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It’s often said that smell and taste are the most underrated of all senses. Italian writer, Italo Calvino, was even more emphatic, claiming that the ‘the world is your nose’. Indeed, if you lose your ability to smell or taste, then you also lose your familiarity with the world around you, as well as your capacity to enjoy – and along with it, your enjoyment of memory and the feeling of being ‘at home’. So… if you find yourself yearning for the Netherlands, then arguably the simplest and most intense way to rekindle fond impressions is through the taste and aroma of some of your favourite old-fashioned Dutch sweets!
The history of Dutch sweets
The concept of sweets has existed since the dawn of mankind – in fact, even the hunters and gatherers who inhabited the world thousands of years ago regularly treated themselves to sweet fruits, berries and honey. It’s thought that the first real sweets were already being made in the Netherlands (in an area that’s now part of Flanders) by the beginning of the sixteenth century. During this period Dutch sweets were known as ‘suikerwerk’ and, as their key ingredient, cane sugar, was extremely expensive, they were predominantly the preserve of the wealthy. Indeed, it wasn’t until the eighteenth century, when confectionary was made from cheaper sugar beet, that Dutch snoep (sweets) were finally accessible to the wider population.
Top 3 old-fashioned Dutch sweets
Your grandparents might not have benefited from quite such an extensive range of sweets as you do, but they still had their favourites, many of which are available for purchase in Dutch supermarkets and online stores to this day:
This unique type of Dutch liquorice owes its wonderfully salty flavour to the small amount of the natural mineral, ammonium chloride (known colloquially as ‘salmiak’), that it contains. Salmiakdrop has been incredibly popular in the Netherlands for more than a century, although it’s also enjoyed in Scandinavia and Northern Germany. Unsurprisingly, most Dutch supermarkets tend to stock a large selection of slamiakdrop, including Klene Salmiakriksen, Venco Salmiak Rondo’s, Look o Look Salmiak Knotsen and Venco Droptoppers Salmiak & Mint.
Long before the advent of chewing gum, Dutch mouths were kept fresh with the help of pepermunt (peppermints) – white sweets that boasted a sharp mint flavour and were originally sold as a medicine considered to be “invigorating” and “revitalising”. Today Dutch pepermunt is largely enjoyed for its intensely sweet and refreshing flavour, although many pepermunt lovers still believe that it has a stimulating effect on both the stomach and digestive tract. Favoured Dutch peppermint brands include Fortuin Wilhelmina Pepermunt and King Pepermunt.
These irresistible coffee and caramel-flavoured sweets were named after Baron Hendrik Hop, who lived in The Hague at the end of the eighteenth century. Legend has it that he accidentally left a cup of coffee (containing sugar and cream) on the stove one night, and by morning the contents had melted into a solid lump of caramel. Baron Hop found these hardened pieces of caramel so delicious that he instructed his downstairs neighbour, baker Theodorus van Haaren, to prepare sweets from them. They were initially called ‘de brokken van baron Hop’ (literally van Baron Hop’s chunks), but were later renamed to Haagsche Hopjes. Hopjes were an instant international success and exported worldwide, to royal households in Europe, Tsars in St. Petersburg and trading posts in the Dutch East Indies. Today Hopjes are still hugely popular in the Netherlands, with Rademaker Hopjes being one of the best-loved brands.
Prefer to read this article in Dutch? Then visit our sister blog, Heimwee.info, specifically intended for Dutch emigrants.