DOTS, the bite-sized, fruit-flavored gellies, are supposedly America’s favorite gumdrops. But, the well-known candy mirrored another popular, turn-of-the century sweet.
DOTS launched onto the candy scene in 1945 as Mason’s Dots, but they weren’t the first candy of their kind. East Coast confectioners Ernest Von Au and Joseph Mason formulated Black Crows, DOTS’ predecessor, nearly 55 years before. The dark-colored gumdrops with a black licorice flavor (what’s now called a "comforting, mature taste") became popular in 1890.
Prior to the 1900s, licorice was used medicinally and was thought to beneficial in nearly any way you could consume it. Because of this, licorice-flavored candies exploded in popularity, which possibly explains Von Au and Mason’s success with Black Crows, despite modern feelings about licorice.
For more than five decades, Black Crows were produced as a standard gumdrop flavor until their fruit-flavored siblings were introduced after World War II. The Mason, Au and Magenheimer Confectionery Manufacturing Company produced both DOTS and Black Crows until it was bought out by Tootsie Roll Industries in 1972. Candy production was moved from New York to Chicago, and the original Mason, Au and Magenheimer factory was recently transformed into New York City lofts. Now, a combined 23 million gumdrops of both flavors are produced each day.
DOTS are still made in their original flavors—strawberry, cherry, orange, lime and lemon—but some ventures into holiday themed DOTS have cropped up over the years, like for Christmas and Valentine's Day. There are even Halloween Candy Corn DOTS, though not everyone was on board with that classic-candy mash-up.
A universal experience for DOTS lovers is how hard the candies can get with age, and it all has to do with how the fruity drops are made and packaged. DOTS are starch jelly candies, meaning they’re created from sugar syrup that’s been pumped into cornstarch molds. Because the starch jelly process is used over gelatin to help the candy retain its shape, DOTS are considered a vegan candy (they're also labeled as kosher). After curing overnight in a 160-degree room, the gelled candy is popped out of the mold and sent toward boxing after being sifted from the starch.
But, it’s those simple, yellow cardboard packages that cut down on the candy’s shelf life. After DOTS are packaged, they begin to slowly lose their water content, which leads to hardening. Candy scientists believe a different type of packaging that better seals in the candies—like foil wrappers—could help them last longer than the cardboard boxes (and perhaps remove DOTS from the list of worst Halloween candies).
DOTS have become a class movie theater snack and Halloween treat, but there could be something more to them—like this mysterious, Virgin Mary-shaped DOT. In 2013, a Maine couple supposedly found an orange DOT shaped like the religious figure and sold the holy DOT on Ebay for a whopping $305. Perhaps divine intervention has kept DOTS at the top of the gumdrop charts for the last 70 years.