For the children and children-at-heart that don fancy costumes for a night of fun and frolicking, Halloween is October 31. For the certified snack professional, the spooky festivities begin in September, when Cadbury, Mars, Hershey and Nabisco roll out their holiday-themed candy. Hold out your bags, boys and girls.
Some snack manufacturers play it safe during the holidays, releasing the same old product in themed packaging. Sometimes, if they're feeling adventurous, they'll change the color of their confections, or re-mold them into holiday appropriate shapes. People buy them and eat them with nary a thought, safe in the knowledge that beneath the dark and twisted exterior lies the same taste and texture they're used to.
For the brave men and women of Hershey, Mars, Nabisco and Cadbury, that's just not good enough. Capturing the look of Halloween is something a young child can do with little effort. Evoking the holiday through taste — that's a real accomplishment, and it's one that several of these products achieve.
Kicking my meal plan in the ass for the sake of my work, I purchased these goodies at my local Target store, brought them home, and then ate a fairly good amount of them, just so I can tell you if it's worth doing. Let's go down the list in reverse-scrambled alphabetical order.
Having lived nearly 40 years with milk chocolate M&M's, I have a hard time accepting a white chocolate variety regardless of its seasonal flavor.
What is Candy Corn? It tastes almost like a maple butterscotch, but candy corn is really just sugar, corn syrup, wax and food coloring, with some binding agents thrown in for good measure. Yum!
I have nothing against white chocolate, known among snackology circles as "not actually chocolate at all". During the process that normally results in the dark, antioxidant-rich chocolate the fatty parts — cocoa butter — are separated from the darker solids. In actual chocolate, these two are recombined later in the process. White chocolate is just the butter portion without the dark bits, so, not chocolate.
And not what I look for on the inside of an M&M. The favor, tinged with a hint of what tastes like maple in order to evoke a candy corn taste, is not unpleasant. It's rich, lovely and milky. It's just not the flavor my mouth is expecting beneath a colorful candy shell. Ever buy a strawberry jelly doughnut and have the people behind the counter accidentally give you lemon-filled? It's the same phenomenon. It's still a fine taste, but your mouth was not prepared.
My favorite sweet flavor combination used to be chocolate and raspberry. In fact, a container of chocolate raspberry truffle ice cream was instrumental in the wooing of the woman that would eventually become the mother of my children, so that particular combo will always hold a special place in my heart.
Now that I'm older, however, my tastes have mellowed. Now I'm more of a caramel apple man, savoring the marriage of burnt sweetness and tartness that you get when you pour melted sugar over the fibrous fruit of the apple tree. Milky Way's Halloween offering harnesses that flavor, but adds an element that ruins the overall effect.
The caramel is perfect. The apple-flavored nougat has a sublime flavor, hinting at the fruit rather than shoving it down your throat.
And then they drenched it in chocolate, completely killing the effect. Mars' snack scientists crafted an amazing piece of caramel apple candy, and then shit on it.
It's fine chocolate, of course. If it weren't stabbing me in the heart I'd probably really enjoy it.
By far the most successful creation of the bunch, Hershey's Pumpkin Spice Kisses continues the company's fine tradition of using white chocolate as the snack gods intended: as a conduit for flavor, rather than a flavor unto itself.
You may have seen the Strawberry Cream Kisses that pop up from time to time, or the Peppermint ones that should be back on store shelves in time for Christmas. These creations elevate white chocolate. They are transcendent.
The same goes for Pumpkin Spice Kisses. Pumpkin is a taste I've acquired over the past decade. Previously my over-active imagination would take me back to the first time I reached inside one of those majestic orange gourds to scoop out a handful of stringy innards — those wet and lumpy plant intestines, clingy and cold.
Now I know pumpkin spice for the warm and comforting experience it is, one captured masterfully here by the masterful folks at Hershey. These are a lover's sweet lips on a chilly October evening.
Snacktaku followers will know that I am not exactly a fan of the vanilla-cookie Oreo varieties. Like the M&M conundrum above, anything less than the classic chocolate-and-creme sandwich cookie is just that — something less.
The irony is that these Candy Corn Oreos, which have received more than their fair share of press attention, are slightly more than slightly less. They are, essentially a Golden Oreo double-stuffed with two-toned creme with just a hint of butterscotch flavor added to give it that candy corn taste.
It's odd — I like these. I should not like these, being pretty much more of the cookie I disliked earlier, but there's something about these that makes them irresistible. As crazy as it sounds, I think it might be the food coloring — the double sweet of vanilla cookie and creme is tempered by the appearance of the Candy Corn Oreo. My mouth expects it, and by extension accepts it.
My wife and I have gone through two bags. My god have mercy on our souls.
The Cadbury Creme Egg was once the most powerful chocolate candy in the world.
Rising once a year like some sort of resurrected god (only tastier), the whimsical bunny-laid construction of chocolate and sweet goop is more important to candy connoisseurs than whatever it is Easter is all about.
Or it was. Now we've got Scream Eggs, the same candy, only instead of simulated yolk it's filled with simulated rotting flesh. This is what happens when a piece of zombie flesh is encased in a chocolate prison.
It still tastes just the same, which means Cadbury is not one of those daring candy companies — not in this case, at least. Instead, they are willing to give up a portion of their power so that people like me don't have to fill their freezer with discount post-Easter Cadbury Creme Eggs.
And thus ends Snacktaku's first annual look at the cookies and candies the kids will be screaming for this Halloween. Maybe I'll let them out of the trunk in December long enough for them to help me with the Christmas edition.