Come trick-or-treat day, everyone's got their favorites to steal from their kids' haul. Here are ours
Kicking it old-school: Candy corn and its cousins
My affection for candy corn is based mainly on art class in grade school, when I glued them on as the feathers for poorly drawn turkeys on construction paper. I really can’t tell you what they’re supposed to taste like, and I’m not sure my body will accept them as actual food. I was pleased, though, to see the packaging proclaim, “Made With Real Honey,” which gives a clue to its flavor. I suppose “Made With Real Titanium Dioxide Color” isn’t quite as big a selling point.
In the interest of diversity, I got the Autumn Mix, consisting of orange and white candy corn, orange and brown candy corn, thumb-size pumpkins made of the same genetic material as candy corn, and lots of broken-up pieces that look like a disaster at a candle factory. I chomped down through the weirdly soft, weirdly chewy treat and … I could taste the honey! Mystery solved: Candy corn is a waxy honey pellet! I kept tasting. The pumpkin is a bit much for me, but I can see the appeal if you feel like getting back at your teeth for making you brush them every night. As it melts on your tongue, you can feel the sugar osmose directly into your bloodstream. I started trembling some more.
But then I got to one of the brown candy corns. I think they’re supposed to have a “chocolate” flavor, and I here learned a valuable lesson: Chocolate does not, in fact, make everything better. The chocolate in candy corn, for instance, makes it taste like dirt.
The great Krackel vs. Crunch debate
When I put out a call for people’s favorite Halloween candies, I got a stunning number of replies insisting on the superiority of Hershey’s Krackel over the Nestl
The Delicious and the Decorative: Wax lips
Suddenly good, and suddenly not enough: Good & Plenty
When I was a kid, I had a theory on why these were always plenty, and it’s not because they were good. I mean, what kind of a kid sees M&Ms and Milky Ways and thinks, “You know what I want? A box of bullet-hard pills that look and taste like medicine.” But trying one just now, for the first time in probably 25 years (Oh my God I am so old), they’re kind of … magic. Really chewy, tough enough to give your teeth a satisfying workout, they taste like licorice with a smacking of salt that is not shy. The coating disintegrates in your teeth, and then you’re hit with flavors that roll from molasses to licorice to root beer, and then, strangely and delightfully, like buttered popcorn jelly beans. I have no idea what genius invented these things, but: My hat’s off to you, finally.
Also, I’m only halfway done with tasting these candies, and I am about to pass out.
Finding Mr. Goodbar
These are kind of delicious! I’d long thought these were just bars of peanuts in chocolate, but it’s more like peanut-infused chocolate. It’s like if you melted a Reese’s peanut butter cup down, mixed it up, and then cut it into rectangles. What’s really disturbing about this thing, though, is that it tastes more like real chocolate, with its toasty, nutty notes, than the milk chocolate coating of all these other candies. I say it’s disturbing, because apparently there’s so much man-made business in there that Hershey’s can’t legally call this a chocolate bar anymore.
Cain and Abel: Full-size vs. Mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
Anyone who thinks that putting salt in desserts is some newfangled cheffy thing should take a bite out of a Reese’s peanut butter cup. Those things are salty as hell, and that’s why they taste so good — the balance of salt and sweet makes you eat them compulsively.
And, while we’re on that subject, I’ve heard lots of arguments from people who insist that the mini Reese’s are better than the full-size Reese’s or vice versa. It must be a matter of chocolate-to-peanut butter ratio, I figured. The full-size cups are actually wider and much thinner than the minis, and so presumably the greater surface area means more chocolate outside to the peanut butter inside. But then I also noticed that the minis have a much thicker coating, which may be by design to retain the chocolate-peanut butter ratio. And then I learned another very important lesson: I am taking this job way too damned seriously. And Reese’s Pieces beat the hell out of both of them anyway.
The cartoon-candy synergy: SpongeBob Squarepants Gummy Krabby Patties
What’s a children’s holiday without a little cartoon branding? There wasn’t any Smurfs candy when I was a kid, but the powers that be have long learned from that mistake, and that’s why I’m walking around with a bag of SpongeBob Squarepants Gummy Krabby Patties.
All cynicism aside, these things are kind of brilliant. Modeled after the specialty of the restaurant where SpongeBob cooks, they actually come apart into two buns, a pickle and the much-sought-after Krabby Patty. Sure, all the pieces have the same generic, tasty “fruity” flavor, but I haven’t had this much fun playing with a gummy candy since they had those gummy Coke bottles back in the ’80s. As I was marveling at this chewy construction, Salon’s V.P. of Sales expressed bewilderment. “These are from SpongeBob? But they’re not square!” he said. Man, the pants are square, not the Krabby Patties! Sigh. Some grown-ups are so lame.
Feeling my age: Gail Ambrosius tree frogs
It’s a long way from plastic bags of individually wrapped candy packets to a three-layered box of mail-order small-batch chocolates wrapped in ribbon and tasteful tissue paper, but after all this juvenile indulgence, I needed some grown-up stuff.
Which may or may not have been served by eating weird frog-looking bonbons, more like talismans than treats, but biting off the head assured me I was doing the right thing. The chocolate has a dark, subdued fruitiness, complex, berry-like flavor and a yielding, vanilla-infused ganache inside. My mouth is thanking me, and, fun aside, this is still far and away the flavor that speaks to me most. I have to admit, in the interests of full disclosure, that this box just happened to be sitting here because a P.R. person sent it as a sample, but eating this just aged me about 20 years, in a good way.
I can keel over in my sugar concussion now, knowing that my adulthood hasn’t abandoned me. But somewhere in the distance, I hear a voice, just over the crinkling of candy wrappers, saying, “This is the greatest day of my life!”
Francis Lam eats the outlandish foods you want to try but probably shouldn't. An occasional series, per doctor's orders and decency's sake.