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What are Confections?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 16, 2024
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Confections are a general class of food that includes any number of “sweets.” Regional differences may result in some things being classified as confections in one area but not in another, and there are a number of sweet foods or food-like items that some people may consider part of this class and others may not. As a general rule of thumb, they are sweets that don’t require a spoon, fork, or knife to easily consume — with a few exceptions.

Confections may also be known as confectionery, and in different parts of the world, other terms may be used to describe the entire class or a subset of the class. In America, for example, the term candy is widely used to describe the bulk of confections, though it usually omits things like pastries and ice cream. In many other English-speaking countries, such as Ireland and the United Kingdom, the term sweets may be used to refer to more-or-less the entire class. It should be noted that while confectionery refers to the sweet itself, a confectionary is where the sweets are sold.

These foods can be grouped into an enormous assortment of types, some containing thousands of different varieties, and others with only a few. Some of these categories include lollipops, marshmallows, gummies, halvah, marzipan, chocolates, ice cream, licorice, gum, and pastries. Confections are found throughout the world, in virtually every culture that has access to sugar or a similar sweetener, and they come in myriad shapes and styles.

Many Americans think of confections as a class of sweets outside of both pastries and candy, while it technically encompasses both of these. While hard candies, such as lollipops or lemon drops, are part of the group, many Americans tend not to describe them as such. Similarly, chewing gum and ice cream, neither of which are usually considered candy, are not often thought of as confections — although they are.

Instead, the term confectionery is usually thought to refer to sweets that include fruits or nuts. Examples of this type include marzipan, halvah, and fruitcake. Marzipan is a sweet made with almond paste, which can be sculpted into a number of different shapes and is popular for cake toppings and stand-alone shaped sweets. Halvah is a Mediterranean treat made from ground sesame seeds. While such sweets are in fact examples of confections, they are scarcely a fraction of the whole.

It should also be noted that while confections are generally defined as sweets that can be consumed without utensils, there are a few that break this rule. Meringue, for example, is almost always consumed with a utensil of some sort, but it is also considered by most people to be a confectionery. Such exceptions are few, but they do exist.

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