In the midst of a midlife crisis, Seattle author Kate Hopkins decided to embark on the ultimate childhood fantasy: tracing the history of...

Share story

In the midst of a midlife crisis, Seattle author Kate Hopkins decided to embark on the ultimate childhood fantasy: tracing the history of candy.

Researching her new book, “Sweet Tooth,” Hopkins indulged in marzipan in Venice and butterscotch disks in Great Britain, among hundreds of other confections. Along the way she uncovered the unexpected and often bittersweet history of sweets — from their simple, apothecary origins to their growth into a multibillion dollar industry.

On Thursday, Hopkins will celebrate the release of “Sweet Tooth” at Theo Chocolate, a hometown candy business she applauds, because “it hasn’t lost a sense of place or fun.”

Hopkins, a food columnist and author of “99 Drams of Whiskey,” recently talked about her journey, which was sugary, if not always sweet.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Q: Why did you decide to start tracing the history of candy? Why not other things from your childhood that you associate with happiness/simplicity?

A: I was looking for an item that brought back nostalgia and a universal, American ideal that when you brought it up, everyone could relate to it. We all have memories about Grandma giving us a piece of candy or trick-or-treating during Halloween.

Q: How did your overseas explorations affect the way you viewed candy?

A: Overseas, candy is much more appreciated by adults, and when I say appreciated, I mean it’s more acknowledged — whether it’s in Italy in confectionaries next to coffee or in the United Kingdom, where candy is the first thing you see when you walk in the doors of major department stores. They acknowledge the juvenile aspect of candy, but learn to appreciate it in another sense. Here in the United States, we don’t really acknowledge that perspective, but if we do, it’s marketed under the guise of exoticness.

Q: Did you consider traveling outside of the United States and Europe?

A: I would have loved to go to India, and I’d still love to go at some point. They have a confectionary tradition that is enormous. But the book is about nostalgia, so I knew it might be more difficult for the readers to connect with the Indian history of candy.

Q: Your book is about the “bittersweet history of candy,” and you address some difficult topics: the role of slavery and sugar in the Spice Trade, and the closure of small chocolate factories in towns due to large, confectionary corporations. Why do you think the darker side of the candy business has been overlooked?

A: In the end, the sweetness of the sugar is fun, and it brings about a sacrament of pleasure. It’s difficult to coalesce that with the reality of history. This little peppermint disk or chocolate has created such pain and misery. It’s an important part of the story, but it’s not often included.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.