The jawbreaker is a type of hard, round candy that is ideally so difficult to bite down on that it must be sucked. Jawbreakers range from the size of a hazel nut to the size of a golf ball, and come in many flavors and colors. They are popular with children, and often sold in vending machines. Though originally a trade name, the term jawbreaker became so widespread that it is considered a generic name for any brand candy of this type.
Both written and pictorial records indicate Egyptians prepared sweets with honey, sweet fruits, spices, and nuts. Sugar was not known in Egypt, and the first written evidence of its appearance dates to A.D. 500 in India. The method of making sugar from the boiled syrup of the sugarcane plant spread from India through the Arab world, and sugar was introduced to Europe sometime around A.D. 1100 It was first thought of as a spice, and even up through the fifteenth century, sugar was so rare that it was used, for the most part, only medicinally, prescribed in minute doses by physicians. By the sixteenth century, widespread sugarcane cultivation and the technology for refining sugar developed sufficiently that sugar was not such a precious commodity. Small manufacturers produced crude candies in Europe at that time. The methods used were all simple, and produced the kinds of candies that could still be made at home today. By the late eighteenth century, entrepreneurs had developed candy-making machinery, and more complex candies were made and on a greater scale.
Candies are distinguished in broad categories by their hardness, and this corresponds to the temperature to which the sugar is heated. Sugar cooked at a low temperature results in chewy candy; medium heating results in a soft candy; and sugar cooked at a high temperature becomes hard candy, where the sugar is fully crystallized. The jawbreaker, being a type of hard candy, is similar to many candies popular in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. These hard candies were generally sold singly. A storekeeper pulled out the desired number of pieces from a loose bunch in a glass case or jar. By the mid-1800s, there were close to 400 candy factories operating in the United States, turning out penny candy and other types.
The jawbreaker was made famous by the Ferrara Pan Candy Company of Forest Park, Illinois. The origin of the name, however, is obscure. The word jawbreaker first showed up in the English language in 1839, used to mean a "hard-to-pronounce word." Later, it was used as a slang or derogatory term for a dentist. Ferrara Pan was founded by an Italian immigrant to the United States, Salvatore Ferrara, in 1919. Ferrara came to the United States in 1900. Though he was a skilled confectioner, for years he worked various odd jobs, including as dishwasher and as a railroad foreman. Eventually, he saved up enough money to open his own pastry shop in Chicago in 1908. Among his products was a kind of sugar-coated almond known in Italy as confetti. These became so popular that Ferrara started a separate company to make them. In 1919, Ferrara teamed up with his two brothers-in-law, and founded the Ferrara Pan Candy Company. The new corporation focused on making candies in the hot pan and cold pan process. Ferrara Pan produced many well known confections, including Boston Baked Beans and Red Hots, as well as its
The crucial ingredient in the jawbreaker is sugar. All other ingredients form only a tiny percentage of the finished candy. Jawbreakers use natural and artificial flavors and a variety of artificial colors. Manufacturers may also add calcium stearate, a binding agent, and a wax such as carnauba wax, to provide a shiny, polished surface.
Jawbreakers are made by the hot pan process, and the type of pan used is very important. Candy-making pans are little like pans found in an ordinary kitchen. They are huge spherical copper kettles with a wide mouth. The pans rotate constantly over a gas flame so the sugar inside is kept tumbling. The worker who makes candy in using these pans is known as a panner.
Quality control is generally simple for jawbreakers. They are a relatively pure product, since they are close to 100% sugar. Workers rely on visual inspection to make sure a batch of jawbreakers is forming correctly. Since the process of making these candies takes about two weeks, and the pans are open, workers have many opportunities to observe the jawbreakers and see that they are shaped right. Each day, a worker may remove several jawbreakers from the batch in process and break them open. The crystalline structure inside should look like concentric rings. Workers also do a taste test. Making jawbreakers is a process that requires little technology, and quality control does not demand any elaborate chemical or physical analysis.
If quality control reveals any defective jawbreakers, they cannot be melted down and reused. Since the sugar is crystallized throughout the product, it would have to be ground down. So there may be a small amount of waste in the process, if a portion of the product has to be thrown out. Otherwise, the manufacturing process creates no byproducts.
Broekel, Ray. The Great American Candy Bar Book. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, Inc., 1982.
Mintz, Sydney W. Sweetness and Power. New York: Penguin Books, 1985.
— Angela Woodward