Saltwater Taffy's Name May Have Started As A Joke

Saltwater taffy is a chewy sweet often found in novelty or nostalgic candy shops. The candy is famous for its wax wrappers and variety of flavors, and choosing your pieces of taffy from the vast array of swirling colors is part of the fun. The sometimes-jaw exercising candy is famous for the mesmerizing way it's made. After confectioners cook the candy's ingredients, flavors, and colors, they pull and stretch the sticky substance. Candy-makers use impressive machinery that wields and spins the long strands of taffy to cool and soften it, as well as remove bubbles, (via Philadelphia Inquirer).

While historians agree that saltwater taffy first appeared around 1880, they debate who invented the sweet (via Philadelphia Inquirer). Many cite the competing Jersey Shore candy makers Enoch James and Joseph Fralinger. However, no one can pinpoint which man invented the candy first. That said, the reason for the candy's invention was clear: summer heat. Chocolatiers along the Atlantic shut down in the summer due to melting products, but saltwater taffy could withstand the higher temperatures.

Because of the candy's association with the Jersey Shore's boardwalk candy shops, many people think that saltwater taffy features ocean water as an ingredient — but that's not the case, though the ocean is involved in the origin of the candy's name.

A name conjured in a storm

The story of saltwater taffy's name is more legend than historical fact, says Britannica. In 1883, a storm hit Atlantic City. The Atlantic ocean's waves breached the boardwalk and flooded many local shops. One of the businesses damaged was a candy store, claims Mental Floss. The ocean water doused the shop's candy, the taffy in particular. A customer — often said to be a little girl — walked into the sopping-wet shop as the store's owner, David Bradley, was cleaning up. To make light of the situation, Bradley told his young customer that he only had "saltwater taffy." Unfazed, the girl bought some — and Bradley kept the name. Interestingly, some accounts of the story attribute the joke to the little girl (via Philadelphia Inquirer).

While the storm and the little girl make for a quaint tail, Mental Floss says another more bottom-line-driven version of the story exists. According to food historian Andrew Smith, the name was an invention of Bradley's boss purely for a marketing strategy. Either way, the new name's success inspired other candy makers along the Jersey Shore to follow suit. Soon, the name became ubiquitous with the taffy itself. So, the next time you're on the boardwalk or at a novelty candy store, pick up a piece of taffy and bite into a chewy piece of culinary history.