Place of origin
The word "konpeitō" comes from the Portuguese word confeito (comfit), which is a type of sugar candy. This technique for producing candy was introduced to Japan in the early 16th century by Portuguese traders. The infrastructure and refining technology of sugar had not yet been established in Japan in those days. As konpeito uses a lot of sugar, it was very rare and expensive as a result. In 1569, Luís Fróis, a Portuguese missionary, presented a glass flask of konpeitō to Oda Nobunaga in order to obtain the permit for mission work of Christianity.
By the Meiji period, konpeito had already been culturally prescribed as one of the standards of Japanese sweets — the character Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker was translated into konpeitō no sei (Japanese: 金平糖の精, Fairy of konpeitō). Konpeitō is also the standard of the thank-you-for-coming gift which is given by the Imperial House of Japan. The gift of konpeitō comes in a small box called bonbonieru (Japanese: ボンボニエール), from the French bonbonnière, meaning candy box.
The characters 金平糖 (lit. "golden flat sugar") are ateji selected mostly for their phonetic value, and the word can also be written 金米糖 or 金餅糖.
The Star Bits in Super Mario Galaxy and the Gratitude Crystals in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword are based on these candies. These candies can also be seen in the movie Spirited Away and the anime Hamtaro.
Konpeitō is usually 5 to 10 mm (0.20 to 0.39 in) in diameter and is produced by repeatedly coating a sugar syrup over a core consisting of a grain of coarse sugar. Originally the core was a seed. The process is somewhat similar to the dragée process, except the candies are produced by being ladled with sugar syrup and rotated slowly in a large heated gong-shaped tub called a "dora". Each grain of the core sugar grows over the course of several days with the continued rotating, heating, and application of syrup, grows into a ball covered with tiny bulges. It usually takes 7-13 days to make konpeitō and they are crafted by artisans even today.
- Richard Hosking A Dictionary of Japanese Food 1996 Page 84 " Konpeitō コンペイトー 金平糖 comfit. A sugar candy introduced by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, one kind of higashi. It is a small toffee sphere (5 mm in diameter) with a pimply surface, made from sugar, water, and flour in a variety of colours. Originally there was a sesame seed in the middle, later a poppy seed, but nowadays no seed at all. The word comfit derives from the Portuguese confeito."
- Voices of Early Modern Japan: Contemporary Accounts of Daily Life ... - Page 99 Constantine Vaporis - 2012 "Even though the Portuguese were expelled from Japan in 1639, pan (bread), konpeito (a type of candy), tempura, "
- Science on form: proceedings of the First International Symposium ... - Page 4 Shozo Ishizaka, Y. Kato, R. Takaki - 1987 "This candy was brought to Japan for the first time by a Portuguese missionary, Luis Frois, in 1569. It was among some presents to Nobunaga, the ruler of Japan of that time. The sugar candy was kept in a bottle of glass, and was called ..."
- A history of glass in Japan - Page 159 Dorothy Blair, Corning Museum of Glass - 1973 "The Jesuit Father Luis Frois is said to have presented to Oda Nobunaga candles and a glass flask filled with kompeito (a kind of sugar candy) ; and to Ashikaga Yoshiaki, silk and a glass vessel with a broken handle."
- Shūkan Asahi - Volume 106 2001 Page 125 "..まずは、チヤィコフスキ—の「くるみ割り人形」から「金平糖の精の踊り」。"
- The art of Japanese craft: 1875 to the present - Page 60 Felice Fischer, Philadelphia Museum of Art - 2008 "Tokyo: Kunaicho, 2004. YoroJkobi no kobako: bonbonieru no ishobi (Celebratory miniature boxes: the decorative beauty of the bonboniere)."
- 金平糖の作り方, Ebisudo-Seika