Why is peppermint so ubiquitous at Christmas? Why not pistachios or rutabagas? One could essentially put two drops of peppermint extract in any edible product and BAM! It's a new holiday product.
It made me wonder about the history of peppermint and Christmas. Obviously, the movement has roots in candy canes, since all peppermint candies everywhere mimic the stark white and bright red color scheme.
At some point the flavor and the cane became hitched, but it's not clear where. However the candy cane itself can be traced back to a German church. Several centuries ago, people used sugar sticks to pacify crying babies. Suzetta Tucker of ChristStory Christian Bestiary writes that, "Before the invention of the modern pacifier, parents used to give their babies unflavored white sugar sticks to suck on."
Then, Tucker goes on to explain a German choirmaster in the 1670's bent the canes into a shepherd's staff and "passed out to children attending the Christmas services."
The custom quickly spread throughout Europe and people started decorating the canes, surprisingly without the guidance of Pintrest. Then, Tucker writes, around 1900 the canes received red stripes and peppermint flavoring, but she's not sure exactly where or why. According to Google, no one else is really sure either.
But, the symbolism for the cane (or shepherd's staff) goes bonkers from there; like the white represents purity and red the blood of Christ. Maybe someone added red strips to match Santa's pants and it's as simple as that?
Candy cane production really took off in the states when in 1950 Father Harding Keller invented a candy cane machine for his brother in law, Bob McCormarck of the original Bobs Candy Co. in Albany, Georgia. Per the site:
"Father Keller perfected a machine which twisted the soft candy into the spiral striping; then cut the sticks in precise measurements. The Keller Machine revolutionized the stick candy market."
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By 1956, the Albany Herald proclaimed Bobs "the world's largest peppermint candy cane producer."
But, it wasn't until 1958 that employees at Bobs tweaked Father Keller's invention and allowed the stick to be bent into a cane, or tiny shepherd's staff.
Other than the fact that a priest created the machine, it doesn't appear to have been a religious symbol -- just candy. Bob tapped his priest brother-in-law with the request simply because he had a penchant for invention.
So, it seems as though candy canes came first, then peppermint was added to them along the way. And it all just stuck. And now when you purchase peppermint-whatever over the holidays, you're really buying into the idea that we should give sweets to crying babies to get them to be quiet. And now with Starbuck's Peppermint Mochas, adults too.