Victorian London - Food and Drink - Adulteration and Contamination - Sweets

He, however, resolved to send me away from home, and in the course of a few days got me a place at a friend's of his, who kept a sweet-stuff shop, in Friar Street, Blackfriars. There I was initiated into all the mysteries of that trade. I found that the white-sugar articles were all largely adulterated with plaster of Paris; and that immediately accounted to me for the pernicious - often fatal  - effects produced by this kind of trash upon children. If parents, who really care for their children, were only commonly prudent, they would never allow them to eat any white-sugar sweet-stuff at all. Then I discovered that the articles passed off as burnt almonds, really contained the kernels of fruits; for the kitchen-maids in wealthy families and hotels collect and sell the stones of the peaches, apricots, and nectarines, eaten at the dinner-tables of their masters, as regularly as cooks dispose of their bones and grease. In fact, the most deleterious ingredients enter into the composition of sweet-stuff. The sugar-refiners sell all their scum to the sweet-stuff makers; and this scum is composed of the lime, alum, bullock's blood, charcoal, acetate of soda, and other things used for fining sugar. Oxide of lead is also mixed with the small proportions of sugar used in making sweet-stuff; and thus you may perceive what filthy and poisonous substances are given to children in the shape of sugar-plums. I hope that I do not weary you with this description; and if you should be surprised that I can now recollect the chemical names of the ingredients used, I must tell you that I went so often to the sugar-refiners, and to the chemists, for my master, that I soon became familiar with every thing at all relating to the business.

George Reynolds, The Mysteries of London, 1844-46