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What is salt water taffy?

Just about everyone loves salt water taffy, but have you ever thought for a second, what is salt water taffy? Where did salt water taffy come from? Or who invented it? All good questions. We’ll address each of them in this post.

The Name

Salt water taffy is a version of soft taffy originally sold and marketed on the boardwalk shores of Atlantic City, New Jersey in the late 1880’s. Although there are a number of different stories about where the actual name came from, or why salt water was substituted for fresh water, the most popular explanation comes from candy store owner David Bradley. In 1883 a major storm on the Jersey shore caused a flood in Mr. Bradley’s store, soaking his entire inventory of taffy with salty Atlantic Ocean water. Following the flood, a young girl came to the store to buy taffy. Mr. Bradley jokingly offered her “salt water taffy” which she bought and then shared with her friends. Mr. Bradley’s mother was in the back of the store and heard the whole exchange. She loved the name “salt water taffy,” and the name stuck.

Although Mr. Bradley coined the phrase, Joseph Fralinger is the man who is credited with popularizing the candy by boxing it and selling it in his shop in Atlantic City. After studying different confection recipes, he made his first batch of salt water taffy in the spring of 1886. Fralinger's first major competition came from candy maker Enoch James, who refined the recipe a bit which made it less sticky and easier to unwrap. James also cut the candy into bite-sized pieces, and is widely credited with mechanizing the taffy "pulling" process. Both Fralinger's and James's candy stores still operate on the Atlantic City boardwalk, both owned and operated by the Glaser family since 1947.

The Trademark

On August 21, 1923, John Edmiston obtained a trademark for the name "salt water taffy" then promptly demanded royalties from companies using his newly acquired name. He was sued over this demand, and in 1925, the trademark was invalidated by the United States Patent and Trademark Office as being in “common use,” meaning no one person could own the name.

The Process

Taffy was first cooked in copper kettles over open coal fires and cooled on marble slabs, and “pulled” from a large hook. The process of pulling taffy adds air to sugar mix. First the puller stretches the taffy to about a 5-feet in length, then it is looped over itself on the hook, trapping air between the two lengths of taffy. This aeration process helps to keep the taffy soft. The pulled taffy is shaped by hand-rolling it on marble or wooden tables. It is then cut to a 2-inch length and wrapped in a pre-cut piece of wax paper with a twisted at both ends.

The ingredients in salt water taffy are sugar, cornstarch, corn syrup, glycerine, water, butter, salt, flavor, and food coloring. Contrary to popular belief, taffy contains no actual sea water, however, it does contain both salt and water.

Today’s taffy is cooked in large stainless steel or copper kettles and then vacuum cooked a second time. The pulling and packaging process is now done with machines, which allows for greater amounts of taffy at greater speeds.

Where to get the best salt water taffy

Salt water taffy is still sold on the boardwalks of Atlantic City. You can also find great salt water taffy at other tourist beachfront areas throughout the United States and Canada. It is also, of course, sold online and both locations of Nellie's Sweet Shoppes. We carry a number of great flavors including Neapolitan, root beer, and cotton candy and many more. Come by and try for yourself.

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