Serious Eats: Sweets
The Best and Worst of Halloween Candy
Oh, Halloween. The one day of the year where you knock on strangers' doors and demand free candy. Well, I guess you could do that any day, but on Halloween you'll actually get it. There is an overwhelming variety of special spookily themed treats, but I've divided them into four arbitrary categories (the stalwarts, seasonal chocolates, all-sugar-all-the-time, and gross-out candy) and picked my favorite and least favorite in each. Are you with me?
Perhaps the most ridiculed of all: candy corn. I actually happen to like it. Yeah, I know, it doesn't really taste like anything. And when it gets stale (after about 945, 652, 308 years) it can be pretty gross. But there's something about the texture I really like. Though these days I'd probably opt for Cakespy's lovely homemade recipe, which actually taste like vanilla.
Dum-Dum pops have been around for ages (well, since 1924, according to the website); and they seem to spring up around this time of year. Maybe it's because they're little and therefore appropriate for little people. I have a very strong nostalgic connection to Dum-Dums, so I always smile a bit when I see them. But taste-wise. "Meh" is putting it mildly.
No one really gives them out anymore, but remember wax lips? When I think about it now, it seems like a really odd idea. Here, kids, have some flavored wax! We trust you not to eat it all and get horribly sick! But to be fair, people do look pretty funny wearing them. There are variations too, like fangs and mustaches. I still like the classic.
Candy and caramel apples used to be given out for Halloween, before the psychos-planting-razorblades urban legend took hold in the 70s and 80s. Bummer, since these are really delicious when made well. On the other hand, I can't say I'd feel too safe letting a complete stranger give my (hypothetical) kid a "homemade" caramel apple. Maybe I'm just paranoid.
The best: Caramel apples. Let's bring them back!
The worst: Dum-Dums. The flavors all kind of taste the same: like sugar.
The vast majority of candy given out comes from a giant bag of "fun size" or mini chocolates. Often they're just seasonally-wrapped candy that's usually available year-round (Kisses, Hershey's Minis), or just put into smaller packages (Milk Duds, Nerds). I more or less count this as "Halloween candy," even though the only real difference is the packaging. As any self-respecting kid knows, these are the ones you want to go after: name-brand candy is primo loot, and worth separating out and hiding.
Then there's Palmer, the company that makes sorta-kinda chocolate that's molded into seasonal shapes and wrapped in appropriate packages. They pretty much do this, exclusively, and Halloween and Easter are really the only times you'll see them around without searching them out. Their weird, waxy texture may have something to do with it.
The one reshaped item that totally kicks ass? The Reese's Peanut Butter Pumpkin. It's pretty much identical to the Peanut Butter Eggs they offer, but, y'know. In a pumpkin shape. I've already expounded on my peanut-butter-to-chocolate ratio preference, so I'll leave it at that.
The Best: Peanut Butter Pumpkin, natch.
The Worst: Palmer's. Please don't make me eat any of these.
While never my favorite category (chocolate, duh), the sugary realm offered some tasties. I've always been a fan of Smarties, and who hasn't spent an afternoon hyperactively running in circles in the backyard after downing one too many Pixy Stix? Pez is a gimme, since they just pop out some ghost and witch dispensers and don't even need to change the packaging of the candy itself (though Pez was never really about how the candy tasted, I suppose).
Peeps have cornered the market on holiday-themed marshmallows, and now some of them come coated in chocolate. I guess it beats brown-colored sugar. I always enjoyed sour candies, too (I remember when Atomic Warheads were the strongest on the market, excluding an obscure Japanese candy called Super Lemon)—but the sour explosion in the past decade or so has left me out of depth. Some of that stuff I can't even LOOK at without puckering.
One item that bucks this trend for me is caramel apple lollipops. They're not necessarily Halloween-specific, but again, I never see them around except in the fall. The apple part of the pop is nice and tart, complementing the softer caramel part.
The best: Caramel Apple Lollipops. I probably ate my weight in these in high school.
The worst: Pez. The candy itself is subpar.
This is a relatively recent subset of candy, and some of them aren't even Halloween specific. I added it just for kicks.
I was expecting to find the usual gummy rats and spiders, maybe a finger-shaped lollipop or two. The candy companies have really outdone themselves: not only can you get gummy brains, eyeballs and PIMPLES (ew!), but there are also cherry-flavored candy blood-in-a-bag, candy scabs (ew ew!), and CANDY URINE SAMPLES. Yeah, I know. I don't get it either.
The best: N/A. Gross.
The worst:: Urine samples. SERIOUSLY.
What treats do you fondly (or not-so-fondly) recall from your childhood? Any new stuff you'll be doling out this year? Give me the goods!