Why Have I Never Tried: GooGoo Clusters?

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GooGoo Clusters. Who knew? [Photographs: Carrie Vasios]

When's the last time you tried a new candy? Not a seasonal new release, but an established candy or candy bar that, for no reason in particular, you never before had the mind to pick up?

The answer for me is probably circa 1995, when candy bars were 60 cents and people actually bought M&Ms. As an adult, I tend to allocate my snack money to cookies or pastries, and when I do buy candy, I tend to stick to the kinds that I know I like. Why have I never tried a Take 5 or 5th Avenue bar or Goobers? I have no idea. It's like those restaurants in your neighborhood that you habitually, yet almost subconsciously, avoid. You haven't heard they're bad but, eh, maybe next time.

A few weeks ago I received a Gmail chat message from a friend: Um have you tried a 100 Grand Bar?
Me: Yeah...with the caramel?
Him: It's a Crunch Bar-Milky Way love child! So good! How did I not know about these??

I hadn't thought about 100 Grand in a while but with its mix of crispies and caramel and chocolate, it is a pretty legit snack. The idea of my friend so joyfully experiencing it for the first time made me think: what candy bar experience am I missing out on? Why we do stop trying new candies? And thus this project was born: every day for the next two weeks a different member of the SE staff will try a candy they've never had before and describe the experience.

As the first up at bat, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of candies that I haven't tried (and equally overwhelmed by how much I have. When did I find the time to eat so much sugar?). But I eventually decided on the GooGoo Cluster because seriously, if a candy that sounds and kind of looks like baby poop has survived since 1912, it's gotta be good. Right?

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Whole GooGoo Cluster

According to Wikipedia, GooGoo Cluster was the first combination candy bar*, meaning it has multiple candies within one candy. Each Cluster contains layers of marshmallow nougat, caramel, and roasted peanuts enrobed in a thin veneer of milk chocolate.

*There was a world without combination candy bars? That may edge out hobble skirts as the number one reason I'm glad I don't live in the early 1900s.

Ok, first bite. I'm pretty excited. Marshmallow is one of my favorite things on the planet, followed closely by caramel (and peanuts and chocolate). Unfortunately, I don't get the combination of flavors, and frankly all I think is, "Holy s$%& this thing is sweet!" The texture is also more firm and difficult to bite through than I had hoped.

But like any super sweet thing, you adjust to it, and after a few bites my tongue has moved past sugar shock to reveal the flavors. You can taste the peanuts, which are listed as the second ingredient. (Though interestingly almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews, and hazelnuts—in that order—are all also listed. Maybe they have a deal with nut farmers to use up spare crops?) As far as peanuts go, however, these are some of the least peanut-y flavored ones I've encountered.

The milk chocolate mostly fades into the background, as does the caramel, which at least provides some pleasant gooeyness to my GooGoo Cluster. Still, even by the last bite, the main flavor is the marshmallow nougat, which tastes like condensed Fluff. I could see this candy having potential if the nuts were salted or the caramel layer were more robust. Maybe the Peanut Butter GooGoo (peanut butter replaces marshmallow nougat and caramel) has the needed depth.

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Combination candy.

I do give the Nashville-based company bonus points for the package, which is adorably nostalgic, with matte, slightly faded print and a promise of "real milk chocolate." (Er. Sure. Why not?)

The best part is the Guarantee of Satisfaction. "Your GooGoo cluster should be fresh and in good condition. If not, we will replace it. Just return the unused portion and tell us where and when you bought it."

I love this for so many reasons. First of all, nobody ensures anything anymore. (A government that governs? Apparently not guaranteed.) Second, they want you to send back the half-eaten remains of your Cluster. Did people game the system? Were they making empty claims about bad candy in order to get free samples? Or are the people at Standard Candy Co. just that fastidious and they employ a person whose sole job it is to examine half eaten GooGoos under the microscrope for signs of defects? Then there is the element of shaming—they want to know exactly who sold you that expired old GooGoo. I hope that person is getting a stern phone call. There are rules, you know. Your GooGoo Cluster might only taste like sugary condensed marshmallow, but at least it will be fresh.

About the author: Carrie Vasios is the editor of Serious Eats: Sweets. She likes to peruse her large collection of cookbooks while eating jam from the jar. You can follow her on Twitter @carrievasios

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