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As you probably surmised from my last post, I’m on a bit of a candy kick. I have recently become obsessed with unusual, old-fashioned candies. Last week, I picked up a few strange confections from a local candy shop: Clove gum — delicious and spicy! Chimes Ginger Chews — tongue-tingling and addictive. Sen-Sen — one of the weirdest things I have ever consumed (more on that later in the post). And, Choward’s Violet candies

My obsession with old-school candies started a few months ago when I tried Choward’s purple wafers for the first time. It was a confusing sensory experience that was neither pleasurable nor entirely off-putting. It was — I imagined to myself — very much like eating a violet plucked straight from the garden, albeit crunchy. It reminded me of the first time I tried rose ice cream. I wanted to love that beautifully-scented, pink ice cream — but I didn’t. There was a disconnect between my nose and tongue that I wasn’t expecting, as if some primal switch came on in my brain that said “this is not edible!” But, I am not one to give up so easily — I am determined to appreciate both the Violet candies and the rose ice cream!

While it seems most people readily accept perfumes and fragrances with edible aromas (this is obviously a HUGE trend in the fragrance industry in the West), we are somewhat less open to the idea of eating things that have a direct connection with perfume fragrances — namely flowers or floral-scented edibles. After considering my ice cream experience again, I realized that the reaction was probably far more cultural than primal. Flowers are not part of our regular, everyday fare in the West. Flowers, for the most part, go in gardens and not on our plates.

Of course this distinction is not so clear-cut in other parts of the world (rose ice cream is common in the mid-east, for example) — and there are plenty of flowers that are perfectly edible. Sampling the Violet candies piqued my curiosity about the ways different cultures distinguish between those things which are considered OK to smell, but not OK to eat. I also learned that it has really only been in the past 50 or 60 years that we have become less accustomed to floral-based or “perfumed” edibles.

In fact, floral ice creams and candies were quite popular during the 19th century and early twentieth centuries in the US and Britain (The violet candies are a case-in-point). Folks seem to have been much more flexible in their notions of what their sweets could smell and taste like. Another obvious example of this is the most bizarre candy of them of all: Sen-Sen — a “breath perfume” that was invented in the 1890s. I hunted down a package of Sen-Sen after reading about the ingredients, which include: patchouli, geranium, ionones, orris extracts, nitromusks, anise, and clove, among others. That list read more like perfume notes than candy ingredients, so of course I was fascinated!

The taste of Sen-Sen was…shocking…to say the least. That seemingly primal voice kicked in again: “This tastes like soap-on-a-rope…spit it out!” Oddly, Sen-Sen does smell wonderful, but I just couldn’t get past the perfume-like quality (the texture is bizarre, as well). This really has me wondering whether or not we can train (or re-train) ourselves to enjoy and appreciate these perfume-y tastes again, or whether it is simply a thing of the past.

I, for one, am going to continue on my strange little obsession for a while — mainly because there is at least one more unusually-flavored candy that I really must try (yes, I am a glutton for punishment): Musk Lifesavers! Yep. These are apparently an Australian confection, and they sound too bizarre to be true!

Have you tried any of these unusual candies? What was your impression?

Fragrantly Yours, Tara

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