Fun Foods – Jawbreakers

Jawbreakers. The candy industry’s legacy to the dental profession. There probably is not another candy anywhere that has the exceptional hardness of a jawbreaker or possibly as high of a sugar content.

Enough said. Now on to discover the unmitigated joy (and sense of frustration) that comes with the jawbreaker experience.

Ancient Egyptians used honey, sweet fruits, spices, and nuts to prepare their sweets. Sugar was not available in Egypt; the first written record about its accessibility was found around 500 CE, in India. India passed the practice of making sugar from the boiled syrup of the sugarcane plant to the Arabs who introduced, around 1100 CE, sugar to Europe. Originally, sugar was considered to be a spice and until the 15th century, was used only medicinally, doled out in minuscule doses, due to its extreme rarity. By the 16th century, due to wide-ranging sugar cultivation and improved refining methods, sugar was no longer considered to be such a rare commodity. At this point, crude candies were being made in Europe, but by the end of the 18th century, candy-making machinery was producing more complex candies in much larger quantities.

When sugar is cooked at a high temperature, it gets totally crystalized and becomes hard candy. The jawbreaker, very definitely a hard candy, was very much alike to several candies popular in mid-19th century America. Hard candy was usually sold by the single piece; the storekeeper removed, from a glass case or jar, the desired number of pieces. By the middle of the 18th century, there were almost 400 candy factories producing penny candy in the United States.

The jawbreaker rose to prominence due to the efforts of the Ferrari Pan Candy Company in Forest Park, Illinois. Founded in 1919, the Ferrari Pan Candy Company , the brainchild of Salvador Ferrari and his two brothers-in-law, specialized in candies made with the hot pan and cold pan process. Ferrari Pan now specializes in the production of its original Jaw Breakers, as well as Boston Baked Beans and Red Hots. Although there are many manufacturers of jawbreakers now in the 21st century, such as NestlĂ©’s Willy Wonka Candy Company and the Scones Candy Company, Ferrari Pan is still the most prolific manufacturer of pan candies throughout the world.

Jawbreakers, also known as gob stoppers (from the British slang: gob for the mouth and stopper as in to block an opening), belong to a category of hard candy where each candy, usually round, ranges in size from a tiny 1/4″ ball to a massive 3-3/8″. The surface, as well as the inside, of a jawbreaker is incredibly hard and not meant for anybody with a sensitive mouth. Jawbreakers are, for the most part, hollow except for the super-large 3-3/8″ ball which has a gum-filled center.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of the hot pan process of candy making. A jawbreaker consists of sugar, sugar, and more sugar. It takes 14 to 19 days to produce a single jawbreaker, from a single grain of sugar to the finished product. A batch of jawbreakers tumbles constantly in enormous spherical copper kettles over a gas flame. The kettles or pans all have a wide mouth or opening.

There are five basic steps used in creating jawbreakers.

  • Pouring the sugar A panner (the worker who uses the pans or kettles to make candy) pours granulated sugar into a pan while a gas flame preheats the pan. Each grain of sugar will become a jawbreaker as the crystallization process proceeds; other grains crystallize around it in a spherical pattern. The panner ladles hot liquid sugar into the pan along its edges. The jawbreakers begin to increase in size as the liquid sugar attaches itself to the sugar grains. In a seemingly endless endeavor, the panner continues to add additional liquid sugar to the pans at intervals over a time span of 14 to 19 days, with the kettle rotating nonstop. It is possible for liquid sugar to be added to the pan over 100 times in that 14 to 19 days. Either the panner or some other worker visually examines, at intervals, the jawbreakers to assure there are no abnormalities in the shape of the candy.
  • Adding other ingredients Only the outer layers of most kinds of jawbreakers have coloring. Only when the jawbreakers have reached almost their finished, target size does the panner add the predetermined color and flavorings to the edge of the pan. As the kettle continues to rotate, all the jawbreakers get evenly “dressed” with color and flavor.
  • Polishing When the jawbreakers have reached their optimal size, after about two weeks, they transfer from the hot pan to a polishing pan. Hot pans and polishing pans look very much alike. At this point, the jawbreakers are set to rotate in their polishing pan. Another panner adds food-grade wax to the pan so that each candy gets polished as the pan tumbles. Once polished, the jawbreakers are finished and ready to be packaged.
  • Measuring The finished jawbreakers are loaded onto a tilted ramp where the candy colors can be evenly mixed. Small batches of the jawbreakers roll down the ramp and fall into a central chute. The jawbreakers continue their journey by falling into trays arranged on spiral arms of the central chute. Each tray holds only a predetermined weight of the jawbreakers (i.e. 80 oz or 5 lb.)When that weight is reached, the tray swings out of the way so that the next tray may load. When the top trays reach their weight load, the bottom trays drop their jawbreakers into the bagging machine.
  • Bagging A large machine holding a wide spool of thin plastic on a revolving drum is used to automatically bag the jawbreakers. The machine forms bags of plastic, fills them with jawbreakers, and then seals the bags. The filled bags are now in the final stage of production. All that is left to do is to put these completed bags into packing boxes and off to market they go.

Word of caution: Jawbreakers are meant to be sucked upon, not bitten into, unless you fancy the broken tooth look.

Jawbreaker Trivia

  • A jawbreaker can be as large as a golf ball or as small as a candy sprinkle.
  • When a jawbreaker is split open, you will see dozens upon dozens of sugar layers that look very much like the concentric rings of an old tree viewed in cross-section.
  • A jawbreaker is not intended for the anxious person who is always in a rush. It can take hours to adequately consume a jawbreaker. Remember: suck, lick, whatever but do not try to bite through the layers. Jawbreakers are made of crystallized sugar which, at times, can be considered the same tooth-shattering hardness as concrete. Do be careful, please.
  • There have been at least two reported occasions where a jawbreaker has exploded spontaneously, leaving its consumer with serious burns requiring hospitalization. One explosion involved a 9-year-old girl from Florida. She had left her jawbreaker sitting in direct sunlight and when she took her first lick, the jawbreaker exploded in her face, leaving her with severe burns on several areas of her body. The other explosion took place on the site of the Discovery Channel’s television program MythBusters when a microwave oven was used to illustrate it can cause different layers compressed inside a jawbreaker to heat at differing rates and thus exploding the jawbreaker, causing a massive spray of exceedingly hot candy to splatter in a wide area. MythBusters host Adam Savage and another crew member were treated for light burns.

Happy licking!

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