In Defense of Candy Corn

By Adam Campbell-Schmitt |
FWX IN DEFENSE OF CANDY CORN

© iStockphoto

Candy corn gets a bad rap. People say it's bland, too sugary, and accuse it of being filler, taking up space that bigger and better Halloween candies could occupy. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, so here's mine: Candy corn is great. That opinion may be unpopular, but you know what else was unpopular once? Thinking gravity existed. Yeah, I went there. Here are a few reasons you should consider giving this kernel confection a second chance, and how I think candy corn can bring itself back into the spotlight.

It's American History

Much like corn itself was a product of the Americas, candy corn represents a unique part of our nation's past. According to candy corn lore, it was invented in the 1880s by George Renninger of the Wunderle Candy Company. The confection gained popularity and by 1898 was being produced by the Goelitz Confectionary Co. (now known as candy bean behemoth Jelly Belly) under the name "chicken feed." Apparently at one time in history, kids thought it would be cool to eat like a chicken. (Look, they didn't have iPads so I don't blame them. I once tried eating cereal from a bowl on the floor to see what it was like to be a dog. I didn't have an iPad either.) In fact, people were eating candy corn before they were widely eating corn itself, pre-WWI. Before rationing and the Depression, corn was just for livestock.

The original candy corn was never tied to any time of year, it was just a reflection of America's agrarian society. Many candies of the day were molded into what was recognizable to regular folks. At the time, that was vegetables, fruits and other simple, earthly things. Today, it's Angry Birds gummies. However as society moved to the suburbs, the harvest season was a natural time to bring out a bowl and reconnect with our roots.

It's Candy History

The multi-colored design was ground-breaking in the candy industry at the time it was invented and is still quite an anomaly. Try to think of multi-colored candies today that aren't solid colors mixed in the same bag? There aren't many because takes a bit more dedication to make them. The pouring process must be repeated three times, which most confectioners would scrap in favor of one-shot, single color production. Candy corn also stands out as the most popular of the mellowcreme variety of candies, which combine sugar, marshmallow and fondant to achieve that toothy-yet-soft texture. Considering we now produce 35 million pounds of the stuff each year, it's the most widespread treat in that category.

It's the Jelly Bean of Halloween

One of candy corn’s most-cited off-putting qualities is its waxy texture. When you break it down, the shellac (yes, shellac) used to buff and shine the outside of candy corn, is the same wax used in a number of confections, chief among them: the beloved jelly bean. I would also argue that, minus some of the long-term chew-ability, candy corn is on the same texture plane as the ubiquitous Tootsie Roll, a cheap trick-or-treat staple that no one seems to mind. And while I do think candy corn should offer more flavors (more on that later), nobody faults the mostly-chocolate Tootsie market for being boring. Then again, it's hard to fault chocolate.

The Flavor (And Yes, There is One)

Most typical recipes include some kind of corn syrup, fondant and marshmallow. Either contained within that last ingredient or on it's own, vanilla flavoring usually enters the mix along with a bit of salt. Brach's recipe differs slightly from Jelly Belly's by including honey (and gelatin, FYI to you vegetarians). Kids' palates have changed to favor sour and tart candies in recent years, this is probably why the majority of haters fall under the age of 34, according to a survey of posts on Facebook. The expected flavors one should look for when biting into a kernel harkens back to some of the original advertising, which labeled it as "butter sweet" candy corn. The vanilla/honey/cooked sugar combination along with the texture does indeed invoke a buttery flavor. If anything, it's just a flavor we've forgotten how to like. Let's keep in mind how popular black licorice confections once were with the kiddies (another maligned flavor I'm a fan of). Now you'd be hard pressed to find anyone under 40 eating it.

How Candy Corn Could Improve

-Quit trying so hard: Cupid corn? Reindeer feed? Bunny corn? Freedom corn? The candy corn industry is putting way too much effort into being a year-round food by hyper-focusing on holidays. But let's face it, we’re only going to think about it in the fall.

-Flavors: Candy corn makers may have missed the mark by branching out with the wrong flavors. S'mores? Green apple? Strawberry cotton candy? They're all over the place. If candy corn wants to branch out it should at least remain focused. My suggestion: include citrusy or sour flavors that are so en vogue.

-Variety: Variety is the spice of life, and it could help candy corn spice things up as well. In all of the holiday-themed instances above, every bag is filled with a uni-flavored product. Mixing colors and flavors would make a bowl on the table at any costume party a lot more fun. Like with Skittles or jelly beans, people could find their preference and pick them out. And If candy makers are willing to go pink or green anyway, maybe its time to ditch the single flavor bags and fall color scheme altogether. 

-Size: In comparing candy corn to jelly beans, it dawned on me that perhaps the candy's larger size is an issue. It's a little too big to be poppable like M&Ms but too small for each piece to be a standalone serving. As corn has been changed and modified to suit our needs, perhaps candy corn should change to more closely resemble its agricultural counterpart in size and shape as well.

So there we are. Candy corn is sweet, creamy and imperfect. But I dare any of us to find a perfect candy that tickles everyone's taste preferences. As it is, candy corn provides a unique connection with our past and our reasons for celebrating the harvest. And perhaps with a few slight changes to suit our modern cravings, candy corn can continue to be part of the American confectionary cornucopia.

Related: How to Make Your Own Brain Cake for Halloween
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