Imagine a tamarind lollipop soaked in chili powder and drenched in salt. Well, such a thing exists.
In the world of Hispanic sweets, the best ones are often those that are the hottest, the spiciest and the most sour.
These flavors may not be attractive to some people, but for a good many of the 50 million Hispanics living in the United States, they are a tasty treat and a sort of link to their childhood.
“I used to hide some soft candy, very salty and with fruity flavors, from my brothers,” said Clara Sarmiento as she placed some spicy snacks to her shopping basket in a Hispanic market in southwest Tulsa. “‘Pulparindo’ is my favorite, but the red kind – that one is spicy. The yellow one not so much.”
Sarmiento’s choices illustrate the variety in the sweets industry, which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says is worth $24 billion a year. These treats have shifted from being sweet to the heat of spiciness, or more so – to the very spicy.
“Salty and spicy candies are everywhere,” said Jesús González as he paid for his purchase at a store in east Tulsa. In his grocery bag was some candy for his children. “I had not seen this one before. It is called ‘Atomic.’ I will try it first and then give it to them.”
For Lupe Coronado, enjoying a sweet-and-sour lollipop takes her on a trip back to her childhood. “You started with ‘Chicaleta,’ the least sour one, then the ‘Ricaleta,’ and if you passed that test, then you graduated to the ‘Rockaleta,’ she said, describing what for her are the best lollipops in her hometown of Zacatecas in Mexico. “They are very difficult to find. People always bring me a box of Rockaletas,” she said, referring to the caramelized candy with three types of chile and which within have some gum of a tropical fruit flavor.
The favorite for Luis Manzanares, a native of the state of Guerrero, Mexico, is the ‘Pica Limón’, which comes in little packages of seasoning to pour over fruit, such as mango. “But you can eat them without anything else, by themselves,” he said, adding that “in my time, that was how you learned to eat with chile.”
Others, such as Eduardo Montero, who works at a Hispanic supermarket in east Tulsa, create their own spicy sweets. “You take chewy caramelized milk candy –caramel with dulce de leche– and you dip it in chamoy [a sweet and sour mixture] and salt,” said Montero while tidying up some shelves. “That’s much better than the ‘Pelón Pelo Rico’ [a tamarind flavored candy].”
If you haven’t tried a spicy hot candy, or if it has been a while since you had one, dare to do so, and if it is very hot, don’t worry – even the best of us make mistakes.
Photos by Juan Miret