Aagh!! I’m already having a sugar headache just thinking about it.
Candy corn, that is -- the traditional Halloween sweet handed out by householders to the ghosts and goblins trawling the streets for gobs of goodies.
Produced since the late 19th century, candy corn has long fascinated Americans. One fascination: Why do we buy so much – about 9 billion kernels, more than 35 million pounds each year – and yet it always seems to be the last candy left in the collection bag after the more tempting treats are taken?
Partly, it’s tradition – candy corn’s orange, yellow and white reflect the colors of fall, the harvest and Halloween. Partly, it’s because it’s relatively inexpensive. Better, the parsimonious profferer thinks, to fill those pumpkin-shaped bags with bargain bonbons.
“It’s a nostalgic item,” said Lisa Brasher, president and CEO of the Jelly Belly Candy Company, one of the major candy corn manufacturers. “A lot of people were raised with candy corn in their childhood and they now want to share that tradition with their kids.”
Jelly Belly, formerly the Goelitz Confectionery Company, is the oldest existing candy corn manufacturer, having turned out the tasty treats since the turn of the century. But it was not the first.
“The oral tradition that has been passed down,” said Brasher, “is that candy corn was first made by a gentleman named George Renninger from Wunderle Candy Company in Philadelphia in the 1880s.”
Goelitz, which was founded in 1869 by Brasher’s great-great-grandfather Gustav Goelitz, a German immigrant, started manufacturing candy corn in about 1898.
“It was a revolutionary item back in those times,” said Brasher, “because it was made with three different colors.”
The ingredients are simple, based around sugar, corn syrup, food coloring, vanilla flavoring, waxes and confectioners glaze (to make it shiny) and a pinch of salt. The mixture is then heated to turn it into a liquid. Another major candy corn manufacturer, Brach’s, adds a little honey.
“In the old days we would use open copper kettles over an open flame,” Brasher said. “We would make three of those open kettles, one for the white tip of the corn, one for the orange center of the corn and one for the yellow top of the corn.”
It was a very labor-intensive process, with the candy liquid being hand-poured, color by color, into the molds to be set. But in the 1930s, his muscles aching, Brasher’s grandfather invented an automated system.
With automation came huge amounts of candy corn. “We can make 28,000 pounds in an eight-hour shift,” Brasher boasts.
“After the candy comes out of the molds it sets for about a day before it is shined with confectioners’ glaze and waxes,” Brasher added. “Then it sits another night before being packaged.”
And then it goes from the company’s factory in North
Then there is the matter of how it is eaten. Another National Confectioners Association poll found that about 47 percent of people eat the whole piece of candy corn at once while about 43 percent start by nibbling the narrow, white end. The other 10 percent? They begin by munching on the wider yellow end.
And it’s not just at Halloween. “We sell candy corn year-round,” said Brasher, “but we definitely see a spike in our sales around the autumn season.”
In order to extend candy corn sales, Jelly Belly now has Indian Corn for Thanksgiving, which is brown, orange, and white, Reindeer Corn for Christmas (green, white, and red), Cupid Corn for
So why, I asked, is candy corn the last sweet treat left in the bowl after Halloween?
Brasher did a masterful politician-like pivot. “Definitely chocolate is the most popular,” she said. “Candy corn is a nostalgia item. A lot of people were raised with candy corn in their childhood and they now want to share that tradition with their kids.”
As for Halloween, Brasher – known in her neighborhood as “the Candy Lady” -- is an equal-opportunity candy giver. “I love all candy, and I give out other brands of candy, not just mine.”
Let the sugar headaches begin.