I said it would be a one-way ticket down into the snake pit, and I was right: discussing the most overrated candies meant stepping into a minefield of Jolly Rancher truthers and Cadbury exclusivism. I stand by the selections therein, though it brings me no vindictive joy to accuse any candy of being overrated (except Twizzlers), or to highlight any confection’s flaws (except Twizzlers). I am a candy-positive individual (Twizzlers excluded). And as such, nothing brings me more happiness or vigor than a list of what’s underrated—that is, candies that I can champion, singing their names proudly from the internet’s rooftops.
Again we must define the terms we’re working with. “Underrated,” as it relates to candy, has several possible interpretations, both subjective and objective, all of which I shall involve in my evaluation:
- Lack of household name recognition (which I believe it deserves)
- Generally negatively viewed as lesser, meh, or outright bad (which I believe to be incorrect)
- Known and tolerated by the general public, but not actively celebrated (which I believe it ought to be)
With the above established, let’s embark on this journey and fulfill my dream of having a captive audience to my sugary ranting.
Our most ubiquitous candy bars tend to include peanuts as a textural element more than a flavoring agent, Snickers being the prime example. Its sprinkling of peanuts has no chance of achieving anything but crunch, too tightly packed inside a layer of super-sweet caramel to offer anything more. PayDay, meanwhile, truly embraces the sweet-and-savory combination by letting the peanuts taste like peanuts: dry, roasty, salty, unencumbered by coatings. They’re the stars of the show here, so independent of the other elements that they often fall right off the bar. It has the effect of making PayDay feel somehow less processed than other candy bars; we’re seeing a whole and recognizable food from the moment we unwrap it. That’s an impressive feat on such a mass scale, and PayDay deserves more credit for it! (Also, it’s just a very bold move to purge the unifying element of most candy bars: the chocolate.)
These were my college obsession; the best people I know still send me the pour-spout cartons of them. For me, they have the fidget-snack appeal of sunflower seeds or pistachios: You bite them open, suck on each half, then chew, to get a three-act textural experience. Whoppers don’t have a whole lot of competition in the malted-milk space, either. The only company that came close to producing a rival product was Brach’s, and their recipe changed for the worse in 2009, a presumably cost-saving measure that left a horrific flaky plastic-like residue on the surface of the chocolate. Even artisanal malted-milk balls don’t rival Whoppers, because they try to go too big with the chocolate layer, creating a thick blockade to the crucial malty core. I think these little guys get relegated to the fringes of the candy conversation because people find them too dry. But try my method—bite, suck, chew—and you might see what makes them so special.
These perfectly soured, intensely flavored treats often take a backseat to their predecessors. But while Sour Patch Kids primarily taste like sour sugar (can you tell, eyes closed, whether you’re eating an orange one or a red one?), the Watermelons center their juicy fruit flavor, tempering the sour shock slightly to make the taste come through. Their shape is less abrasive, and perhaps because of manufacturing volume, it’s more often that you get a fresh bag rather than a stiff, stale one. As much as I love the originals, if I had to choose one to adopt as my forever go-to, it’d be the Watermelons.
God bless the Boyer Candy Company. This Altoona, Pennsylvania institution has quietly been putting their inventive spin on cup candies since the 1930s, producing both the Mallo Cup (filled with marshmallow and given a touch of coconut favoring) and the Smoothie, a peanut butter cup whose filling is a dead ringer for Reese’s—but whose exterior is not chocolate, but butterscotch. Butterscotch! Too rarely do we see butterscotch outside of a hard-candy context. I know plenty of people who don’t enjoy the peanut butter/chocolate combination, so it’s amazing to me that we don’t talk about the Smoothie more often as the perfect alternative. You won’t find Boyer everywhere, but once you start looking for their products, you’ll be surprised how widespread they are; I recently found individually wrapped Mallo Cups in the impulse-buy bucket at a CVS register. Keep an eye out for that vintage-looking red wrapper; the Smoothie is not to be missed, and everyone should try it at least once. (I have yet to construct the double-decker Smoothie/Reese’s sandwich of my dreams, but I’ll report my findings the moment I do.)
There are certain flavor profiles that drift in and out of vogue across the decades, and maple has been retired to the shelf for far too long. Caramel has instead reigned supreme, as far as variations on natural sugars go, and to be honest I’ve never understood the imbalance. There’s room for both of these sweeteners to shine, and we needn’t write off maple as a Depression-era varietal. In fact, there are instances when maple is an obviously superior option, as evidenced by the Bun bar, whose caramel version tastes just like a hell of a lot of other candies, but whose maple offering is a sweet and nutty standout. Maple Nut Goodies, Maple Leaf candy—it’s all so folksy and charming and botanical! Why are we sleeping on this flavor?
I would think that a list of underrateds would inspire less ire than overrateds, but I could be wrong. Either way, I welcome the passion that is brought to the table when we talk about candy, a substance that, in all its forms, is rooted so deeply in memory. Candy is the first avenue by which children become discerning foodies, experiencing all that the confectionery world has to offer before slowly paring down to preferences. And all I’m really saying with this list is, pare down less. Go explore all that you might be missing. And by all means, come tell me I’m wrong, because candy’s no fun when we candy alone.