Posted by: Didapper PJ20 MAY 2010
One of life’s mysteries is: what is the point of Kendal mint cake? Why is it so popular with hikers, climbers and Lake District tourists?
Mint cake has been used as an energy booster on explorations ever since Ernest Shackleton took it on his 1914–17 trans-Arctic expedition. It was most famously crunched by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on the summit of the world’s highest mountain in 1953.
But if you need to carry sugary sustenance in a robust formulation, why on earth take a product that looks like a bathroom tile, tastes like fossilised toothpaste and can only be deconstructed into bite-size pieces with the aid of an ice-axe? (Maybe that’s how it became connected with polar and Himalayan excursions in the first place.)
Kendal’s famous “energy bar” is made from sucrose, glucose, water and peppermint oil. Legend has it that its invention was the result of poor in-process control during the manufacture of boiled sweets. In 1869 Joseph Wiper was trying to make clear glacier mints in his small Kendal factory when he was distracted from his cooking pot, and the rest is history — or, as far as I am concerned, mystery.
Mint cake allegedly accompanied George Mallory on his ill-fated 1924 attempt to conquer Mount Everest. But what might that unfortunate mountaineer have achieved if instead of packing such a depressingly dull product he had loaded up with tastier energy-rich confections such as bulls’ eyes, glacier mints, humbugs, gobstoppers, aniseed balls, barley sugar drops, crystal fruits, Everton mints, pear drops, sherbet lemons, cinnamon drops or winter mixture? Alas, we will never know.