Definition of bonbon
January 27, 2008 8:14 AM   Subscribe

I recently found that a wide range of candies get called bonbons, and now I'm curious about the different meanings for "bonbon", and what times and places they're connected to.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz to Food & Drink (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Isn't this just another example of people using the french word for things because they think it makes it sound exotic and worth a couple of extra pennies on the price?

Bonbon is just french for 'sweet' (UK) or 'Candy' (US equivalent). So it is as widespread and varied as you would use whichever of those words you normally would. I imagine much of the confusion over the definition of the particular sweet comes from a particular brand name that used it, plus not realising it is a generic name (just in a foreign tongue) rather than any sort of definition.
posted by Brockles at 8:28 AM on January 27, 2008

What Brockles said.

Local marketing might cause bonbon to take on varied,specific meanings for different people, but really a bonbon is just a candy.
posted by Count Ziggurat at 8:36 AM on January 27, 2008

The use of bonbon to specifically mean praliné stems from Belgium.
posted by jouke at 9:02 AM on January 27, 2008

I'm in Australia, and if you offered me a bonbon I'd think you meant a christmas cracker*, or a hard candy (ie; boiled lolly) shaped like one.

*Do I remember hearing that USians don't know about them? Cardboard tubes with small firecrackers inside that you pull apart like a wishbone, getting an explosion, a mini toy, a paper hat and a printed joke.
posted by jacalata at 9:17 AM on January 27, 2008

In French there is also a feminine version of the word, une bonbonne which can be a demijohn or carboy, or a canister as in une bonbonne de gaz.
posted by jontyjago at 10:28 AM on January 27, 2008

I'm American and I've only ever heard bonbon used to describe a bite-sized ball of ice-cream covered in chocolate, I've never heard it used for candy. Interesting!
posted by platinum at 10:33 AM on January 27, 2008

The first association for the word bonbon for me is the french word for sweet/candy/lolly , but also in england it refers to a specific sweet - toffee covered by a crunchy coating which is then covered by icing (confectioner's) sugar, as can be seen here.

When I was a small child, these were the sort of sweets that aged relatives used to pass round.
posted by calico at 11:00 AM on January 27, 2008

well, if you're interested, "bombons" in portuguese are sweets covered in chocolate fondant. In french it seems to cover a lot of different types of candies.

The OED says:
1. A lozenge or other confection made of sugar. Also attrib.
1796 F. BURNEY Camilla III. VI. iii. 171 Clarendel, lounging upon a chair in the middle of the shop, sat eating bon bons. 1818 MOORE Fudge Fam. Paris v, The land of Cocaigne..Where for hail they have bon-bons, and claret for rain. 1819 M. WILMOT Let. 26 Nov. (1935) 32 The pretty papers with which the bon bon plates are covered. 1831 DISRAELI Yng. Duke 3 Lady Fitz-Pompey called twice a week..with a supply of pine-apples or bon-bons. 1886 A. T. RICHIE Let. 1 Jan. (1924) x. 192 The bonbon tongs had an immense success. 1911 Daily Colonist (Victoria, B.C.) 29 Apr. 4/4 (Advt.), Cut Glass..Handled Bon Bon Dishes £3.00. 1964 M. LASKI in S. Nowell-Smith Edwardian England iv. 195 Innumerable bon-bon dishes and table napkins.

transf. and fig.
1856 Farmer's Mag. Nov. 426 A good thing, quite a bon~bon. 1955 Times 30 Aug. 5/4 They opened this morning with a programme of French bon-bons.

{dag}2. A dainty, a delicacy. Obs.
1821 Cook's Oracle (ed. 3) 330 [In a] Catalogue of Persian ‘Bons Bons’, there is a list of 28 differently flavoured Mustards. 1842 ‘MEG DODS’ Cook & Housew. Man. II. v. 125 note, They [onions] used to form the favourable bon-bons of the Highlander.

3. In full cracker bon-bon: see CRACKER 6b. Also attrib.
1846 DICKENS Pictures from Italy 170 What with this green, and the intolerable reds and crimsons, and gold borders..the whole concern looked like a stupendous Bon~bon. 1894 H. NISBET Bush Girl's Rom. 287 Gilt paper and coloured bon-bon stuff. 1901 Daily Chron. 10 Aug. 10/3 Frieze suits in the loveliest bon-bon shades of blue and red.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 11:04 AM on January 27, 2008

To supplement the above OED definition, M-W says:
1 : a candy with chocolate or fondant coating and fondant center that sometimes contains fruits and nuts 2 : something that is pleasing in a light or frivolous way
That, in my experience, is the more typical American understanding of the word.
posted by camcgee at 11:11 AM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

jacalata: Christmas crackers are not a part of USian tradition, no. I'm sure that many of us are unaware of them, but universal ignorance would be an overstatement. They can be readily purchased in specialty shops, imported for expats, anglophiles, and folks just looking to broaden their experience I suppose. I have never heard of their being called "bonbons" though.
posted by mumkin at 12:30 PM on January 27, 2008

I have never heard of their being called "bonbons" though.

Nor have I. And the Christmas crackers I've had never contained any candy. Unlike platinum, this USAian has heard of bon-bons all my life; they're part of the stereotype of a kept woman, who lounges around all day eating bon-bons.
posted by Rash at 3:40 PM on January 28, 2008

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