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What are Sweetmeats?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon284040 — On Aug 07, 2012

"....extremely high levels of fat and sugar."

Of course now we know fat=good; high carb= bad.

By WoodenSpoon — On Jan 28, 2012

You need to be aware that sweetbreads is also used as the culinary term for testicles.

By tmacsgirl — On Jul 14, 2010

Some traditional Asian sweetmeats are jalebi, ladoo, gulab, juman, and burfi. These sweetmeats are typically made using sugar, sweetened condensed milk, full cream milk powder, ghee, and coconut. The popular Asian desserts are delicious, but do pose a major health threat for those consuming them because they offer little to no nutritional value and extremely high levels of fat and sugar.

By showered72 — On Jul 14, 2010

In the Deep South, "sweetmeat" is often used to describe someone who is a target of mosquito bites. The person might refer to himself/herself as "sweetmeat" because the mosquito so readily "devours" (i.e. bites) them. When used in this context, "sweetmeat" is colloquial.

By USBcable — On Jul 14, 2010

@pocurana - It's quite possible that the word "meat" is used to describe these sweet candies in relation to the core of the candy rather than the meat (as in dead animal meant to for consumption) we think of most often today. The inside of nuts and fruits is sometimes referred to as the "meat" of that food. It is often the most flavorful part, which is likely the reasoning and origination for the term "sweetmeat."

By pocurana — On Nov 06, 2009

I don't get why "they" chose this name. I think sweetbreads and sweetmeats should be switched. Meat for meat, and bread for confections. While bread doesn't perfectly describe confections it's pretty darn close...certainly closer than meats!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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