Tuesday night, I stumbled across an episode of “Unwrapped,” a Food Network program that explores the history and background of classic American foods such as marshmallows. This 2001 installment focused on cinema snacks and provides some interesting ideas behind movie theater — and candy maker — innovation.
Millions of dollars of cinema snacks are sold each year, with popcorn and soda pop being the most popular items. But in the early 1900s, theater concessions were a rarity. Concessions were either hawked in the aisles before a film — or on the street outside the theater. After the Depression, as theaters began looking for other sources of revenue, Kandy Nooks were introduced. As the suburbs emerged in the ’50s, fully fledged concession stands were incorporated, and at least in multiplexes, the design of concessions was just as important as the layout of the theater itself.
The rest of the 30-minute program explored the production processes behind some of the more popular candy items:
Dots: Produced for more than 100 years, these candies were acquired by Tootsie Roll Industries in the early ’70s. Manufactured with a corn starch mold and sugar, the dots are cured overnight at 160 degrees before the corn starch is removed and the candies are glazed. More than 15 million can be made a day, and red is the most popular color.
Junior Mints: Also purchased by Tootsie in recent years, these chocolate-covered mints have been sold since the ’40s. Invented in Cambridge, Massachusetts, they were named after a popular play at the time, “Junior Miss.” Sugar and corn syrup is liquified, cooled, mixed with mint, and formed. Then it’s showered with dark chocolate and glazed. The recipe has never changed. “The manufacturer is careful about the formula,” said one interviewee. “What has changed is the presentation.”
Twizzlers: These licorice twists are produced by Hershey Foods near Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Made since the ’20s, the secret behind the Twizzler is a patented nozzle that makes the shape. Twizzlers are the No. 1 candy in theater concessions, second only to popcorn and soda. 200 tons are produced a day.
Mike & Ike: Made by the makers of Peeps, the Just Born Candy Co. in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, these have been produced since the ’50s. Tastless candy centers are swirled with flavor and color before being polished and lined with beeswax. While there’s a standard flavor set — lemon, lime, cherry, orange — some experiments have been done: Lemon watermelon, rootbeer, and licorice were tried and discontinued. Perhaps named after the performers in a Vaudeville act, 200,000 pounds of Mike & Ikes — Mikes & Ikes? — are made daily.
Whoppers: A Hershey Foods Corp. candy, Whoppers have been on sale since the ’20s. Made with whey, corn syrup, sugar, and malted milk, they’re called Whoppers because of the transition from an unexpanded center that is demoisturized to a malted-milk core four times the original size. Coated and glazed, the candy was once called Giants. 30 million are produced a day. That’s 7.5 billion a year.
Now, that’s a whopper of a product.