By Ruud Hisgen (Direct Dutch Institute) for I am Expat
It is a well-known fact that many Dutch men and women have a sweet tooth. When visiting a supermarket, you cannot help but notice the overwhelming presence of confectionery in the racks. So, if you are a sugar lover, the Netherlands must look like candy heaven. On the other hand, if you are desperately trying to limit your sugar intake, living in the Netherlands must feel like hell.
Either way, this article will help you on your way in Dutch candy-land where many towns have their own sweet speciality (Zaandam: drop, Den Haag: hopjes, Gouda: stroopwafels, Deventer: koek, Middelburg: boterbabbelaars, Dokkum: pepermunt, etc.)
It’s bizarre, but the candy the Dutch like best of all does not taste sweet but salty and often even bitter. Originally, it was used for medical purposes, to stop one’s coughing. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the Dutch started eating it as a sweet. In the new millennium, the Dutch are consuming two kilos of drop per person per year on average. That’s around 32 million kilos per year!
Some Dutch people are addicted to drop and will never be able to moderate themselves. The silly name “drop” or “dropje” originates from the longer phrase “een drop zoethoutwortelextract” (a drop of liquorice extract). Basically, it is hardened juice from the root of the liquorice tree (Glycyrrhiza glabra), mixed with a lot of sugar, and, strangely enough, not very much salt. The salty taste is a mere suggestion.
If your roots lie outside the land of the Dutch, you probably won’t like drop and you’ll probably even detest it, but, for the fun of it, do some research at the supermarket and marvel at the variety of hilarious names which these soft and hard black “rocks” were given. Here are a few of their names. See if you can figure out their meanings:
Apenkoppen, Biggetjes, Autodrop, Beertjesdrop, Boekendrop, Boerderijdrop, Dropharingen, Dropkabels, Dropsleutels, Dropveters, Dubbelzoute drop, Duimdrop, Engelse drop (liquorice allsorts), Muntdrop, Griotten, Heksendrop (Danish: heksehyl), Hoeden en petten, Honingdrop, Jujubes, Katjesdrop, Kokindjes, Krijtjesdrop, Lakrisal, Oldtimers drop, Pepermuntdrop, Pottertjes, Salmiakdrop, Schoolkrijt, Suikervrije drop, Tikkels, Topdrop, Trekdrop, Trollendrop, Waddendrop, Wybertjes, Zaanse drop, Zoete drop….
2. Haagse Hopjes
These coffee-caramels originated in The Hague at the end of the 18th century. Hopjes taste of coffee, caramel and cream. The “hopje” is named after the inventor and aristocratic coffee addict Baron Hendrik Hop (Breda, 1723 – The Hague, 1808). One night in 1792, he forgot that he had left his coffee with sugar and cream on the heater. The next morning, he tasted the evaporated substance and… loved it. As Baron Hop lived in rooms over a confectionery, he asked his neighbours to create a sweet made of coffee. So, they did and the hopje was born.
In the 90s, The Hague had a museum called “Haagse Hopjesmuseum”, but unfortunately it had to close down in 1998.
3. Zeeuwse boterbabbelaars
As the name indicates, these boiled sweets are the speciality of the province of Zeeland. The sweets taste somewhat like butterscotch, but the ingredients differ slightly. The main ingredients of English butterscotch are brown sugar and butter, whereas the Zeeuwse babbelaar is made with butter, sugar, vinegar, water and a pinch of salt. A confectionery in Middelburg started making babbelaars in 1892 and the sweet is still available there.
The name “babbelaar” has a curious origin. The verb “babbelen” means to chatter. However, when you are sucking on this sweet, it is not so easy to keep on “babbeling”. Maybe chatterboxes were given babbelaars to silence them for a moment. However, there is another explanation. In the southern Dutch dialect, “babbelen” also means to nibble or to munch. In that case, a proper translation of the boterbabbelaar could be “Butternibbler” or “Buttermuncher”.
4. Wilhelmina pepermunt
Like drop, peppermint used to be taken as a medicine. People believed that peppermint oil had the capacity to soothe the stomach after a meal. In the urbanized world of the early 20th century, mints became immensely popular as sweets thanks to mass marketing. Advertisements targeted insecure young women and men, warning them that they should weapon themselves against bad breath.
When Princess Wilhelmina (the first reigning queen of the Netherlands) turned twelve in 1892, a bakery shop in Friesland developed a special mint which had her face printed on it. Nearly 130 years later, these mints are still popular sweets in the Netherlands. And they’re still being produced in the Frisian town of Dokkum, by the very same confectioners.
Eating candy or sweets is a favourite pastime of the Dutch. Every office has a pot with sweets at the reception desk. The act of eating sweets is expressed by the verb “snoepen”, a very old Dutch word. So, next time you feel like practising your Dutch, bring a bag of Dutch sweets and ask your Dutch counterpart: “Snoep jij? En wat is je favoriete snoep?”