Nuts have been a staple part of humanity’s diet for quite some time, and there is evidence of its consumption going back as far as 12,000 years ago. When it comes to candy, one has to consider where the nut fits into its history.
I’m going to play a little fast a loose with the definition of what exactly is a nut. After all, the two most popular nuts used in candy aren’t actually nuts at all. Peanuts, as most people know, are legumes, and almonds fall into the drupe category. There’s a reason as to why we think both of these as nuts that mostly falls under the argument of “experts of the culinary are not experts in botany”. For the purpose of candy history, I’m going to stick to the less restrictive culinary definitions.
While there are many different types of nuts out there, the two which should be focused on from an ancient candy history point of view are the almond and the pistachio. Both are known to the ancient world and both have been cultivated in some form or another for over 9,000 years.
The importance of almonds is not to be lost upon us. They’ve been part of the confection world since nearly day one, and today, 40% of almonds cultivated end up in one form of confection or another. The use of Almonds in medieval Europe calls for its own post.
What I want for you take from this post is quite simple – from a technological point of view, there’s not a huge difference from going from a variation of this:
to a variation of this:
If honey was around, and nuts were around, then there’s enough cicumstantial evidence that allows us to theorize that some form of a honey/nut brittle was out there around 5000 BC. As always, the typical caveats of “we have no written evidence of such recipes” apply.
And once we have version of a honey/nut brittle, then we’re not that far away from nougat. But that also is a post for another day.