Lollipops, or suckers as some call them, are essentially hard candies with a short stick of some sort. The tightly wrapped white paper stick serves as a handle, and the hard candy lollipop is either sucked or bitten apart until consumed. Lollipops take an astonishing array of forms. There are the very small and popular "Dum Dum" lollipops with fruit and other flavors; the Tootsie Pop—slightly larger and filled with a chocolate chewy center; the Blow Pop with its gum center; and very large suckers that take all day to eat—such as those often found at circuses and carnivals. No matter what size, the lollipop is made primarily of sugar, water, corn syrup, and flavorings.
Lollipops are not complicated to make and do not really require special equipment for home production. Sugar-corn syrup solutions are cooked until the concentration of the solution reaches a high level, and this supersaturation of sugar remains upon cooling. A gas or electric stove may be used, with the temperature monitored using a hand-held candy thermometer until it reaches 310°F (154°C), or what is referred to as the hard crack stage. When the concoction is hot (and it is very hot—hot enough to severely burn the skin) it is plastic or malleable, and may be poured into molds that can be purchased in a variety of shapes. As the solution cools, it takes the shape of the mold, becoming "glass-like," as it may be broken or cracked like a piece of glass. The home lollipop-maker may add any desired colors or flavorings just before the lollipop is poured into the mold. Colorings and flavorings are commercially available. Recently, molds for domestic lollipop-makers have been developed and are easy to obtain.
While lollipops may be made at home, most people purchase inexpensive suckers at a local store. They are beloved by both adults and children. Children love them for their sweetness and novelty. Adults have increasingly turned to them to kick addictions to nicotine, because the motion of taking the sucker in and out of the mouth mimics the motion of the hand when smoking. Manufactured lollipops are consumed in huge quantities. Spangler Candy Company produces over one billion Dum Dum suckers a year, and the world's largest lollipop maker, Tootsie Roll Industries, turns out 16 million lollipops per day.
It is difficult to know when lollipops were first made by home chefs. Charles Dickens refers to candies on a stick in his novels of the mid-nineteenth century. These sweet hard candies were sometimes put on the end of pencils and sucked on and were popular around the time of the American Civil War. Older cookbooks make it clear that these lollypops were frequently made at home as hard candies that were simply dropped onto wax paper in globular form, with a wooden stick inserted into the hot syrup until set. No molds were necessary and thus the lollipop forms were rather haphazard. We cannot be certain which company first began to mass produce these confections. However, it is known that George Smith, a candymaker who liked to eat a competitor's chocolate caramels on a stick, attached a hard candy to a stick and referred to this creation as a lollypop (named after a favored racehorse of his named Lolly Pop).
Dum Dum Lollipops were first manufactured by the Akron Candy Company in 1924. Apparently, even at that early date marketers were wise to the fact that the name meant everything—Dum Dum was believed to be a name that any kid could say, and ask for by name. The Spangler Candy Company purchased that company in 1953 and continues to expand the line. By 1931, Tootsie Roll Industries had inserted their chewy Tootsie Roll into the center of the traditional lollipop, which is also still going strong. Refinements and variations on the traditional lollipop are myriad. Some have jawbreakers embedded in them, gum in the center, sour centers, sizzling candies inserted within, and a new twist within the last year is the lollipop inserted into a radio that turns on only when the lollipop is sucked on. Sugar-free suckers are now produced, too, in order to help limit tooth decay. An interesting innovation to the traditional sucker is the manufacture of flexible cellophane strips in place of the stiff paper stick in order to prevent puncture of the child's mouth. Other developments have included lollipops impressed with Halloween or other holiday motifs, so that some kinds of lollipops are manufactured only in season.
The ingredients used in the production of lollipops varies by manufacturer. The ingredients in a plain, hard-candy lollipop with no special center include: water, sugar, corn syrup, flavorings (both natural and artificial), and malic or citric acid. The paper sticks are generally constructed using tightly-wrapped bright white paper that has been bleached and coated with a fine layer of wax. Wrappers vary in style. Some are clear cellophane, while others are made of printed and waxed paper.
The Manufacturing Process
- 1 Lollipops are made primarily from sugar and corn syrup. Most manufacturers produce lollipops in enormous quantities and the raw materials are brought into the factory in bulk. First, dry sugar is brought into the plant in huge rail cars called gondola cars. These cars are attached to a liquidizer. The sugar drops down into 180°F (82°C) water and is dissolved. This is a lengthy process—it may take about nine hours to melt 180,000 lb (81,650 kg) of sugar (a typical amount brought in on the rail car). Once the sugar is dissolved into the hot water, the sugary water is pumped into the pre-cooker.
