Candles – sure!

Candles used to be a source of heat and light. Today candles make a romantic atmosphere. If it doesn’t drip, isn’t sooty and low on smoke, it can pass the quality test and receives the RAL quality mark. We’ll take a closer look at the candle.

Candles are popular - not just at Christmas. Foto: Fotolia - PhotoSG

Candles are popular – not only at Christmas. Photo: Fotolia – PhotoSG

They’re essential for festive dinners or romantic hours – candles provide a special atmosphere and aren’t only popular at Christmas. That being said, battery-powered models by no means outrank the classic candle with wicks. Approximately 738,000 tons of candles were consumed throughout Europe in the past year. That’s 1.45 kilos per head. The fascination of burning flames is unbroken.

The candle’s genesis lies mostly in the dark. Oil lamps fed by animal fats apparently brought light into caves of hunters and gatherers as far back as the ice ages in Europe. The invention of the candle probably goes back at least 5,000 years. At the same time in the Middle East, they were made “from straw, hemp or reed, soaked in fat or resin,” explains the European Candlemakers’ Association (ECA). Proper candles were probably first developed by the Romans in the second century of our calendar system, by dipping a wick repeatedly in tallow or liquid beeswax.

Beeswax, a limited natural product, soon became a precious commodity, which the Church and royal houses in particular claimed for themselves during the Middle Ages. These candles burned evenly and spread their warm, yellow light and sweet scent without giving off sooty smoke. The less well-to-do people had to satisfy themselves with alternatives made from beef or mutton fat, which didn’t just burn with thick smoke but also stank abominably.

Beeswax as most expensive resource – stearin and paraffin not until the 19th Century

Even today, beeswax remains the most expensive resource for candles and has the lowest share in production. Candle making took an important step forward in the 19th century with the development of stearin, gained mainly from palm oil and animal fats. But paraffin, more universally applicable as a by-product of petroleum processing, soon proved itself as the cheaper alternative.

Even until 100 years ago, it would have been dark after sunset in many rooms without candles. But the electric light bulb’s patent registration in 1880 and the increasing use of electric light have made the candle – except during power blackouts or in remote cabins – virtually obsolete. All of Germany, for example, was hooked up to the power grid in the 1940s and had rendered the great safety hazard of handling open fires for light unnecessary. But people continued to buy candles.

After their manufacturers watched the rise of flickering LED-lights over the past few years with concern, the stir they caused has meanwhile subsided. “Candles and their imitations aren’t really harming each other,” says ECA-director Stefan Thomann. “The LEDs are sold additionally and are set up primarily in schools and retirement homes, where the use of candles was always excluded because of the open flame.” The industry was relieved to realize that the sale of candle replicas is stagnating.

The alternative to the candle are LED lamps . They do not drip, produce soot or smoke. Foto: Fotolia - diamant24

The alternative to the candle are LED lamps . They do not drip, produce soot or smoke. Photo: Fotolia – diamant24

LED-lights are no competition

Today, many candles are made out of a mix of one key component, paraffin, and a lesser amount of stearin. “While the amount of paraffin on average used to be more than 90 percent until about ten years ago, that figure has since gone down to 60 percent,” says Thomann. The resource has become more expensive and scarcer and is often replaced by vegetable stearin. By now there are also certified candles that guarantee the use of sustainably produced palm oil. “If the customers’ demands rise in this regard, the supply will also adjust,” the director is convinced.

The candle’s function of bringing light into the dark is mostly of a symbolic nature nowadays. But candles aren’t just objects of utility; they evidently also convey emotions and memories. The Scandinavians, who aren’t graced with an overabundance of sun, light candles significantly more often than other Europeans. The Danes for example reach a usage of 4.3 kilograms per head. At 2.4 kilograms, the usage in Germany still lies far above the European average.

But even in regard to candle types, people in the North don’t drop their old habits. The most sold candles here are unscented and white, made from animal stearin, which burn with a particularly large and bright flame. “Beef tallow is often used in this context. It has its own scent, which you have to like,” says Volker Albrecht. He has been testing the European candle industry’s products in test organization DEKRA’s special laboratory for years. Only if they comply with all the material and safety regulations of the Quality Association for Candles, are the candles allowed to bear the RAL seal of approval.

A candle is always a fire hazard. They should never be out of sight. Foto: Fotolia - eyetronic

A candle is always a fire hazard. They should never be out of sight. Photo: Fotolia – eyetronic

Highly flammable: Candles must always remain under observation

Because candle doesn’t equal candle. From tea lights over scented- and household candles all the way to birthday- and swimming candles, the market offers a wide range with large differences in quality. The candles are examined by Albrecht for their ingredients, their burning behavior and burning time. “Stearin candles have a higher melting point and give off less soot than paraffin candles,” he says. While stearin candles hold their form up to approximately 54 degrees, paraffin candles start to warp simply by being in the sun and should in that case no longer be lighted.

In a special laboratory, Volker Albrecht tests the products for the European candle industry. Photo: DEKRA

In a special laboratory, Volker Albrecht tests the products for the European candle industry. Photo: DEKRA

The RAL seal safeguards consumers from using cheap articles and assures that a candle won’t drip, is low-soot and low-smoke, and is made from high-quality resources. “The manufacture is subject to strict health- and environment-oriented limit values for all ingredients,” Thomann emphasizes. However, people who easily have allergic reactions should forego scented candles as a precaution. “The substances are basically untraceable in the air,” Albrecht explains.

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