History of Candy Canes: From the Iconic Shape to Flavor

Updated June 13, 2021
Candy Canes and Bright Christmas Lights on an Old Wood Background

Everyone is familiar with the hook-shaped red and white candy sticks that make Christmas just a little sweeter, but the actual story behind the candy cane is mysterious and fascinating. The history of candy canes is not a simple one, and there are some important developments that led to the ubiquitous Christmas treat you know and love.

Candy Cane Timeline

The history of the candy cane goes back more than 350 years. Although some parts of it are unclear, such as the name of the first person to invent the candy cane, you can see the way this sweet treat evolved into a Christmas staple.

Candy cane timeline

1670 - Possible Invention of the Candy Cane

While there are lots of theories about the origin of the candy cane, no one really knows who invented this iconic candy. According to the History Channel, one very possible story is that a choirmaster at Germany's Cologne Cathedral invented the peppermint candy to help keep fidgety choirboys quiet and focused during a creche ceremony in 1670. If this story is true, the hook shape may represent a shepherd's crook, but that part isn't certain.

1700s - Pulled Sugar Candies Popular in Germany

Pulled sugar sweets were all the rage in 17th century Germany, according to Susan Benjamin of True Treats Candy. Throughout the 1700s, these pulled sugar candies were all white, and the hook may have developed later as a method for hanging the candy cane on a Christmas tree. One German Christmas tradition was to hang cookies, candy, and other treats on the Christmas tree, and the hook shape made this easier.

1844 - Striped Peppermint Stick Candy Recipe Published

A recipe for peppermint sticks that were striped with color was included in the 1844 book The Complete Confectioner, Pastry-Cook, and Baker by Eleanor Parkinson. The book gives detailed instructions for leaving most of the candy white and dying a small amount another color, and then rolling the two colors together to create a twisted, striped pattern.

1847 - First Modern White Candy Cane

Benjamin reports that August Imgard, a Swedish and German immigrant who lived in Ohio, was the first person who created the candy cane in its modern form. Although the sugary sweet was not the red-striped pattern people think of today, it did have the classic candy cane shape. It also hung on a Christmas tree with paper ornaments.

About 1900 - Candy Canes Become Red and White

According to Smithsonian, red and white candy canes became popular around 1900, combining the classic red-striped peppermint stick with the hook shape. These candy canes were made by hand, making them somewhat costly and prone to breakage.

1957 - Automated Candy Cane Machine Invented

Invented by Gregory H. Keller, a Roman Catholic priest and the brother-in-law of the owner of the leading candy cane manufacturing company, the Keller Candy Cane Forming Machine received a patent in 1957. This machine made candy canes sturdier, reducing breakage, and made them cheaper and easier to produce. Their popularity soared.

Fascinating Candy Cane Facts From Today

Today, many people use candy canes to make holiday wreaths, create candy cane cakes, or simply decorate a Christmas tree. According to the National Confectioners Association, the following candy cane facts show that the modern candy cane is a classic Christmas treat that's more popular than ever:

  • 1.2 billion candy canes are manufactured every year.
  • 90% of candy canes are sold during the weeks between Christmas and Thanksgiving. The second week of December has the highest sales.
  • When it comes to candies sold in December, candy canes beat out every other non-chocolate confection.
  • 58% of people eat candy canes from the straight end, while 30% eat from the curved end. The remaining 12% break the candy up to eat it.

An Important Christmas Tradition

The fascinating history of candy canes is just part of their charm. These classic treats are simply an important part of Christmas. There are lots of ways to decorate with candy canes, and you can attach them to gifts or tape them to Christmas cards. You can even decorate your Christmas tree with a candy cane theme. No matter what you choose, you'll know you're using a confection with a 350-year history and a special part in the Christmas tradition.

History of Candy Canes: From the Iconic Shape to Flavor