What exactly is rock candy?
Rock candy is the product of the further refining by crystallization of pure cane sugar. In fact, this process creates the purest form of sugar available because all impurities are excluded as the large crystals form. The crystal growth is based on the particular characteristics of sugar (sucrose) chemistry and cannot be done with the various sugar free substitutes seen in the market.
References to rock candy have appeared in literature at various points in history. There are several references to it in the poems of the Persian poet Jalal-ad-Din Rumi who lived in Turkey in the middle 1200's. One early English reference in 1584 seems to sum up the virtues of rock candy where it is quoted "White sugar is not so good for phlegume, as that which is called Sugar Candie." Shakespeare in Henry IV (1596) referred to its therapeutic value as a throat soother for long winded talkers.
The earliest known date that white sugar was refined was about 200 C.E. so it is probable that the further refining into what was later known as sugre candie was at about that time. In fact, in Western culture, sugar was used only for its medicinal and preservative properties into the middle of the eighteenth century. It was at this point that people discovered one of its sweeter qualities—it made a tasty treat that everyone could enjoy.
At time the lines of what constituted rock candy have blurred as manufacturers have taken different directions as far as the shape and quality of the product is concerned. Rock candy’s traditional crystalline form was replaced by molded and shaped candies. Thus, these were called hard candy instead of rock candy. For those who limit the usage of the term rock candy, these molded candies are not the same at all. It is hard to say which is right as the term has become so fluid over the years, with each candymaker defining it to fit their current needs.
Today, Rock Candy is primarily used in two ways: as a delicious confection enjoyed by children and adults alike, and as an elegant sweetening alternative to ordinary table sugar for coffee and tea in fancy hotels and restaurants.