How are Rhubarb and Custard Boiled Sweets Made

Rhubarb and custard boiled sweets are a classic British confectionery delight, known for their tangy rhubarb taste combined with a smooth, creamy custard flavour. Their eye-catching dual-colour swirl makes them instantly recognizable. In this article, we’ll dive into the history, ingredients, and process of making these delicious treats. So, exactly how are rhubarb and custard boiled sweets made? Let’s find out!

History of Rhubarb and Custard Boiled Sweets

Origins of Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a perennial plant native to Siberia, with its edible stalks widely used in culinary applications, particularly in desserts. The plant was initially cultivated in ancient China for medicinal purposes and later spread to Europe in the 14th century.

Origins of Custard

Custard, on the other hand, is a dessert made from a mixture of eggs, sugar, and milk or cream. Its origins can be traced back to the Middle Ages, with custard tarts being a popular treat in medieval Europe.

The Pairing of Rhubarb and Custard

The combination of rhubarb and custard dates back to the 19th century in England, when the tart taste of rhubarb was tempered with the sweetness of custard. This pairing then made its way into the world of confectionery as a popular flavour for boiled sweets.

How are These Rhubarb and Custard Boiled Sweets Made


Rhubarb Flavour

The rhubarb flavour in these sweets typically comes from natural or artificial rhubarb flavourings, which capture the tartness of the plant’s stalks.

Custard Flavour

Custard flavour is derived from a combination of vanilla and other flavours that mimic the taste of traditional custard. It often includes natural or artificial flavourings, such as vanilla extract.

The Process of Making Rhubarb and Custard Boiled Sweets

Preparing the Sugar Mixture

The process starts with creating a sugar mixture by combining sugar, glucose syrup, and water in a large pot. The ingredients are heated until they reach a temperature of around 300°F (149°C), known as the “hard crack” stage in candy-making.

Adding the Flavors

Once the sugar mixture reaches the desired temperature, it is divided into two portions. The rhubarb flavoring and a touch of citric acid are added to one portion, while the custard flavoring and a small amount of cream of tartar are added to the other.

Coloring the Mixture

Food coloring is then added to both portions, with red or pink coloring for the rhubarb portion and yellow for the custard portion. The mixtures are stirred thoroughly to ensure even distribution of the colors and flavors.

Boiling and Setting

Both portions of the sugar mixture are boiled separately until they reach the correct consistency. They are then poured onto separate, heat-resistant surfaces, such as marble slabs or silicone mats, to cool and set.

Shaping the Sweets

Once the mixtures have cooled and become more solid, they are worked by hand or with the help of machines to shape them into the distinctive rhubarb and custard boiled sweets. The red or pink rhubarb portion is stretched and folded multiple times to create a glossy, smooth texture. The yellow custard portion is similarly worked to achieve the same texture. The two portions are then combined, twisted, and rolled together to create the iconic two-toned swirl pattern. Finally, the combined mixture is pulled into long ropes and cut into individual sweets.

Several confectionery companies produce rhubarb and custard boiled sweets, with some of the most popular brands being Swizzels Matlow, Taveners, and Kingsway. These brands are widely available in the United Kingdom and can also be found in specialty candy shops and online retailers worldwide.

Health Benefits and Concerns

While rhubarb and custard boiled sweets are a delicious treat, they should be consumed in moderation due to their high sugar content. Overconsumption of sugar can lead to various health issues, such as obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay. However, when enjoyed as an occasional treat, these sweets can be a delightful and nostalgic indulgence.

Storage and Shelf Life

Rhubarb and custard boiled sweets should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight and moisture. When stored properly, they can have a shelf life of up to 12 months. It is also recommended to keep them in an airtight container to maintain their freshness and prevent them from becoming sticky or clumping together.

Making Rhubarb and Custard Boiled Sweets at Home

For those interested in trying their hand at candy-making, rhubarb and custard boiled sweets can be made at home using simple ingredients and equipment. There are various recipes and tutorials available online that provide step-by-step instructions on how to make these classic confections.

Wrapping Up

Rhubarb and custard boiled sweets are a timeless British confectionery favorite, combining the tangy taste of rhubarb with the smooth, creamy flavor of custard. Their unique flavor combination and beautiful two-toned appearance make them a popular treat to this day. By understanding the history, ingredients, and process behind these sweets, we can truly appreciate the art of candy-making and enjoy these classic treats even more.


  1. Are rhubarb and custard boiled sweets vegan? Some brands produce vegan-friendly rhubarb and custard boiled sweets. It is essential to check the ingredients list to ensure that no animal-derived ingredients, such as gelatin or milk products, are used.
  2. Can I use fresh rhubarb to make rhubarb and custard boiled sweets? While fresh rhubarb is not typically used in making these sweets, you can create a homemade rhubarb flavoring by cooking down fresh rhubarb with sugar and using the resulting syrup in your candy mixture.
  3. Are there sugar-free versions of rhubarb and custard boiled sweets? Yes, some brands produce sugar-free versions of these sweets, which use sugar substitutes such as isomalt or maltitol to maintain the sweet taste without the added sugar.
  4. What is the best way to clean up after making rhubarb and custard boiled sweets at home? Cleaning up after making boiled sweets can be made easier by soaking any sticky equipment and utensils in warm, soapy water. For sugar residue on surfaces, using a cloth or sponge soaked in hot water with a little dish soap can help dissolve the sugar and make cleaning easier.
  1. Can I use different flavors and colors when making boiled sweets at home? Absolutely! You can experiment with various flavorings and food colorings to create your own unique boiled sweets. Just be sure to use flavors and colors that are suitable for high-temperature candy-making to ensure the best results.
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