Scotland’s sweet tooth

Scotland’s sweet tooth


There are stereotypes about lots of countries and their residents. A widespread stereotype about Scottish people is that we have a sweet tooth.

Like many stereotypes, there is perhaps more than a grain of truth to it. As the early dental records of this blog writer would attest.

While many of our traditional savoury recipes have fallen out of favour – not many people eat powsowdie in the 21st century – Scotland still has a wide repertoire of traditional puddings, cakes, biscuits and confectionery.

Sweet treats such as Edinburgh rock, Ecclefechan tart and tablet may not be widely known outside of Scotland.

However, for many Scots the mention of a poke (bag) of Lucky Tatties is enough to make them go misty-eyed with childhood memories of big glass jars filled with sweeties.

Sweet tooth

As a child in Dundee in the Seventies and Eighties, I enjoyed a balanced diet of egg and milk chews, fizzy Wham bars and sticky paper bags of boiled sweets which were sold by the quarter, or four ounces.

Deliberating over whether to blow my pocket money on Liquorice Satins or Granny Sookers could take up a large portion of a Saturday morning.

In fact, it is quite possible that I have made major career decisions in less time.

As it turns out, Scotland’s sweet tooth is deep rooted. Rather more deep rooted than my milk teeth were.

Soor Plooms or Hawick Balls?

There are a couple of theories as to why lots of Scots were, and in some cases still are, so passionate about boiled sweets such as Soor Plooms (sour plums), Hawick Balls and Berwick Cockles.

One idea is that sucking on boiled sweets could make an overly long church sermon that tiny bit more bearable.

Much more convincing is that Glasgow and the surrounding areas were major entry points for raw sugar coming from the West Indies from the 18th century onwards.

Glasgow profited hugely from the sugar and tobacco trades. These were largely made possible by first slave and then indentured labour – something which modern Scotland is only now getting to grips with.

At one point, fifteen of Scotland’s sixteen sugar refineries were based around Glasgow and the port of Greenock was known as Sugaropolis.

Much of the newly refined sugar didn’t leave Scotland. It didn’t get the chance to. The growing passion for drinking sweetened tea and a fall in price meant that sugar went from being a rare treat to an everyday food stuff. It stopped being a luxury and became a commodity which everybody could and did enjoy.

That historic sweet tooth is taking a long time to fade.

Scottish tablet

Today’s ten-year-olds may not be quite so eager to tackle a Soor Ploom as my generation was but tablet and shortbread remain firm favourites in gift shops, family homes, hotels and restaurants.

There is a still a huge domestic demand for Scottish sweets and confectionery. This blog was inspired by the news that Lees of Scotland has just been awarded a contract to supply tablet and macaroon bars in 58 Marks and Spencer stores in Scotland. The main pic is from their Facebook.

We discuss Scotland’s sweet tooth and the many ways it manifests itself on our food walking tours in Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews. Join us and help chew it over.

For a lot more detail on Scotland’s love affair with sugar, this Scotiafile blog is food for thought. Perhaps while nibbling on a square of tablet?

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