I’m 30. The average 30-year-old’s relationship to candy—an item most prized by, and most associated with, children who lack impulse control—is usually long-crystallized, our preferences dictated by nostalgia rather than ongoing analysis. But even well into adulthood, some of us feel the pull of a new product on the shelf, the allure of tasting that which has not yet been tasted.
I have brought you what I believe are the most overrated candies on the market. I have done the same for underrated candies. It’s in that spirit that I lay out for you, here and now, a few candies that might be new discoveries for our readership. They’re by no means new, and they’re bound to be beloved by some, but hopefully at least a couple items on the list spark your taste buds and imaginations like flint. Sweet, chewy flint.
There’s so much about a De La Rosa that’s fun. Not enough candies come in disc form, do they? It’s the ideal shape for a treat, because it feels like a weighty gold coin in your pocket, a tiny treasure. The sweet marzipan is made of peanuts, not the typical almond, so it has an aromatic and slightly muted flavor. It’s not bonded by anything but sugar, so it’s definitely crumbly, some would even say dry—but I wouldn’t. It melts delicately in your mouth, and each crumb that falls back into the wrapper is just one more opportunity to savor. For anyone who might have missed these little monochromatic gems on the shelf, they’re worth a second look.
I’ve written about Goetze’s ad nauseum, but I haven’t talked about its rare and critical variant: the Strawberry Caramel Cream. I’ve still only seen them in the wild twice, both times at dueling quaint candy stores in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. If you can find them, budget for a sackful. They’ve got the textural delights of an original Caramel Cream and the concentrated fruit flavoring of a Frootie. The center is fruit-flavored, too, not just the caramel layer, so it’s less of a strawberries-and-cream experience and more of a “strawberries two ways” presentation.
How often have you offered someone a throat lozenge for their cough, only to hear them absentmindedly bite down and start crunching on it moments later? It’s easy to forget to wait for their medicinal salve to dissolve slowly in your mouth. But with Regal Crown Sour Cherry hard candies, you can chomp on that sucker as soon or as late as you like. This vintage delight is nondescript enough with its serif fonts to camouflage entirely on the candy store shelf, but poke around. They just might be sitting between the clove gum and Choward’s Violet Mints. Picture Luden’s Wild Cherry cough drops, but with twice the sour tang and twice the concentration of cherry flavor, tucked into the most adorable little wax wrappers for easy sharing among friends. There’s only five in a roll, though, so make friends sparingly.
While I’m on the subject of divisive fruit flavors, allow me to defend another: the Ferrara Grapehead. There are, admittedly, some questions about this product I cannot answer for you. What company, you might ask, has the audacity to unleash an all-grape candy on a notoriously grape-flavoring-averse public? Why does the box feature a cartoon character that is, clearly and indisputably, a blackberry? Why did they ever mess with this candy’s adorable original moniker, Alexander the Grape? There’s no way to know. But only a candy with real cojones commits to peddling, by the boxful, a flavor that usually sits humbly untouched at the bottom of any variety pack. It is boldness incarnate. And Grapeheads are less puckery than both Lemonhead and its fellows, the Cherryhead and Applehead. It’s a teensy bit medicinal, but sometimes it’s nice to slow yourself down with a candy that’s best consumed in sporadic clusters. This might not be your most exciting discovery on this list, but with that odd dual texture that is this candy’s signature, it just might be the most unique.
Until I tore through the excellent Candyfreak: A Journey Through The Chocolate Underbelly Of America by Steve Almond, I had taken the Valomilks at my Midwest college convenience store for granted. But having access to the Valomilk is a special thing, because as Almond found out from his interview with confectioner Russ Sifers, they can’t be transported by air or anywhere over the Rockies—the filling inside causes the candy to rupture at high altitudes. They’re special in ways that exceed their temperamental quirks, too. These silky chocolate cups have an even silkier filling, a runny fondant that recalls a Cadbury Creme Egg. Biting into a Valomilk is treacherous; you will absolutely have goo running down your chin, since one bite causes the whole structure to collapse upon the unsturdy center. But the mess you make will embody the gleeful abandon that eating candy is all about.
And this, of course, is the reason any candy is worth its calories: the joy-per-bite ratio stands a chance of flying off the charts. Each new candy encountered is a new opportunity to see how much of the kid in you (sloppy, hyper, scheduleless) is poised to bubble up to the surface again. At $1.50 a pop, it has always seemed, to me, to be well worth a try.