 years ago and then spread towards China, Persia and later Mediterranean Europe through Islamic traders. 

Even though nowadays sugar and sugary products are far from being luxurious and a symbol of human exploitation, they remain controversial but in a very different sense. Sugar is no longer considered a medicine as it was in the Middle Ages, but it is to blame for obesity as a global health issue. Eating too much sugar is undoubtedly unhealthy even though sweets give us pleasure. It is up to us to find a healthy balance between avoiding sugar completely from our diet and eating an unhealthy amount of it. The best way to be able to control our sugar intake is to make our own confectioneries and avoid factory-made products. To satisfy our sugar craving making honeycomb toffee is the simplest and most traditional way. As it was already mentioned, this sweet is part of many different cuisines. Among the slightly different versions karumeyaki, the Japanese honeycomb toffee, is the most amazing. As we all know Japanese cuisine is famous for its precise techniques, high quality and fresh ingredients and the passion of the chefs. Even though making honeycomb toffee does not require special techniques or equipments, the Japanese version is all about the details. The art of making karumeyaki is a very important tradition of the country. This sweet treat is a usual element of Japanese street festivals where street vendors are making it in front of the customers. The special equipments of the vendors such as copper ladles and wooden mortars make the whole scene as some kind of science experiment. Even though watching the street vendor making karumeyaki seems magical, it is actually easy to make it at home. In one of our previous blog posts we shared our favourite karumeyaki recipe with you1. By following it you can make your amazing Japanese honeycomb toffee. Eating homemade sweets is the best way to treat ourselves and our family with something special!

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