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Souvenirs for Candy Fanatics: Old-Timey British Sweets

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The British, with their love of sweets, are well-known for making delicious candy that is craved worldwide (there is a reason most large American supermarkets have a dedicated British sweets section). I thought I knew British sweets pretty well– after all, on each visit to the UK I  make sure to raid a local British supermarket to stock up on Cadbury bars and other sweet treats.

But on a recent visit to England, I came across a retro sweets shop, filled with British sweets from days long past. Barratts shrimps? Rhubarb custards? I was introduced to a whole new world of sweets, most with intriguing names that begged sampling. Fortunately, British retro sweets are mostly sold in bulk by weight, so taste-testing is as easy as loading up your bag with one of each candy. Not every piece of retro candy was suited to my modern palate, but it was still fun to try them all.

A bit of essential vocabulary– what we Americans refer to as “hard candy” is called “boiled sweets” in the United Kingdom.

british boiled sweets london uk bins bulk candy

Retro British sweets also make a great gift for a candy fanatic. Or do what I did– I filled up a huge bag (er, about 30£ worth) and brought it as a fun housewarming gift to a London house party– a little more memorable than the standard bottle of bubbly.

Here are some of the more interesting retro British candies I saw on a recent trip to London:

1. Retro English Toffee

English toffee treacle chocolate toffee english candy souvenir

I loved these English treacle toffees.

English toffee is a classic sweet treat and has remained popular to this day, so the standard English toffee is not very hard to find, even in America. Somewhat less available are specialty flavored English toffees like chocolate and treacle– I picked these yummy treats up on a recent visit and they didn’t last very long back home.

2. Toffee Honeycomb (also known as Cinder Toffee)

cinder toffee retro british sweets toffee honeycomb london souvenir

Cinder toffee is a sugary treat that is all about the addictive, sponge-like texture.

 3. Traditional London Rock

Rock candy (named from the place of origin, like Blackpool rock or Brighton rock) is similar to a candy cane, except in fat, stick form. They are made by hand and often have a pattern in the center.

4. Traditional Root Licorice

traditional licorice root stick

This real licorice root stick is chewed on and also serves as a digestive aid.

5. British Boiled Sweets: Retro Fizz bombs

fizz bombs sour cherries sour apples sour lemons

Boiled sweets are a standard favorite. Try the popular retro fizz bombs, in flavors like sour cherry, sour apple and sour lemon.

7. Boiled Sweet Favorites like Rhubarb Custards, Ginger Creams, Pear Drops

rhubarb custardm ginger creams, pear drops candy boiled sweets

Bins and bins of boiled sweets line the walls of British sweets shops.

  • Admittedly, boiled sweets like rhubarb creams didn’t sound delicious, but the candies were so pretty– they were pretty tasty, a slightly tangier strawberry flavor.
  • Ginger creams have an interesting, melt-away type texture– soft on the outside, with a dry, crumbly center (sometimes enjoyed as an after diner treat).
  • Pear drops have a pear-banana like flavor.

8. Chewing Nuts, Toffee Crumbles, Aniseed Twist

chewing nuts, toffee crumble, aniseed twist candy retro england

  •  Toffee crumble is a classic British sweet and has been described as big chunks of chocolate and cookies, both crunchy and chewy.
  • Aniseed twist, a boiled sweet dating back to 1918, is described as having a “distinctive, refreshing” taste, traditionally cooked in copper pans to enhance their flavor.
  • Chewing Nuts are described as having a “chewy toffee centre to make your jaw work.”

9. British Sweets: Cherry Lips

cherry lips candy england sweets retro british candy

This British sweet has its loyal fans.

Cherry lips are one of those divisive candies– you either love them or hate them. The “scented” description should tip you off— these are more perfume-y than cherry.

10. Cornish Peanut Brittle

cornish peanut brittle candy london

This Cornish peanut brittle seemed fatter, lighter (and more delicious) than the sheets of thin peanut brittle I am accustomed to.

11. Kendall Mint Cake

kendall mint cake london

Kendal Mint Cake originated (and is still made)  in England’s Lake District. Mint Cake can be  tricky to find in London (it used to be sold at Fortnums, which is how I discovered it, but they no longer stock it), but they are delicious and worth seeking out.  Kendal mint cake is basically a bar of peppermint flavored glucose (that’s sugar), and tastes like a better version of a peppermint patty, minus the chocolate (though chocolate covered versions are also available). The high sugar ration makes Kendall mint cakes an excellent energy booster– they are a hiking favorite and were even brought to Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary.

Where can you find some retro British sweets in London?

Note: I took all my photos at Toffee Nose, tucked into the marketplace in Convent Garden. Can a local let me know if Toffee Nose is still open?

Hope and Greenwood, 1 Russell Street, Covent Garden

Mr Simms, Olde Sweet Shoppe (multiple locations)

Mrs Kibble’s, 57a Brewer St, W1F 9UL

Suck and Chew, 130 Columbia Rd, E2 7RG

Traditional English Sweet Stall, Pitch 60, Leather Lane Market, EC1N 7TE

What are your favorite English sweets? Tell us about it in the comments below!

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Matt Silton

Friday 28th of December 2018

Toffeenose is still open and going strong. My Dad is the owner. It is open Tuesday-Sunday 11am-6pm. They are located in Jubilee Market in Covent Garden. All the best, Matt.

Kristin Francis

Saturday 12th of January 2019

Hi Matt! Thanks for the tip. When I published this post I must have read otherwise-- did it shut down for awhile?


Tuesday 31st of March 2015

An English friend sent me a bag of rhubarb custard candies a few years ago (I'm in Canada) - I have been dreaming about them ever since!


Sunday 29th of March 2015

So fun! I want to try the Fizz Bombs, Rhubarb Custard, and Licorice Sticks.

What is Treacle flavor?


Friday 4th of March 2016

Treacle is the equvalent of your molasses

Kristin Francis

Monday 30th of March 2015

It's a bit like caramel-- very yummy!

Tripping Blonde

Saturday 28th of March 2015

cherry lips for me - all the way! i need to try the mint cake on my next trip!