This year’s Halloween controversy: How has candy corn survived?

By Charity Cohen

 Where did candy corn come from?

George Renninger, candymaker at the Wunderle Candy Company in Philadelphia had no idea of the polarization that his tri-colored candy creation would cause. Now, more than 140 years later, Renninger’s revolutionary candy, candy corn, is one of the most divisive seasonal treats.

Named for its corn-like appearance, candy corn’s legacy as one of the most popular Halloween candies remains undisputed — but, whether its taste lives up to the hype is the annual topic of debate. 

Jeremiah Holloway, a senior studying journalism and Hispanic studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, understands that candy corn is a staple for both fall and Halloween. 

“Candy corn is basically the equivalent of turkey because everybody knows that at Thanksgiving turkey is easily like the weakest thing on the table,” he said. “You just kind of have to have it.”

Regardless of the candy’s seasonal significance, the taste was less than satisfactory when Holloway tried what would be his first, and last piece of candy corn.

“It’s designed to be the candy of Halloween,” Holloway said. “It’s got its own reserved space, but when you taste it, it’s just underwhelming.”

Tracy Ridley, Jr., a junior studying European, German and African-American and Diaspora studies, appreciates the nodes of honey that he can taste in candy corn. He believes that the best way to eat candy corn is to simply just “enjoy it.”

“It’s candy,” Ridley replied flatly to Holloway. “It tastes good, it’s sweet, but much more, I don’t have these high expectations for candy corn. You take it for what it is, and enjoy it.”

What’s in candy corn?

According to Dr. Kimberly Truesdale, an associate professor of nutrition at UNC-CH, candy corn is mostly sugar.

“You’re eating pure sugar, boo,” Truesdale said playfully. “Nothing of any nutritional values, whatsoever.”

 Her analysis of this candy was accurate. The primary ingredients used in Brach’s Candy Corn are: sugar, corn syrup, confectioner’s glaze (shellac), salt, cocoa powder, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, gelatin, dextrose, honey, artificial flavor, sesame oil, yellow 6, yellow 5, red 3, soy lecithin, blue 1, and red 40.

All of these ingredients combined into those corn-shaped treats are enough to give Mikayla Cunningham, a senior studying psychology, African-American and Diaspora and sexuality studies, a bit of nostalgia.

Cunningham recalls the warm feelings that arose from eating candy corn as a child. They enjoy the smooth, sweet and roasted taste of the waxy treat because it is something that is familiar and sentimental to them — and they aren’t ashamed of this guilty pleasure.

“A lot of stuff that’s polarized and that people don’t think that you should do, I do because of my inner child,” Cunningham said.

The feelings of excitement and comfort that Cunningham felt as a child knowing that their favorite season, fall, has finally arrived are captured in each piece of candy corn that they consume. Eating pieces of candy corn layer-by-layer as they did as a child, starting with the white tip and ending at the yellow base, allows Cunningham to exist in a state of childlike innocence and momentarily escape the world around them.

Bryson Ellis, a sophomore studying economics and Spanish, had a completely different experience with candy corn as a child. For him, returning home from a long night of trick-or-treating to find candy corn at the bottom of his candy bucket always put a damper on his Halloween. Ellis could never adjust to the idea of candy and corn being coupled together.

“It tastes like two things that should not be together,” Ellis said. “I don’t know what the idea was in its creation, but candy and corn taste good separated, but together it’s like, ‘this isn’t supposed to be happening’.”

Science behind the debate

Dr. Truesdale said this phenomenon is not uncommon. Our minds will often trick us into having a predetermined taste for something and when we find that the actual taste is nothing like we imagined, we can’t come to terms with it. The tricks our minds play can also cause us to determine our likes and dislikes based on associations.

“There’s certain foods that you associate with an occasion,” Truesdale said. “You might not even like it but it just brings back some childhood memories, you could taste something and it could be that you don’t like the taste but you like the memory that it gives you.”

This association explains why Ridley and Cunningham cling to candy corn to connect them to their childhood and happiest memories.

 Recently, Ridley has ramped up his candy corn consumption. “The taste is mixed with just the innocence of childhood,” he said. “These past couple weeks there have been some very deep things going on, it feels just like everything’s moving a little too fast and so I guess that kind of gives me a sense of childhood innocence.”

Even with all of the dissent surrounding candy corn’s taste, its impact on the season is a topic that everyone can agree on.

“Candy corn is that symbol of the season changing and it gives you a happy feeling,” Truesdale said. “Even though it’s nothing but sugar and some dye.”

Edited by Jocelyn Quinn and Izzy D’Alo