- 2 Corn syrup, a key ingredient in the manufacture of lollipops, is also delivered by huge trucks and pumped, in liquid form, into the pre-cooker. Eventually, there is 55% liquid sugar and 45% corn syrup in the pre-cooker waiting to be heated.
- 3 Once the corn syrup-liquid sugar mixture is in the pre-cooker, the solution is heated to around 228°F (109°C). The pre-cooker is essentially a set of coils through which the sweet slurry is sent. The coils are heated by steam.
- 4 This heated syrup is then pumped from the pre-cooker and sent to the final cooker where it is cooked under a vacuum for about four minutes to a temperature of about 290°F (143°F). The vacuum is essential to this phase as it removes the moisture and heat from the candy. Large final cookers can cook up to 150 lb (68 kg) of candy in a batch.
5 After the candy is cooked and just before it is mixed, color, flavor, and citric acid or malic acid are added. (One flavor of lollipop is made at a time.) These flavors and colors are in liquid form and have been carefully pre-measured in a vial before being added, by hand, to the candy batch. Citrus acid and malic acid are extremely important to the flavor of these pops. Citrus acid promotes the flavor of the citrus-based flavored lollipops and cuts the excessive sweetness as well. Malic acid is used to enhance the flavor of non-citrus flavors. The candy batch, now with flavor and color added, is thoroughly mixed using two huge arms that push the candy around and lift it up, mimicking human kneading. Mixing not only thoroughly distributes flavor and color but reduces temperature and removes air bubbles produced from cooking and mixing. Human touch (using clean gloves) is essential in order to feel the batch to ensure that the candy is at the right consistency and the right temperature to undergo the next step, extrusion.
- 6 Now the candy is made ready to be formed into a lollipop. The cooling candy is sent to the batch roller, which extrudes the candy through cones and rolls it into a fat rope. Then, the batch is sent to the sizing wheels, which reduces the rope to a smaller size.
- 7 The candy rope is then sent to the forming machine, which presses the heads into a spherical shape and inserts a paper stick at the same time. The machine is capable of forming 1,000 pops per minute. The lollipops are then cooled in a cooling drum that rotates slowly while the pops are exposed to cool air. After four minutes, they are at room temperature and come out one end of the cooling drum.
- 8 After the lollipops cool, they are moved by conveyor belts and dropped into the wrapping machine. The pops are automatically wrapped and sent to either a boxing operation or a bagging operation, depending on how they are to be retailed.
- 9 Some companies purchase their sticks for the pops. Others manufacture their own. Manufacturing of the tightly wrapped sticks often occurs at the same plant as the candy manufacture. First, a roll of paper goes into a cutting machine that cuts 2.5-in (6.4-cm) strips that are 15 in (38 cm) long. Then, the strips move into a large drum in which water is applied. The paper is then rolled like a pencil, and the roll becomes tighter and tighter. It is finally cut, dried, and waxed with a fine coat so that it will not dissolve when exposed to human saliva.
There are two places for quality control—in the laboratory and on the floor of the plant. The labs check the quality of all raw ingredients sent to the manufacturing floor. They check the sugar quality and make sure they have what was ordered. The chemists perform heat tests on the corn syrup, since poorly processed syrup turns brown and can ruin the color of the lollipop. The laboratory also pulls samples of the candy batch from the cooker and analyzes the moisture content, because too much corn syrup will make the candy too malleable and it will melt in warmer weather. Flavors and colors are carefully checked and tested, and measured precisely for inclusion in the batch.
In the factory, operators ensure that the machinery is clean and running properly. Some machines turn off the processes at certain temperatures or when the batch reaches a certain weight, so these machine-tripping devices must be carefully maintained as well. Operators use their eyes to discard heads that are not properly filled out (a problem in pressing the head) or whose sticks are not properly inserted. Random checks on suckers are performed regularly as well.
Any candy that falls onto the floor cannot be consumed by humans. It is usually sent to a landfill. Candy that is determined to be inferior in shape or color is generally ground up, melted down, filtered, and pumped back into the pre-cooker so that it may be re-used in a lollipop.
While each company produces new flavors in different ways, one company revealed how it actively develops new flavors that sell well immediately upon introduction. New flavors are developed using a hedonic taste panel, which tries a variety of potential new flavors. Each member of the panel ranks these possible products in a variety of categories based on whether they like or dislike it extremely. Once the potential flavors are narrowed down to a few, trained panels of tasters are asked to test them again as a group. Then, decisions are made based on the results of the two panels.
Where to Learn More
Spangler Candy Company. http://www.spanglercandy.com (December 19, 2000).
Tootsie Roll Industries, Inc. http://www.tootsie-roll.com (December 19, 2000).
— Nancy E. V. Bryk