Loved or hated, candy corn is as Chicago as deep dish pizza

For years the Internet has echoed with derision of candy corn. And not mild criticism. Full-throated condemnation. BuzzFeed’s 2013 list of ‘19 Things That Taste Better Than Candy Corn,’ included chalk, urinal cakes and earwax.

SHARE Loved or hated, candy corn is as Chicago as deep dish pizza
A fancy china place setting filled with candy corn.

Some 35 million pounds of candy corn are sold each year, according to the National Confectioners Association, most during October. Oct. 30 has been designated National Candy Corn Day.

Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

At least candy at Valentine’s Day makes sense. Love is sweet; you woo the object of your affection with a big, heart-shaped box of chocolate.

But what’s with Halloween? The ocean of candy ladled out Thursday to an army of children. Bribes? An echo of when Tom and Huck would soap your windows if you didn’t satisfy them after they rang your doorbell? Rewards? You did such a good job putting on that Spiderman mask that I’m giving you a Snickers?

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Controversies linger because they have depth, layers beneath the surface that sustain them over the years. For instance, I believe the whole you’re-not-a-Chicagoan-if-you-put-ketchup-on-your-hot-dog nonsense is not really about the mix of condiments atop a frank, but an unconscious parody of the get-off-my-block bigotry that Chicagoans used to casually exhibit. Can’t do that anymore but there are always hot dogs.

Ditto for candy corn, the white, orange and yellow triangular treats that proliferate in October.

For years the Internet has echoed with derision of candy corn. And not mild criticism. Full-throated condemnation.

BuzzFeed’s 2013 list of “19 Things That Taste Better Than Candy Corn,” included chalk, urinal cakes and earwax.

“Deodorant-flavored earwax nuggets,” Deadspin raged in 2014. “Wee little warhead-shaped misery pellets.”

Then things really heated up. CandyStore.com crunched a decade’s worth of sales figures and announced that candy corn is the most popular Halloween candy in six states, including Michigan, inspiring one Detroit columnist to lash out at his readers.

“You’re all gross,” sneered the Detroit Free Press’ Brian Manzullo.

What’s going on here? There is a universe of candy, thank God. Talk about chalk — remember Necco Wafers? Yet people loved those.

And to be honest, some people — myself included — love candy corn.

“Candy corn is the greatest Halloween candy of all time,” said New York wit Molly Jong-Fast. “It has the most delicious waxy consistency of any food product ever.”

“Waxy” is a term often associated with candy corn. But you know what? They still sell wax lips. Candy that is actual wax. Yet nobody complains.

You’d think local pride would be a factor. Candy corn is as Chicago as deep dish pizza; the dominant brand is Brach’s, headquartered here.

“We’re making the majority” of candy corn, said Peter Goldman, vice president of marketing for Brach’s and of seasonal confections at Ferrara, which bought Brach’s in 2012. He said candy corn sales were $73 million last year. ”Some of our innovations really helped.”

Innovations? What’s there to innovate about candy corn? As with all food products, it’s about brand extension. Brach’s pushed candy corn to Thanksgiving with its chocolate “Indian corn.” Jelly Belly has green and red “Reindeer Corn.” Brach’s just rolled out Trolli Sour Brite Candy Corn, and is selling candy corn mixed with chocolate covered peanuts.

“Something we tested last year and had good success with,” Goldman said. “We know that people love to mix candy corn with other things.”

That’s how this column started. I was lingering in the Loop’s hidden treasure, Whimsical Candy, 175 N. Franklin, chatting with owner Chris Kadow-Dougherty and noticed candy corn scattered in her Boo Bark, “a caramel apple without the apple.” How can someone with such an obvious devotion to excellence pollute her product with the dread candy corn?

“You have to appreciate anything that stands the test of time like that,” she said. “I like it. I don’t eat it a lot. But I like it mixed in with other things. I like the texture; I find it satisfying.”

While I was chatting with Brach’s, I had to ask: any new versions on the horizon?

“We are already working on some ideas for next year, potential new flavors, shapes,” said Goldman. “A lot of people are really excited about candy corn. Some people do dislike it.”

What does Brach’s make of the “most hated candy” controversy? Good for business, right?

“My reaction as the brand owner is, ‘What? People hate candy corn?’” deadpanned Goldman. “The fact that we’re considered the most popular in some places, in some places the least popular, speaks to how prevalent the segment is, overall.

“Sometimes the most popular sports team is also the most disliked. Traditionally, classic candy has been around for generations. Chances are good if you tried candy corn as a kid, it was Brach’s. That love is being carried forward today.”

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