Poisonous Confectionery

In the preparation of sugar plums, comfits, and other kinds of confectionery, especially those sweetmeats of inferior quality, frequently exposed to sale in the open streets, for the allurement of children, the grossest abuses are committed. The white comfits, called sugar pease, are chiefly composed of a mixture of sugar, starch, and Cornish clay (a species of very white pipe-clay;) and the red sugar drops are usually coloured with the inferior kind of vermilion. The pigment is generally adulterated with red lead. Other kinds of sweetmeats are sometimes rendered poisonous by being coloured with preparations of copper. The following account of Mr. Miles [110] may be advanced in proof of this statement.

"Some time ago, while residing in the house of a confectioner, I noticed the colouring of the green fancy sweetmeats being done by dissolving sap-green in brandy. Now sap-green itself, as prepared from the juice of the buckthorn berries, is no doubt a harmless substance; but the manufacturers of this colour have for many years past produced various tints, some extremely bright, which there can be no doubt are effected by adding preparations of copper.

"The sweetmeats which accompany these lines you will find exhibit vestiges of being contaminated with copper.—The practice of colouring these articles of confectionery should, therefore, be banished: the proprietors of which are not aware of the deleterious quality of the substances employed by them."

The foreign conserves, such as small green limes, citrons, hop-tops, plums, angelica roots, &c. imported into this country, and usually sold in round chip boxes, are frequently impregnated with copper.

The adulteration of confitures by means of clay, may be detected by simply dissolving the comfits in a large quantity of boiling water. The clay, after suffering the mixture to stand undisturbed for a few days, will fall to the bottom of the vessel; and on decanting the clear fluid, and suffering the sediment to become dry gradually, it may be obtained in a separate state. If the adulteration has been effected by means of clay, the obtained precipitate, on exposure to a red heat in the bowl of a common tobacco-pipe, acquires a brick hardness.

The presence of copper may be detected by pouring over the comfits liquid ammonia, which speedily acquires a blue colour, if this metal be present. The presence of lead is rendered obvious by water impregnated with sulphuretted hydrogen, acidulated with muriatic acid (see p. 69 ,) which assumes a dark brown or black colour, if lead be present.


[110]Philosoph. Mag. No. 258, vol. 54. 1819, p. 317.