Calories in a Candy Cane and the History of the Christmas Staple


We closely associate candy canes with the holiday season. In fact, all other times of the year peppermint candies take a different form. It’s only around the holiday season that candy canes take over. We’ll talk more in a minute about the calories in a candy cane.

People use candy canes for decoration, ornaments, and a peppermint treat. You may be wondering: how did candy canes get to where they are? When did the tradition of cane-shaped peppermint candy begin? Health-conscious readers are probably more concerned with how bad candy canes are for you.

We’ll take a look at all of this ahead, and give you some fun-facts to use the next time you’re reaching for conversation topics at a holiday party.

A Peppermint Delight

While some people view candy canes purely as a form of holiday decoration, the majority of people use candy canes for their intended purpose: a peppermint treat. Candy cane connoisseurs know that there are distinct differences in the textures of specific brands, and prefer only the top-notch candy canes on their tree.

Nowadays, there is nearly an unlimited number of flavors of candy canes. They’re sour, sweet, and even come in a variety of flavors you probably never knew you wanted. As the years go on, our candy cane tastes develop, but nothing will replace the classic peppermint stick.

Nutritional Value of a Candy Cane

It should come as no surprise that candy canes don’t hold much nutritional value. Still, many people will be asking this winter: how many calories in a candy cane? For those who want to keep their health-minded ways – even in the holiday season – there are 50 calories in a candy cane.

Candy cane calories vary slightly depending on the brand, but Spangler, one of the world leaders in candy canes, has 50 calories. Sugar-free candy canes have only 30 calories each, so it’s not much of an upgrade to go for the sugar-free option. You might as well get all the calories in candy cane and splurge – it’s the holidays after all.

How Do Candy Canes Compare to Other Christmas Treats?

When it’s all said and done, candy canes aren’t close to the most unhealthy dessert people will eat around Christmas. Apple pie, one of the staples of the season, can run you about 500 calories per slice. Eggnog is one of the most fattening drink known to man, with over 300 calories and almost 20 grams of fat in each cup.

Desserts and drinks aren’t the only culprits when it comes to putting on weight during the holiday season. The meals may be delicious, but that doesn’t mean they’re any good for you. If you celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with a roast goose instead of a turkey, expect to consume nearly 700 calories per serving. That’s 500 calories more than its turkey counterpart.

When compared to these and a long list of other Christmas staples, the 50 calories in a candy cane don’t seem like much. You might as well drop one in your hot chocolate because an average cup of the stuff contains nearly 200 calories on its own.

The holiday season isn’t usually thought of as the time to count calories, but for the fitness-minded, there’s never a down-season. If there ever were a time to indulge, though, it would be around the holidays.

If you’re spending time with family, there’s virtually no chance you can turn down course after course of deliciously fattening holiday treats. Candy canes are only a drop in the bucket when you consider all the other foods associated with this time of the year. In fact, if you’re trying to be healthy without looking like a wet blanket, enjoy a candy cane as a lower-calorie alternative.

History of Candy Canes

Candy canes aren’t the only food synonymous with the holiday season. Eggnog is also exclusive to the winter months, and some people only ever drink it on Christmas. Gingerbread cookies are another form of dessert that only seems to pop-up during the holidays. Sure, gingerbread can be year-round, but man-shaped cookies are a holiday special.

Unlike these other staples, though, Christmas candy canes evoke the holiday like nothing else. All you need to see is a candy cane to get the unmistakable feeling of Christmas.

So why is this peppermint treat so linked to the holidays? We eat other forms of peppermint candy year-round, so why do we only use this type around Christmas time?

The Popular Misconception

The famous stories surrounding the origin of candy canes are almost entirely false. Several religious myths surround candy canes, but none of them date back to the original inception of the first candy cane.

One of the most popular misconceptions is that a candymaker made candy canes as a way to symbolize the suffering of Christ. He started with a white candy stick, referencing the virgin birth and purity of Jesus. He then made it hard, like the foundation of the church.

After that, the candymaker formed the stick in a “J” shape, for Jesus. He stained it with red stripes to show the blood shed by Jesus for our sins.

While people often repeat this story, it’s also categorically false. Candy cane origins date back hundreds of years before a candymaker in Indiana would even have a chance to make this revelation. Nobody created candy canes with this much intention with this much care and instead developed over time.

Other False Origin Stories

Another story that people often cite is that Christians used candy canes to identify themselves when they were being persecuted in Europe secretly. The timeline of this theory, though, doesn’t check out. The time that people say this happened was the heyday of the Christian religion. In fact, non-Christians would probably have been more concerned about keeping their true beliefs a secret.

The last and most cited origin story is that candy canes were created in Germany during the 17th century. Here, people claim that a choir director created the candy to keep kids quiet during worship.

The choir director thought candy was a good idea but thought that parents and the church alike might object to kids having cand during worship. For that reason, he made the hooked ending look like shepherd’s staff. This design would remind the kids of the shepherds that visited baby Jesus.

While this story sounds relatively accurate, candy canes were never associated with Christmas until the 19th century – nearly 200 years after this story should have taken place. If the candy caught on in popularity, someone would have mentioned it in association with the religion far earlier.

Many of the misconceptions about the origin of the peppermint treat probably stem from people’s justification of Christmas traditions. So many holiday customs seem to be far-removed from the religious celebration of Christmas. “What does a fat man’s gift’s have to do with the birth of Christ?” many ask.

The Truth

The truth lies somewhere in-between all of these myths. People likely created these stories as teaching tools, but time and retellings have cemented many of them in Christmas lore.

In all honesty, no one truly knows from where candy canes came. There is a good amount of evidence that white peppermint sticks came from Germany. We see white sticks with stripes as early as the mid-1800’s. Where the design went from there, though, is open to debate.

Many people think that the hook shape developed over time as a religious reference or, more likely, a way to easily place the candy on the tree. Around the beginning of the 20th century, food decorations of Christmas trees grew in popularity, which leads many to speculate that this was when the design change occurred.

The American history of candy canes is more concrete and holds the strongest connection to Christianity. Bob McCormack, creator of Bob’s Candies starting making peppermint sticks in 1919. He soon became the world leader in candy cane production, but making the candies was challenging back then. The sticks would often break while being transformed into canes, leading to increased labor and lower production.

Eventually, McCormack’s brother-in-law, Father Keller, created the Keller Machine. This machine automatically bent the candy canes, leading to higher production and a solid connection to Christianity.

A Christmas Tradition

Candy canes evoke the holiday spirit as hardly anything else can. Although we think of them as connected to Christmas, the origin of the candy cane is relatively unknown. Most likely, candy canes developed over time and came from multiple different sources. It’s possible that they have some Christian connotation, but it’s equally plausible that they were merely adopted as a Christmas treat later on.

If you’re a health-conscious person, candy canes are just another temptation associated with the holidays. At only 50 calories, though, they’re far less fattening than some of the other holiday options. It won’t take you long to burn it off, so enjoy a candy cane on your cheat day with no regrets.

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