King Of The Candies
Back in my trick-or-treating days, there was a clear hierarchy given to the packaged treats that made their way into my pillowcase on October 31st. Although the order in which they entered the bag didn’t quite matter (it was more about the volume of candy while we were out there hustlin’) the order in which each candy exited was most certainly calculated...strategic. To me — in those days at least — the simple Three Musketeers bar reigned supreme. But as my taste buds developed and I began to age out of trick-or-treating all together, Snickers became my muse. That being said, today my tastes have changed yet again: I pledge my allegiance to the likes of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Twix, and Kit Kat bars.
But let’s get one thing straight: I am no connoisseur. I’m just your average Jane who enjoys a sweet treat from time to time (okay — all the time). And as I began browsing the Halloween aisle at Kroger, preparing for the arrival of trick-or-treaters and simultaneously sweating over the decision between chocolate treats or fruit-forward goodies, I wondered...what would an expert choose? What would a trained chef, with a supposedly superior palate, consider the premium candy for such an occasion?
Brian Lea and Kristina Shoemate seemed like just the dynamic duo to help us get to the bottom of this polarizing issue. Formerly the head chef at Le Sel and currently a chef at Bastion, Brian Lea is a self-proclaimed candy lover. “Oh, I know my candy,” he told me when I met him and Kristina for their blind candy tasting last week. “Let’s just put it this way,” he continued, “I’ve tasted through.” Kristina, on the other hand, had not. Le Sel’s General Manager and wine guru, Kristina is not a candy queen per se, and thus her familiarity with the subject wasn’t nearly as keen.
A self-proclaimed expert and a self-professed noob? Sounds like the perfect test subjects for such a serious and scientific experiment.
With blindfolds over their eyes to obstruct their sense of sight and the implementation of spoons to eliminate their sense of touch (the subjects were instructed to spoon-feed the candy to themselves as opposed to picking it up with their fingers), Kristina and Brian could only use their senses of taste and smell to identify each sweet. The one bit of information they were given? The first round of candies would all fall into the chocolate category and the second, third, and fourth rounds would focus on fruity stuff. Buckle up.
“I just want to make sure we’re not dealing with any, you know, random off-brand candies,” Brian warned.
“I’m not going to tell you,” I said.
“What!?” he exclaimed. “I see, so it’s going to be like, all Kroger brand candies. Or...Japanese sour plum candy or something. We’re going to say, ‘It’s a Reese’s!’ and you’re going to tell us, ‘Wrong! It’s a Kreese’s!’”
For the record, these were all name-brand candies.
In the category of chocolate — for which there were nine different specimens — the subjects performed incredibly well. Although Kristina somehow mistook a Three Musketeers bar for a Mars Bar (a candy she had never in fact tasted and was only semi-positive actually existed), Brian managed to answer eight out of the nine correctly. But the one that stumped ‘em? The Milk Dud. After chewing for at least 60 seconds and allowing a deep furrow to creep upon his brow, Brian timidly answered my calls for an answer. “I think I know,” he said. “Is it...Rolos?” Kristina quickly chimed in, “Yeah I’m thinking Rolos too?” Wrong. It was Rachel Hertel, a fellow manager at Le Sel who heard rumor of the candy analysis and eagerly asked to hop on board, who cracked the case on this tooth-pulling treat: “Pffffttttt. MILK DUUUDS!” she proclaimed.
They blew through the Milky Way, cruised past the Almond Joy (though there was a moment of confusion about Mounds vs. Almond Joy when Kristina claimed hers was the former and backed it up by saying, “But mine had an almond in it!”), they stomped all over the Hershey bar — it was a total gimme — and annihilated the Kit Kat. Gimme a break. And when it came time for the Reese’s? Everybody knew what was what. Le Sel’s current head chef, Dom Luzzo, had also opted in for the test, bringing the total number of test subjects up to a count of four. Before we began, Brian and Kristina went so far as to claim Reese’s as their favorite treat of all. So when a piece of chocolate peanut butter cup was nestled upon each person’s spoon, all four subjects answered in a chorus of smiles and song-song: “REEEEESEEEE’S!”
