What makes gummy bears yummy and chocolate so addictive? It’s all because of — or, if you’ve got a real sweet tooth, you can blame it on — candy technologists. The beginnings of the American Association of Candy Technologists (AACT) date back to 1947, when candy makers attended the Professional Manufacturing Confectioners Association (PMCA) Conference. Discussing problems they encountered during the creation process, from dull chocolate to the boiling and inversion of sugar, they realized they could all benefit from sharing ideas about candy making’s technical side. And so AACT was born and has continued to meet annually.
Today, AACT has 350 members, from makers to suppliers, said Michelle Schwenk, Ph.D., president and food science consultant for Bellis Food Solutions and the association’s president. “It’s people doing the research, production, or quality [control] on candy, or on the ingredients that go into candy.”
Keep Calm and Candy On
As part of the food industry, most AACT members were considered essential workers who continued working throughout the pandemic, but were unable to attend education conferences due to cancellations. AACT held virtual training and networking in 2020 but felt a physical event was vital.
At the 2021 in-person seminar, “the panel we had was specifically on handling taste panels and consumer panels during COVID,” Schwenk said. “Getting real feedback is very important to the innovation in our industry. When we couldn’t get together, it was very difficult to get real people to safely test our new ideas. The panel showed us some new technology and creative ideas in order to reach our panelists and safely deliver them samples.”
The seminar isn’t all work and no play. The Iron Confectioner competition — a riff on the cooking show “Iron Chef” — features two teams of three participants. Teams bring their own equipment and AACT supplies the ingredients. Teams must come up with three confections featuring a secret ingredient unveiled at the start of the competition.“It is always a highlight,” Schwenk said, and “a time of real bragging rights.”
Sessions at the 2021 American Association of Candy Technologists National Technical Seminar included:
- Contemplating Cannabis Confectioners: An Overview of the Laws, Regulations, and Considerations
- Ready, Set, Sour — The Power of Acids & Buffers
- Agile Innovation with Sensory and Consumer Methods
Casey Gale is managing editor at Convene. Illustration by Carmen Segovia