Sugar Skull Tradition – Sugar art was brought to the New World by Italian missionaries in the 17th century. The first Church mention of sugar art was from Palermo at Easter time when little sugar lambs and angels were made to adorn the side altars in the Catholic Church.
Mexico, abundant in sugar production and lacking money to buy fancy imported European church decorations at the time, learned quickly from the friars how to make sugar art for their religious festivals. Clay molded sugar figures of angels, sheep and sugar skulls go back to the Colonial Period 18th century. Sugar skulls represented a departed soul, had the name written on the forehead and was placed on the home ofrenda or gravestone to honor the return of a particular spirit. Sugar skull art reflects the folk art style of big happy smiles, colorful icing and sparkly tin and glittery adornments. Common ingredients for making sugar skulls include powdered sugar, egg white, corn syrup, vanilla, and corn starch. Typically, sugar skulls need to dry overnight or for several hours. Sugar skulls are labor intensive and made in very small batches in the homes of sugar skull makers. However, these artisans are disappearing as fabricated and imported candy skulls take their place.