Love them or hate them, every year more than 35 million pounds of that waxy oxymoron, aka, candy corn, is bought, handed out, and eaten by trick or treaters all across America.
At least five pounds of it sits next to me as I write this; I can smell the sugar wafting from the open packages and it’s giving me a contact high. In this state of mind, let me tell you what I learned about what the heck is actually in them, and how people really feel about candy corn when they stop being polite and start getting real.
What’s in Candy Corn?
You won’t be be shocked to hear that the dominant ingredients in candy corn are sugar and corn syrup. These are mixed with other flavorings and ingredients to create a wet mixture and could include added sugars like honey or dextrose*.
(Pro tip: Beware of the many names that sugar hides under. Any word that ends in “-ose” — i.e., fructose, dextrose, maltose, glucose — is just another name for sugar.)
Depending on the maker, glazes, fondant, marshmallow, gelatin, carnauba wax, hydrogenated oil, or other oils, are added for texture, bite, and a glossy finish. (Who can resist glossy wax?) Artificial colors are added to the same base to make all three colors.
A serving of classic candy corn is 19 pieces and contains 140 calories and 28 grams of sugar. That’s seven teaspoons of added sugar; for reference, the American Heart Association’s daily limit for sugar is six teaspoons for women and children, and nine for men.
Ingredients in Brach’s, a popular brand of candy corn, include: sugar, corn syrup, confectioner’s glaze (shellac), salt, dextrose, gelatin, sesame oil, artificial flavor, honey, yellow 6 (dye), yellow 5 (dye), and red 3 (dye).
Why Do People Hate Candy Corn?
It tastes like stale, fake stuff
“I’m so confused. What is this trying to taste like?” asked Fred Gooltz, a TV writer and my husband. Trying to put his finger on it, he said, “It tastes like old dried-up doughnut filling. I took a bite of an old rotten Boston cream doughnut when I was eight — it had gotten hard and tasted like very sugary, fake milk product of some kind. This is what candy corn tastes like.”
Artificial colors and flavors come in every bag, and the “real” ingredients include a lot of sugar, more sugar, another sugar, salt, hydrogenated fat, another sugar, and then maybe some waxy stuff. All told, there are anywhere from 12-17 ingredients, mostly sugar. Sure, it’s fat-free and cholesterol-free, but just… no.
Why Do People Love Candy Corn?
I was surprised at how many of my dietitian colleagues indulge once a year and have a soft spot in their hearts for this tri-colored sugar bomb. Worth noting: The majority are in the hater camp, saying things like “hate it,” “tastes like sugar-coated wax,” “repulsive,” “waxy nothing,” and “ew.”
Because They’re Canadian
“Candy corn? Never heard of it,” said a visiting Canadian I recently met at a party. His aunt, however, gushed that she knew exactly what they were: “My friends are obsessed, they can’t get it there — they beg me to bring it back from my visits to the U.S.”
Because They’re American
Candy corn is an American invention, created by Wunderlee Candy Company employee George Renninger over a century ago. The unique design was a hit and it’s remained unchanged since then, according to the National Confectioners Association.That was in 1880 and about two decades later, Jelly Belly Candy Company (then Goelitz Candy Company) got in on the game, and are making them to this day, among other brands, such as Brach’s.
Candy Corn Trivia
- October 30 is National Candy Corn Day.
- Many labels now say “produced with genetic engineering,” to comply with a Vermont law that requires GMO labeling.
- Honey and sometimes beeswax in candy corn means it’s not vegan.
- Candy corn can be a choking hazard, and if it’s made with honey, it should be kept from babies under 12 months old, according Jonas Sickler, Marketing Director for ConsumerSafety.org, citing the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Some people insist the three colors taste different. (Anecdotal “fact” check: They don’t.)
- The most popular way to eat candy corn is all at once: 90 percent of candy corn eaters are nearly split on either eating it all at once (47 percent) or starting at the white tip (43 percent). The minority 10 percent start at the wide base.
The Taste Test
Keep in mind that I do not have a sweet tooth, and do not regularly eat candy corn. Until now, I was an undecided voter. Read on for my unscientific survey of some popular brands and see which one what swayed me:
- Brach’s classic candy corn: Cloyingly sweet with a smooth and soft texture, and a medium bite.
- Brach’s mini candy corn: Meant for baking, these are slightly higher in sugar and honey than the classic, and I can’t help but think this “small” size is closer to the historical original.
- Kroger candy corn: Tastes like sweet wax, but less of a sugary assault on the senses than Brach’s. Honey is the third ingredient, surprisingly high up.
- Walgreen’s candy corn: Tastes like chewy sugar. Also not as sweet as Brach’s.
- Brach’s Indian Corn: Large and bulky with a fake chocolate flavor about them.
- Brach’s Autumn Mix: Includes candy corn, pumpkins, and candy corn with brown bottoms (mildly chocolately — a discernibly different flavor than the other parts). I bit into a pumpkin, but could not bring myself to finish it.
- Sea salt chocolate candy corn: These look like candy corn trying to be fancy. They also taste like old crayons or stale chocolate-flavored lip gloss from the ’80s. Also, the texture is dry and brittle.
- M&Ms white candy corn: These take the concept of M&Ms and make them as horrible as possible with oversized pucks of white chocolate covered in orange, yellow, and white candy shell.
- Hershey’s candy corn creme bar: Also based on white chocolate with bits of candy corn mixed in. The texture isn’t horrible, but it’s still white chocolate. What’s the point?
- Target’s Brunch Favorites candy corn: I did not taste these, but learned about the existence of a limited edition “brunch-flavored” candy corn at Target this season. I am glad I did not go to Target, or else I’d be compelled to sample it.
After much internal debate, my vote goes to: Kroger’s candy corn. The texture is soft and mellow. More importantly, it doesn’t taste overly sweet — relatively speaking. (Unfortunately, that’s just perception, because it has just as much sugar as the others!)
In all seriousness, can candy corn be a little sweet reminder for people with a deep nostalgia for it? Sure. Is it something you need in your life? Absolutely not. Choose wisely — you only get one life.