Food & Drink

What Is Candy Corn, Anyway?

Shutterstock/DW labs Incorporated

Candy corn might be the most divisive candy in the United States. People love it. People hate it. No one really knows what it's made of, or really, what it's even supposed to taste like. It's the seasonal candy that's seemingly innocuous, but is tearing our culinary opinions apart. 

My dad used to say that real corn tasted like candy, and candy corn tasted like... well, he didn't really know (but he loved both of them).

And that's not just a (semi) clever segue into this article. He really did used to say that. And to this day, I still don't know what candy corn is supposed to taste like. Or, if the three different sections have distinct, separate tastes. Or if I like it in the first place -- should anyone like it in the first place?

Well the answers to all this and more... are right below this block of text that you probably skipped anyway. 

Who invented candy corn and what is it made of?

The National Confectioners Association claims that candy corn was invented (allegedly) in the 1880s in Philadelphia by George Renninger, by a Wonderlee Candy Company employee. Soon after, it was spread through mainstream America by the Goelitz Confectionary Company (which would later turn into Jelly Belly, famed makers and seller of jelly beans). 

In those days, the candy corn was made, essentially, by mixing sugar, water, and corn syrup in a giant kettle, then adding fondant and marshmallow to solidify that mixture. Food coloring was added to the slurry, and poured into a mold (meaning, each of the three sections were dyed and molded individually, before being added together). 

The process of modern candy corning is basically the same today -- but naturally, all this is done via machine, in almost half the time. So if nothing else, science has given us a more efficient candy corn-making process. 

Basically, candy corn is like hardened, super-sweet, tricolored cake fondant. That's it. And each "segment," is exactly the same, aside from coloring.

Why is it called candy corn?

Well, it looks like corn (maybe seeing it "on the cob" will help you complete the mental picture). And, well, that's basically it. Originally, it was known as "chicken feed," which... is corn. 

See, it all makes sense. 

Shutterstock/ 5 second Studio

What about the ones that are different colors, or the things that are shaped like pumpkins but taste like candy corn?

Yes, that brown-hued candy corn, colloquially known as the (obviously culturally insensitive) "Indian" corn, is just regular candy corn with a different shade. 

And those pumpkins are just candy corn in a different mold. 

What the heck is candy corn supposed to taste like?

My esteemed colleague Anthony Merevick asked Jelly Belly (if you remember, they are the company that helped popularize candy corn in the late 19th century) to help explain the mercurial flavor of their ubiquitous corn-candy. They had this to say:

"Candy Corn is a wonderful blend of creamy fondant, rich marshmallow and warm vanilla notes. When combined, these flavors create the distinct Candy Corn flavor. The texture is as important as the flavor. Our Candy Corn is creamy and smooth; never coarse. It should be like biting into butter."

So, that's a very PR-friendly answer, but it's not not true. For me, personally, I think candy corn has a distinct, burnt brown sugar taste that reminds me of butterscotch, more than anything else. 
 

Is candy corn good?

Look: Taste is inherently subjective. None of us share taste buds (but hey, that could be cool under the right circumstances). In my opinion, candy corn is a lot like eggnog. It's a super distinct taste, that's obviously not for everyone. It's also tied to a time of the year, so you really only get a limited time frame to experience it -- which both adds to the intrigue, and also ensures that you consume it in moderation (which is key).

So is it good? I mean, not really. But for one month per year, it can be tolerated. Which is really all candy corn ever asked of us, anyway. 

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Wil Fulton is a staff writer at Thrillist and a passionate doer of other stuff. For more info, you'll have to do a free background check.