The cuberdon: Belgium's secret sweet

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Everyone knows Belgium’s world famous gastronomic delights are crisp waffles, mayonnaise-covered fries, potent beers and decadent chocolates.

Hundreds of cone-shaped Belgian candy called Cuberdon are seen at Geldhof factory in Eeklo, northern Belgium April 22, 2013. REUTERS/Yves Herman

But the cuberdon - a violet, cone-shaped candy - is a Belgian specialty that has fallen below the radar.

With a sugary outer crust and a gooey inside, the raspberry-flavored cuberdon may spark memories of childhood for older generations. Since the late 19th century they have been piled onto wooden wagons and sold at marketplaces.

“People relate it with an old, sentimental candy, something from the old days,” Jo Geldhof, whose family factory is the biggest maker of the traditional treat, told Reuters.

“People say: ‘Oh yeah, it’s from my youth and they still have that?’”

Updated marketing in the last few years has revived the artisanal sweet, and also brought new varieties. There are now cuberdon biscuits and cuberdon-flavored ice cream syrups, and from this summer, cuberdon-flavored vodka.

Until last year, the candies - known as the “Ghent nose” after the Belgian city where they were invented - were only marketed in Belgium.

But the Belgian Cuberdon company began selling them internationally last year and now sends them to buyers around the world, from Bermuda to Dubai.

It makes more than 30 varieties, with country-specific flavors: apple is popular in Japan, and the firm developed a cola version for the U.S. market.

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The original cuberdon recipe can be traced back to 1873, when a Ghent pharmacist by the name of De Vick discarded a batch of medicinal syrup.

When he came back a few days later, De Vick found the surface of the syrup had hardened to form an outer crust, while the inside remained liquid. Inspired, he opened a candy shop, and the cuberdon was born.

In the 1950s, Antoine Geldhof was given the recipe while working at De Vick’s factory in Ghent. He went on to open Confiserie Geldhof - the current market leader out of the three major cuberdon makers.

The third generation family-run business, based in Eeklo northwest of Ghent, still makes its cuberdons from the original recipe, using gum arabic, sugar, glucose and starch. The ingredients are boiled together, set in a conical mould and baked in an oven for at least 12 hours before cooling.

The entire process - from boiling to packaging - takes four to five days. To indicate the candy’s authenticity, Geldhof marks its cuberdons with the letter ‘G’.

“Every week we re-produce,” Daniel Bernon, commercial director at Geldhof said. “We don’t (keep) stock because it has a short shelf life. A product going out on Monday will be in the shops on Wednesday.”

Cuberdons are best enjoyed fresh - within weeks of production - before the sugary crust begins to thicken.

“Usually you take the cone in your hands with the top in the air, you look at the G and you bite in it and you suck the juice out,” said Rutger Lamberts, who picks up Geldhof cuberdons every Friday to stock his Ghent candy shop.

A Ghent native, Lamberts takes pride in selling cuberdons made the traditional way and says he has the best price in town: 4 euros ($5.20) for 13 pieces.

“An awful lot of steady customers come to me,” Lamberts said. “They know that I have weekly fresh ones.” ($1 = 0.7695 euros)

Reporting By Teddy Nykiel