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The Birth of Sweet Treats
We don’t know exactly where cotton candy first came onto the scene. Similar delicacies were widespread in the Persian city of Yazd (in present-day Iran), where pashmak was a common treat, made from threads of flour and powdered sugar with pistachios mixed in. In Turkey, this sweet is called pişmaniye. Its name comes from the Persian word for “wool.” Similarly, in China, there is a traditional treat called Dragon’s Beard Candy that is prepared by boiling syrup from a mixture of white and malt sugar.
According to legend, Dragon’s Beard Candy was invented during the Han Dynasty. The chef at the Imperial Palace introduced the preparation of the new dessert as a form of entertainment for the emperor. He mixed rice flour and honey into a kind of dough and then stretched it into long, thin threads.
The ruler compared the concoction to a dragon’s beard, the symbol of the Chinese Emperor. Over time, the production of the complex treat grew into a rare, sometimes even secret, practice. Later, with the development of the tourism industry, Dragon’s Beard began to pop up regularly, especially at street festivals.
Its Korean counterpart, ggultarae or “honey tangle,” is based on the same recipe. The syrupy threads are prepared from honey and starch. In India, sugar threads are pressed into a dense mass together with flour, ghee, and cardamom — creating the dessert soan papdi.