The term sweetmeats usually refers to candy or sweet confections, and it is often shortened simply to "sweets." They likely first began as a way of preserving fruit and/or nuts with sugar. Since sugars act as a preservative, the process of making candied fruit or nuts might aid in keeping some food items past the point when they would naturally decay.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Ancient Egyptians may have been the first culture to make sweetmeats or candy, and they were likely made with honey. Doctors in the Middle Ages often concealed bitter medicine in candy form, so that it was more palatable to patients, although many patients believed that medicine wasn’t working unless it tasted awful.
Making sweets for pleasurable consumption date back in Europe to England’s sugarplums, in the 17th century. Sugarplums were boiled candy that was usually made from a combination of dates, almonds, spices, and honey or sugar, and they were often formed into plum-size shapes. Some also suggest candied raisins may have been termed sugarplums
When sugar became more commercially available, large-scale manufacture began. These included traditional products like Turkish Delight, taffy, toffee, tablet, and candies made with marzipan. All could technically be considered sweetmeats.
Frequently, the term does not apply to candies made with chocolate. Chocolate was a New World food, so its introduction into most households did not occur until well into the 17th century. Even without sugar, Eurasian peoples could make things sweet with honey, well predating the introduction of chocolate to Eurasia.
Sweetmeats often get confused with sweetbreads, but the two could not be more different. Sweetbreads are offal, taken from the thymus gland, pancreas, or genitalia of young animals, most often calves, pigs, or lambs. They are roundish in shape and are a favorite ingredient in many European dishes.