- There’s no salt in salt water taffy.
- Stores can run about 2,000 pounds (907kg) of taffy a day.
- It’s an old-school carnival snack that became popular in the late 1800s.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Medha Imam: Saltwater taffy is synonymous to summer days, and this chewy, soft candy is the pride of Jersey Shore. We’re headed to Ocean City, New Jersey, to see how this treat is made. Jersey Shore may have a bad rep, but its most redeeming quality is quite possibly its saltwater taffy. It’s an old-school carnival snack that became popular in the late 1800s. Recipes that combined molasses or sugar, water, and butter were transformed into gummy ropes that were pulled by partners at each end. Founded in 1898, Shriver’s Salt Water Taffy is the oldest business on the boardwalk in Ocean City.
Meryl: This is the taffy-cooking machine. I wish it had a more glamorous name, but it doesn’t. Medha: Candymakers add ingredients such as invert sugar, corn syrup, and fats like butter to a copper kettle and cook them at a temperature of 250 degrees.
Medha: Once the mixture is warm enough, it is sucked through a pipe and dropped into a lower bin.
Meryl: Our saltwater taffy comes in three different bases. One’s chocolate; molasses will make peanut butter; and our plain flavors are the big array. Orange, grape, banana. When saltwater taffy is poured from the cooking machine, we would never be able to touch it like this.
Medha: No. Meryl: It would burn us.
Medha: To keep the taffy soft, it’s moved to a hotbox. You think that this is a fridge, but it’s actually just, like, a warm, cozy sauna. Meryl: This is where we keep the taffy after we cook it. If we didn’t keep it warm, it would turn into a brick. Medha: Oh, wow. So, right now, what temperatures are we at?
Meryl: We’re about at 95. Medha: And what does it feel like right now? Oh, wow. It’s very soft. Once the taffy is set, candymakers dump it onto a cooling table and knead out any air bubbles. Oh, it’s so pretty.
Meryl: This is a cooling table. It’s filled with cold water, and the taffy is warm, so it helps the taffy to cool off before we pull it. You know, it’s sticky right now. If you were to put this in your mouth, it would stick to your teeth.
Medha: And is this a process that people have used in the past? The technique of having cold water running tables?
Meryl: Absolutely, yeah. Medha: Next, candymakers like Meryl add citric acid to taffies that are fruit flavored. So, citric acid. Why is that important to put in for the lime flavor?
Meryl: Because it gives us the little tartness that you would get if you were eating a lime. And then we just kind of fold it over,
Medha: I’ll help you. and it settles into itself. The machine operator, they have a particular feel for when it’s ready.
Medha: So this is the color, not the flavor?
Meryl: This is just the color. Medha: And why don’t you add the flavor on this stuff, and why just the color?
Meryl: Because the process of pulling it allows the flavor to spread more consistently throughout the piece of taffy. So, you need to have some muscle to work this job a little, just to make it consistent. They’ll take the piece, and they’ll flip it. Medha: Oh, my God.
Meryl: So, this is 50 pounds (23kg). Medha: Do you mind if I try this one? Should I turn this one over? [yells] [laughs] This is a battle between taffy and me, and I have lost. Show them what you do, and then show them — look how — he just does it so quick. Casual. Just casual. Now for the most important part: the taffy pulling. Historically, candymakers would pull the taffy by hand with the assistance of a hook. These days, the taffy is stretched with machines.
Meryl: This process is also adding air to the saltwater taffy, and he’s adding the flavor right now. Medha: What flavor is that?
Meryl: That’s going to be strawberry. And as you can see, it really allows for the flavor to get mixed in. It really looks like something you just want to pull off and eat. Medha: And I can already smell the lime flavor. After the taffy is pulled, it’s headed for a batch roller. Here, the taffy is elongated and rolled into a log. OK. Speed walk? OK. Speed walk, speed walk, speed walk, speed walk, speed walk!
Meryl: So, we’re just taking the air bubbles out of the piece of taffy. You kind of have to be quick about it.
Medha: OK, that looks much harder than you make it seem. This is actually pretty difficult ’cause the tool itself is sticking into the taffy. It’s still chewy and sticky, you can tell, but it is a little harder than it was on that table. Four mechanical rollers called sizers size the candy down to get the rope of candy to a certain diameter. The taffy tapers down through a second set of sizers until it resembles a snake. The machine at Shriver’s can cut, wrap, and seal about 300 to 400 pieces of taffy per minute.
Meryl: There’s actually fingers that are closing the piece of taffy.
Medha: Oh, right there! Right there, right there! The inner layer surrounding the taffy must be wax paper to maintain its soft texture and deter the candy from sticking together. Do you mind if I untwist this?
Meryl: No, but you have to do it the right way.
Medha: How do you do it the right way?
Meryl: OK. So the right way to open a piece of taffy is to pull both sides. There you go. And then we get — that’s what we’re looking for with a piece of taffy.
Medha: Oh, amazing. So, you may be wondering, why the heck is it called saltwater taffy if there’s no salt? The story goes like this. There was a man named Mr. Bradley who sold taffy from a stand on a beach. One evening, the water came up and washed over his taffy. He thought his taffy was ruined, but a little girl approached him and asked if she could have a piece of his saltwater taffy. And since then, the name stuck. Shriver’s Salt Water Taffy went from having 17 flavors to 60 flavors in the summertime, which is their busiest season. So every single day you’re going to get a fresh piece of taffy?
Meryl: Every single day we are making fresh taffy.
Medha: What’s your favorite?
Meryl: My personal favorite?
Meryl: They’re all my favorite.
Medha: They’re all? You don’t have one?
Meryl: I have one that I’m not crazy about, but that’s just because I’m not crazy about that flavor.
Medha: Which one? Meryl: I can’t tell you. Medha: Is it grape? Meryl: Absolutely not! Everybody loves grape. Medha: Oh, wait, I hate grape, so.
Meryl: OK, so that’s your one that you’re taking off the list?
Medha: Sour apple, bubblegum. I don’t know which one I want the most.
Meryl: That’s the whole idea, right? Medha: Yeah. I feel like I want them all. All right. So I’m going to take your recommendations. I’ve never had saltwater taffy. I’ve had Laffy Taffy.
Medha: Two of those. Meryl: Pineapple?
Medha: One of those.
Medha: One of those. Yeah, I can take it, don’t worry. [laughs] My little baby. My little … taffy baby. Banana taffy. I’m going crazy.