The Origins of 10 Tasty Treats

Feast your eyes on the origins of delicious treats, from the mystery of who made the first s’more to the dentists who invented a popular carnival snack.
Cupcakes are older than you might think.
Cupcakes are older than you might think. / Barbara Ferra Fotografia/Moment/Getty Images

Whether you’re wild about whoopie pie, can’t get enough cotton candy, or simply want s’more s’mores, finding out more about the origins of these tasty treats is pretty sweet.

1. S’mores

S'mores on a table
The origin of s’mores is a mystery. / Lew Robertson/Corbis/Getty Images

While we know plenty about graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate, it’s a s’mystery who invented the sweet treat that combines all three. The first published recipe for “Some More”—which has been credited to Loretta Scott Crew—appears in the 1927 scouting handbook Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts. S’more made the cut to join the dictionary in 1974.

2. Candy Corn

Close up of candy corn
Candy corn was invented in Philadelphia. / REKINC1980/E+/Getty Images

Love it or hate it, candy corn might be the most famous Halloween candy of all time. A Philadelphia confectioner introduced the sugary kernels in the 1880s, cooking the ingredients into a slurry and pouring the three individually colored sections into a mold by hand. Now machines do all the work, so you can find candy corn in various color combinations all year long.

3. Snow Cones

The world discovered the crunchy-cold refreshment of snow cones when ice became commercially available in the 1850s and people began adding eggs, vanilla, and sugar to sweeten it. By the 1870s, theater patrons could order hand-shaved ice in a variety of flavors. Various electric ice shavers were patented in the 1890s, making snow cone production quick and easy during the Great Depression, when the inexpensive dessert was called “the Hard Times Sundae.”

4. Cupcakes

colorful cupcakes on a table
The first recipe for cupcakes dates back to the 18th century. / Alexander Spatari/Moment/Getty Images

Tiny, frosted cakes go all the way back to the 1796 American Cookery cookbook by Amelia Simmons. She called her recipe “cake to be baked in small cups.” The more succinct cupcake first appeared in the 1828 cookbook Seventy-Five Receipts by Eliza Leslie.

5. Caramel Apples

Caramel apples with nuts
Caramel apples came from an enterprising Kraft employee. / Ryan Benyi Photography/Image Source/Getty Images

The sugar-coated candy apple is said to have originated in a Newark, New Jersey, candy shop in 1908. But the softer, gooier caramel version is credited to Dan Walker, a Kraft Foods employee who was looking for uses for leftover Halloween caramel. The first caramel apple-making machine was patented in 1960 by Vito Raimondi, whose company still builds the machines for other candy makers.

6. Whoopie Pie

Three Whoopie pies on a plate
The origin of Whoopie pies is contested. / Photo by Brian T. Evans/Moment/Getty Images

A number of U.S. states has whooped and hollered over who gets credit for this soft cookie sandwich. According to Pennsylvania legend, an Amish woman made the first whoopie pies with leftover cake batter and icing and served them to her farmer husband and children, who all exclaimed “Whoopie!” Residents of Maine tell the same story—except they credit the creation to an unnamed Bangor bakery owner. In Boston, some people claim a defunct local bakery invented the treat in 1931. Let’s just all agree to eat whoopie pie.

7. Cotton Candy

Pink cotton candy on a blue background
Cotton candy was created by ... dentists. / Corbis/VCG/Getty Images

Spun sugar was a rare—and very labor-intensive—treat when it was first introduced in the 18th century. Cotton candy couldn’t have been introduced to the masses at the 1904 World’s Fair without the mechanical help of a dentist. Dr. William Morrison teamed up with confectioner John C. Wharton in 1897 to invent the first cotton candy machine. Then, in 1921, another dentist patented his own machine, along with the term cotton candy. Did these dentists think cotton candy was better than other confections, because it’s mostly air? Or did they anticipate that cavity-causing snacks would ultimately lead to more business? We’ll never know for sure.

8. Jelly Beans

Jelly Beans...
We have jelly beans thanks to Turkish delight. / Wolfgang Kaehler/GettyImages

The origin of jelly beans is murky. According to one oft-told but doubtful tale, Boston confectioner William Schrafft sold jelly beans and encouraged customers to send them to soldiers fighting in the Civil War. But jelly beans weren’t mentioned in print until 1905. The slang term jelly bean soon came to refer to dandies who attracted the ladies by dressing well and offering little else; a foolish or dishonest person; a sweetheart; or something who “is devoted to pleasure rather than work,” according to Green’s Dictionary of Slang.

Of course, you couldn’t have the jelly bean without its confectionery predecessor, the Turkish delight. It’s said to have originated in Istanbul in 1777.

9. Ice Cream Sandwich

Close up of an ice cream sandwich in paper
The ice cream sandwich originated on the streets of New York. / Jamie Grill/Tetra Images/Getty Images

Before ice cream trucks drove through Manhattan streets, there were hokey-pokey vendors, people who sold single slabs of ice cream between pieces of paper in the late 1800s. Eventually, someone had the brilliant idea to put the ice cream between two wafers to make it easier to eat and carry. Soon chocolate wafers on either side of vanilla ice cream became the norm.

10. Salt Water Taffy

Atlantic City’s most famous treat wasn’t just an accident, it was a disaster. Legend has it that when a candy store flooded after a storm in 1883, its entire stock of taffy was ruined ... or so the owner thought. A little girl bought the so-called “salt water taffy” anyway and loved the sweet and salty combination, and soon, adults and children alike started requesting it. That story might just be a marketing ploy, but eventually the taffy did become a boardwalk staple, and two men—Enoch James and Joseph Fralinger—claimed to have invented it. In the 1920s, Wildwood, New Jersey’s John R. Edmiston trademarked salt water taffy and tried to sue other candy companies using the term. The Supreme Court ruled against him.