Candles have been around for thousands of years. Earlier types of candles have been traced back to 200 BC, to what was known as Han China. However, the kinds of candles that were common in 200 BC are not the same ones we have now. In ancient times, candle wax was originally made from animal products like fat from cows, sheep and whales. The advent of paraffin wax, soy wax and beeswax have changed the face of the candle-making industry forever however, a rich history still remains, along with one question; “Why were candles made out of animal products?”
THE ORIGINS OF CANDLE-MAKING
The concept of making candles from animal fat and insects can only be truly explained when the origin of candle wax is examined. Long ago, candles were made from tallow or fat from sheep and cattle, which were melted down and later solidified with embedded twine to form candles. Even more interestingly, around 200 BC, when the earliest surviving candles were popular in Han China, it was whale fat that was being melted down to make candle wax. This was because whales were hunted down in that region at that time. Historians have also established that at some point in the long history of candle- making nuts from trees and insects were wrapped in paper and used as candle wax.
While it may seem strange now, it shouldn’t be so surprising that the origins of candle-making involved the use of insects and fat from cows and whales. After all, every other process that has attained some level of sophistication in this day and age began long ago as a result of pure discovery. Candle-making is not different, and since it has been around for thousands of years, it only follows that thousands of years ago, candles were made from materials which were available thousands of years ago, namely; cows, insects and whales.
The ancient Romans who are thought to be the first inventors of candles made candle wax from the fat or tallow of sheep and cattle. However, this invention – or rather, discovery – might not have happened if fire had not been discovered first. It was probably as a result of years of watching the effect of fire on animal carcasses, during the crude process of cooking that lead to the realization that fat could be harnessed in the manner of candle-making. This deduction was nothing short of evolutionary.
Nowadays, candles are no longer made from animals and animal products such as insects and fat from cows and whales. And the idea that candles used to be made from such material seems a little strange in this day and age. This is because candle-making has evolved over the centuries, particularly with the widespread manufacture of candles made from paraffin wax which first became popular in the 1850s.
Paraffin wax is the most common material used in candle-making today. It is derived from petroleum, which makes it completely different from earlier materials used in candle making. The popularity of candles made from paraffin wax over those made from insects and fat from cows and whales is an industry-changing phenomenon which has forever altered the face of candle-making globally. The reasons for this preference are not hard to see, as candles made from paraffin wax burned cleanly and without any odor, unlike those made out of insects and fats from animals. Also, candles made from paraffin wax were much cheaper and easier to manufacture. For a time after the invention of candles from paraffin wax, other types of candles were still in use. The decline in the demand for candles can be linked closely to the invention of electricity and the introduction of the light bulb in households.
Nevertheless, candle-making did not die out. Rather the art evolved and today candles have their own niche in aromatherapy and other similar practices. While this may be a far cry from what it used to be, considering the fact that asides from illumination, candles were once used to tell the time; the new space of candles in the modern day is one that will guarantee their existence in decades and even centuries to come.
THE CURRENT STATE OF CANDLE-MAKING USING COWS, INSECTS AND WHALES
In 2017, information gathered from data trends stated that the candle making industry made use of about 42% of the paraffin wax produced globally. Despite the pandemic, specialists have also reported an increasing growth trend in the demand of candles globally, particularly scented candles. The bulk of these candles are made from paraffin wax. However, the ancient art of candle-making using animals and animal products such as insects and fat from cows and whales have not died out completely.
Actually, candle making from whale fat might be a bit less common than candle-making from tallow or fat from animals such cows and sheep, due to the high risk of extinction of whales in the present day. However, tallow candles are still very much around, and they are more common than many people think.
Due to reservations that some people may have about the safety of paraffin wax, some candle-makers or chandlers who are naturalists have returned to the earliest roots of candle making, using materials such as insects and tallow from cows and sheep to make their candles.
Apart from this, some restaurant owners have begun to add candles – not candlelight dinners – to their menu. Candle cuisine is one very extraordinary way by which candles made from insect and animal fat – but mostly animal fat – are making their comeback. These delicious candles are made from animal meat together with ingredients such as thyme, garlic, mint, parsley and other herbs and vegetables that are usually used in cooking meat. These yummy candles are then usually lit and served on a plate. They can either be eaten alone or enjoyed with a whole range of other dishes including pasta and bread. Vegans, vegetarians and those who have no interest in meat-based products are not neglected as some culinary masterminds have gone as far as to make edible candles using foods like fruits and vegetables. Those who would rather avoid meat may find these types more agreeable.