Celebrating a century of gummy goodness

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Every year around Nov. 1, I start a program in our home designed to keep my kids happy, healthy and generally on the right track.

What I do each and every year is that I ask the kids to put all of the candy they collected during Halloween into a big bowl and then, when they are either asleep or otherwise distracted, I eat large quantities of it, so as to reduce the numbers of cavities they get while also helping them avoid all that delicious sugar and those savoury packs of chips that can be very detrimental to their health.

It is selfless work that I do, trying to help the children, but dear readers please don’t nominate me for some sort of Parent of the Year award – I’m not in this for glory. I’m merely looking out for my young-in’s (takes out hankie, wipes fake tears from eyes).

Okay, enough with the gibberish. I admit it. I steal (much prefer the terms ‘appropriate’ or ‘reclaim’) candies from my kids’ Halloween collection and eat them. Why? Because some (not all) of these small candies are just so darned delicious. I might be a horrible person, but this is a hill I am definitely willing to die on.

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In any event this year, aside from collecting an assortment of chocolate bars, lollipops, Jolly Ranchers and bubble gum, my kids also picked up something special – some wonderful person in our neighbourhood was handing out little bags of gummy bears.

For me, gummy bears are the top of the candy food chain. Nothing can quite compare to a delicious tiny animal-shaped snack filled with sweet sugar, heavenly glucose syrup, superlative starch, appetizing artificial flavouring, fantastic food coloring, mouth-watering citric acid and somewhat disgusting gelatin (for those not in the know, according to the internet gelatine is made up by the prolonged boiling of skin, cartilage and bones of animals…not exactly a dish for vegans. But boy do I ever find it delicious.)

Anyway, for a brief period in university my diet exclusively consisted of hot dogs, McCain Deep’n’Delicious sheet cakes and gummy bears, so whenever I stumble upon a pack of Haribo these days it brings back fond memories of a simpler time in my life.

Even though I have probably consumed tens of thousands of these small gelatin-filled bears over the years (as well as countless gummy worms, gummy cola bottles and many other objects made of gummy), I really never knew where they came from. It was only recently that I stumbled across the history of gummy bears, which is fascinating in its own right.

It all started exactly 100 years ago in the magical land of post-First World War Germany.

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A factory worker by the name of Hans Riegel, who lived in Bonn (later the capital of West Germany and popularly known as one of the most boring cities in the world), was living the dream working at a candy factory when he got bored and decided to freelance by making his own line of hard candies.

This being the not-so-enlightened 1920s, Hans made the candies and then sent his poor wife Gertrud out on her bicycle to sell his sweets at street fairs or deliver them while he stayed at home and played poker or drink beer or paid reparations or whatever people did for fun a century ago in Germany.

Anyway, a few years after flying solo in the candy industry, Hans decided to make a new soft, sweet and chewy candy that looked like a bear, because aside from poker, beer and paying reparations to countries that defeated them, people in post-WWI Germany loved nothing more than going to dancing bear shows, where bears would be dressed up in costumes and be generally humiliated in front of their peers.

The gummy bear as we know and love it, then, was born.

It wasn’t the first soft, chewy and sweet candy – wine gums, Jujubes and Turkish Delight all pre-dated gummy bears – but rotund German kids (and their equally rotund candy-stealing parents) went gaga over Riegel’s new invention (they were called ‘Tanzbärenin’ or ‘Dancing Bears’ in German) and by the time the Second World War unfortunately came to pass, Riegel and his company Haribo (a name created using the first two letters of his first and last names as well as the first two letters of Bonn) employed over 400 people and were making 10 tons of candy each and every glorious day, according to one article.

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Riegel died in 1945 but thankfully his sons Hans Jr. and Paul came to the rescue and continued making these wonderful candies. They made some small improvements, making the gummy bears look less gaunt and more chubby, became multi-millionaires and eventually introduced gummy bears to North America in 1982 (though if you were lucky enough like I was to have European relatives you might have gotten the chance to taste contraband gummy bears earlier than that).

As mentioned previously, the family-run business branched out beyond the gummy bear (including gummy frogs, dinosaurs, clown fish and, um, Smurfs) but to me the company’s signature dish to this day is still that delectable, colourful little dancing beast.

So a big thank you to whoever it was that gave out gummy bears this past Halloween. Rest assured that they were very much appreciated by one of Sarnia’s most discerning gummy connoisseurs. They were so good that I even shared a few with my kids.

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