There are some flavours that take us straight back to the schoolyard days. Red frogs, Ribena, Chiko Rolls, Mint Patties, translucent bags of hot chips doused in gravy; the list is exhaustive and varies slightly between decades. Most of the above snacks will evoke nostalgic moans (or at least, smiles) but there’s one primary school treat that’s still as divisive as ever: musk sticks.
The skinny, fairy-pink lollies are well-known throughout Australia and New Zealand but remain a mystery to the rest of the world – they even made one US travel website’s 15 strange candies from around the world list (right under Pakistan’s Osama bin Laden Kulfa Balls).
So what makes the musk stick so polarising? Its texture – a chalky, slightly chewy affair – is one thing, but it’s their pungent scent and taste that divides the nation.
“It’s like eating perfume!” says Sydney-sider Christina Marielle. “And then when you breathe after eating it, you're breathing out perfume everywhere. You can't scratch the taste off your tongue.
“Do I remember it right - is it hard and flaky?” Marielle continues. “Who wants that in a candy?”
For Tamworth resident Elle Rixon, it’s also a matter of mouth-feel and taste. “From their chalky texture to their sickly taste, I truly believe the world would be better off without musk sticks. I don’t care if they needed to reshoot the entire Women’s Weekly cookbook. #ditchthemusk.”
Like many who have tried the musk stick, Sydney resident Sky Fozzy has a love-hate relationship with the confectionery.
“The first chew shows promise and then the flavour of an over-perfumed toilet cake takes over every sense in my body. I drop the remaining half to the ground and a mix of tears and chewed up musk begin to roll down my face. All the time knowing that in a few years time, as the memory fades, we will meet again.”
But Sydney mum Christina Tremain is quick to come to the pink lolly’s defence. “How can you hate on a musk stick? I could smash a few right now - now that you mention it.”
Sydney café and patisserie LuxBite have amassed a cult following for their fresh spin on nostalgic lolly aisle favourites. Take their famous Lolly Bag Cake, for instance; each layer is a homage to the prized party bag loot of your childhood. It’s comprised of a banana lolly sponge layer, a freckles crunch layer, a mandarin Jaffa ganache (the mandarin pays tribute to the owners’ Malaysian backgrounds) followed by a musk stick ‘mallow’, replete with spearmint leaf buttercream and Redskin glaze.
Owners Yen Yee and Bernard Chu have fine-dining pastry chef backgrounds and opened LuxBite seven years ago.
“Me and Bernard, we are from Malaysia – we don’t have any lollies like that there,” says Yee of the musk stick. “The first time we tried the must stick, it didn’t taste like fruit or anything that we knew as pastry chefs. So we didn’t like it. It’s very challenging for us - the musk stick flavour is very unique: it’s quite intense and rich.
“It’s a beautiful colour and then you taste and, oh – it’s a surprise,” she laughs.
Chu and Yee played around with the flavour for hours and eventually decided on lightening the muskiness by turning it into marshmallow.
“It’s one of the most challenging cakes we’ve ever created for LuxBite.”
Chu and Yee’s reservations aside, the Lolly Bag Cake has been a huge hit with both young and old, namely for its ability to evoke a happy, rainbow-coloured childhood euphoria.
It’s a beautiful colour and then you taste and, oh – it’s a surprise
So, what exactly gives the seemingly innocent pink sweets their challenging flavour profile? A glance at Wikipedia, shattering as it is (look away, vegans) reveals that the musk class of aromas (which is also prominent in perfumery) includes “glandular secretions from animals such as the musk deer, numerous plants emitting similar fragrances, and artificial substances with similar odours. Musk was a name originally given to a substance with a penetrating odour obtained from a gland of the male musk deer.”
The listing goes on to name muskrats, musk ducks and musk beetles as other sources of the musk-like aroma. That’s not to say there aren’t some vegetarian musk essence options out there…
Have we put you off your musk stick? We hope not. Try your own hand at making a batch here and rekindle the love.
Feeling nostalgic? Check out #BringBackTheClassics!