Food history: salt water taffy

I associate salt water taffy with Cape Cod, where my parents used to buy it for me in the summer.

But, there’s another touristy East Coast spot where salt water taffy originated: the Atlantic City Boardwalk.

The history of salt water taffy is as small and sweet as the candy itself.

Definition: a taffy sometimes made with seawater but more generally made with salted fresh water.

And the definition of taffy: a chewy candy made of sugar or molasses boiled down, often with butter, nuts, etc.

Despite the definition, source I’ve found indicate that salt water taffy is never made with salt water; and in fact, it is not always made with salt.

In examining salt water taffy and taffy, I’ve wondered if there is a difference – there is. According to, Airheads, Now and Laters, and Starburst are all considered to be taffy.

Salt water taffies are the colorful taffy candies that are bite-size and individually wrapped.

As the story goes, an Atlantic City candy shop was flooded in 1883, thanks to high tides brought in from a storm. The following day, a little girl and her mother visited the shop, and asked for a bag of taffy.

Owner David Bradley sarcastically told them to enjoy some salt water taffy, as all his inventory had been ruined by seawater. According to Bradley’s sister, the girl’s mother liked the name and suggested Bradley use it.

While Bradley is credited with the name “salt water taffy,” two additional men are known for popularizing and bettering the boardwalk treat.

In 1886, just a few years after Bradley began marketing salt water taffy, Joseph F. Fralinger decided to try selling taffy on the Atlantic City Boardwalk – this was after failed attempts at selling cigars, lemonade, and other products to tourists. 

Because Bradley hadn’t patented the salt water name, Fralinger was free to use it. Fralinger then took salt water taffy a bit further by packaging it in fun, one-pound boxes that tourists could take home as souvenirs. 

In 1900, Enoch James decided he would sell salt water taffy on the boardwalk too. James came up with a recipe that was less sticky and therefore easier to get out of the wrappers. More importantly, he also came up with the machines that would pull taffy, a laborious chore to do by hand.

In the 1920s, a taffy seller attempted to trademark the salt water taffy brand, but ended up losing. Today, both Enoch and Fralinger are still in business.

In conclusion, salt water taffy is merely a fun marketing term.

Taffy is primarily made of fat and sugar. The pulling process adds air to the mix, helping to keep the taffy soft