I really hate candy corn. Growing up in a family with a seemingly insatiable sweet tooth, hating any candy, let alone such a classic symbol of pure unadulterated sugar love, was a capital crime. Come Halloween we’d dress up and lumber over to my Grandmother’s house to meet the rest of the cousins for some hardcore trick or treating in Nana’s upscale neighborhood. I remember scrambling in the front door and making a beeline for the living room, anxious to see what delicious candy she’d chosen to set out.
Every holiday, every year, our Nana would set out tiny bowlfuls of colorful candies placed strategically around the house, in key snacking locations. Christmas featured rows of Andes mints and mini candy canes. Easter was Cadbury Eggs and pastel peanut M&Ms. At Thanksgiving she’d mix it up with some roasted nuts, and if we were lucky, caramels. But Halloween was always dangerously unpredictable for a kid with extreme candy prejudices. Would this be a Reese’s and M&Ms year? (Oh Please!) Or would those glittering crystal bowls be filled with my dreaded flavor nemesis, the Candy Corn? Talk about Halloween Horrors!
Originally created in the 1880s by Wunderlee Candy Company, candy corn was designed to imitate, well, corn of course. (What was up with boring candy back then? Who thought making a corn shaped candy was a great idea?) Its primary ingredients are sugar, corn syrup, color and binders. The original recipe was considered a “mellow cream” — a type of candy with a marshmallow flavor. In fact, they achieved this flavor by throwing marshmallows into the slurry as they cooked it. This slurry was then poured into molds using a three pass method, to create the tricolor that is candy corn’s signature.
Now while this is the official recipe, I think anyone that grew up in the 60s and 70s is likely to agree with me that at some point, a major component of that recipe, was replaced with wax. In fact personally I think the recipe was revised to just corn syrup and cheap wax. How else do you explain the pale “wax bloom” present on the hard coating of most candy corn kernels? Combine that with the crumbly cheap
crayon texture, the persistent orange finger stain of candy corn addicts, and the ability to write on paper with the bitten off ends of these things, and I think we have very good reason to suspect that all the candy corn of the past century was really manufactured by a defunct crayon company looking to unload some cheap product. And I’m not alone in my candy corn conspiracy theories! (VIDEO)
For many, candy corn has become as familiar a marker of Halloween as pumpkins. My friend, artist Ash Evans tweeted to me: “Candy corn is like the kid your Mom made you invite to your party. Nobody really wants them there, but it is required.” She’s got a very good point. Candy corn sticks around because it hits all the right nostalgic notes with people. It’s only available seasonally, which means we don’t get jaded by the sight of it the rest of the year. In fact, its presence in the stores signifies the beginning the winter holidays, and triggers warm and fuzzy childhood memories.
For years I’ve conducted an informal poll on the nature of candy lover’s relationships to candy corn. And my research has borne out the nostalgia over taste hypothesis. Do people love what candy corn symbolizes? Yes. Do they actually EAT the stuff? Not necessarily. When pressed to consider the question, I’ve found very few people who actually admit to liking the way it tastes.
Shockingly, one of the rare exceptions I’ve found is, alas, my own daughter. While she’s definitely inherited the family sweet tooth, I’m happy to report she exercises restraint, and has a discerning palette. Well, I should say she usually has a discerning palette. Her love of candy corn is clearly a tragic lapse in good taste. After I got over my initial shock to the horrifying revelation, I of course quizzed the little candy traitor thoroughly.
“Why do you like it!” I demanded.
“It’s fun! It’s colorful! It’s Halloween!” she shamelessly declared.
I suspected as much. My own daughter has been thoroughly brainwashed by the candy corn Illuminati. “But what about the texture? The taste?” I cried.
“Mom!” she rolled her eyes. “You can’t just eat any brand! Brach’s is the best!” Why? Well, my daughter reports, it the only brand she’s found that has a “flavor”. In fact Brach’s now has many “flavors” of candy corn aside from the original. Somehow that feels like cheating.
Ugh, what’s a mother to do? The Candy Corn Demon has come after my own kin! Next thing you know she’ll be joining that candy corn lovers group on Facebook.
Maybe I’ll just make a Facebook group of my own. (Insert maniacal laughter here).