The straw that broke the camel’s back? Whoppers. Malted milk balls proved to be a bit of a polarizing candy, with one subject straight spitting it out and another asking for everybody’s leftovers. In the end of round one it became clear: these folks knew their chocolates.
But would the evidence prove as conclusive for the fruit feast? There was only one way to find out.
With artificial flavoring as the backbone for the majority of the taste profiles in these three groupings, I was particularly curious to see how the subjects would perform. On the docket were Starburst, Harbio, and Jolly Ranchers. Would the artificial flavors ring true enough to accurately trigger this group of discerning palates? We dug right in.
True to form, Brian Lea nailed every single one of the Starbursts: lemon, cherry, orange and then strawberry. Bang. But when it came time for the gummy bears, the flavors weren’t quite as pronounced. Not only do the Harbio Gummy Bears’ flavors fall slightly left of center (for example, the red one is raspberry instead of the likely cherry), but eating a dime-sized gummy bear after a handful of “unexplainably juicy” Starburst is kind of like comparing Lime LaCroix to Sprite — it just doesn’t pack the same punch of flavor. “This tastes like NOTHING after the Starburst,” said Brian. “And I’m pretty sure my palate is shot.”
Chef Dom on the other hand, was psyched: he’s a Haribo man. “I’m more of a gummy guy than a chocolate guy,” he told us. “My go-to is like, classic Haribo gummy bears. That, and tropical Sour Patch Kids are the jam.”
Coming right up, sir.
Impressively enough, he did do pretty well. Although Dom fell for the trap of the raspberry gummy — “Mine’s cherry,” he said confidently after popping the little red bear into his mouth and giving it a bit of a chew — he managed to guess every other flavor of bear correctly. Kristina, too, was fooled by the supposedly raspberry-flavored bear.
Kristina: I’m gonna go with the white one for this, I think.
Brian: What flavor is white?
Kristina: I dunno, but isn’t there a white one?
Brian: White is pineapple.
Kristina: Oh, is it? Well I don’t know. This is definitely not pineapple. I thought the white one was vanilla!
Brian: Isn’t that just plain flavor?
When it finally came to Jolly Ranchers, the big surprise was the Blue Raspberry. Third in line coming in right after the grape and the green apple (both of which sent pouts straight to the mouths of subject R and D), the group’s response on this electric-blue pellet initially trended positive (meaning...correct). It was fruity-candy fanatic Chef Dom who managed to cause a split: blue raspberry or peach. “I’m saying peach,” he announced. Brian wavered. “I was initially thinking blue raspberry,” he said. “I do get the peachiness but...I haven’t seen a peach jolly rancher in 15-20 years. Okay, I’m going peach.” The ladies stuck with their initial blue razz impressions and as it turned out, they were right; the fruity-candy fanatic had failed
Um… Does anybody have a water?
While the chocolate portion of this experiment appeared to be a little more subject to personal preference, the fruit candies exhibited a clear hierarchy of quality and flavor. Starburst, which boasts full-mouth flavor and tastes which accurately matched the label, was far and away the easiest crew to identify. Plus, with their chewy taffy texture — and who could forget that fun game where you try and unwrap the thing inside your mouth — they’re easy to eat and don’t require a toothpick or a major time commitment. The Jollies on the other hand...ended up being spat out! Because, if you’re trying to consume 19 different candies in one sitting, sucking on a Jolly Rancher is just not an option — nor is it, in my opinion, to chomp down on the hard candy and risk chipping a tooth. The gummy bears might be the most sustainable fruity candy, being the one that you could consistently snack on for the duration of your favorite horror flick without ending up with either a belly ache or boredom. With exciting flavors like pineapple, strawberry, and raspberry (and the classics like lemon and orange), Haribo is easily addictive.
So what’s the conclusion, you ask? Which candy ranks the highest, and which one should be avoided at all costs?
The truth is… We don’t know. Our test was inconclusive. The spread of opinions was too vast and the data was too mixed. The candy was too delicious and too much fun was had.
Guess that just means we’ll have to perform this experiment again!