The Mysterious Origins Of Irish Potato Candy

Philadelphia is renowned for its unique culinary innovations since its founding in 1682. Visit Philly lists favorites like the Philly cheesesteak, hoagies, Tastykate's Butterscotch Krimpets, and tomato pie all as food classics invented in the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia, while being home to the Liberty Bell, and some of the most passionate sports fans in the country, is also home to an odd little confection called Irish potato candy.

Now, Irish potato candy isn't actually made out of any potatoes, Irish or otherwise. It is actually a mix of cream cheese, butter, sugar, and coconut which are then rolled into potato-shaped balls and coated in ground cinnamon, according to Magnolia Days. Now, if you're thinking to yourself "This doesn't sound much like Irish cuisine" you'd be spot on as well. The Irish potato candy, according to Eater was invented sometime during the 19th and 20th centuries in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is believed that an Irish immigrant was, however, responsible for the candy's invention, especially considering the influx of Irish immigrants in the city during and after the Great Famine which lasted from 1845-1849.

How potato candy is made is no mystery!

No one individual has been credited as the original creator of the candy. The Guide to Philly describes the rich creamy candy, sweetened by a combination of sugar, vanilla, coconut, and cinnamon, as a kind of niche delicacy. Because of its use of dairy products, Irish potato candy needs to be kept refrigerated and is made to be eaten fresh. 

It is not strange that Philadelphia was once central to candy production on the East Coast. According to Billy Penn, Philadelphia's position as a port city meant that all kinds of molasses, rum, and sugar became available up and down the Delaware river as technology to refine sugar became more advanced. Casani Candy, a company that Billy Penn reports was "considered the country's first wholesale candy distributor," opened in 1865. There are variations of the candy — the Inquirer says that while all Irish potato recipes consistently use coconut and cinnamon, some shops incorporate pine nuts to make the potato seem more "realistic" and others ditch cream cheese altogether.

Today, Philadelphia candy stores including Oh Ryan's, Shane Confectionery,  Lore's Chocolates, Anthony's Italian Coffee House, and Bridge Street Chocolates all sell Irish potato candy through March, to celebrate St. Patrick's Day (via PA Eats). Philly is also known for enthusiastically feteing St. Patrick, according to Philly Voice, as the city's St. Patrick's Day parade began in 1771, pre-dating the Declaration of Independence!