Candy corn: The Halloween candy that divides a nation. Its original name? 'Chicken feed'

Candy corn: The Halloween candy that divides a nation. Its original name? 'Chicken feed'

Autumn resurfaces the annual argument: Are you Team Candy Corn or not?

For some, just the name of the candy makes them salivate. Others recoil at the re-emergence of the Halloween treat.

For many, candy corn represents the reason for the season. Most of the 9 billion kernels, more than 35 million pounds, produced annually – according to past pronouncements by the National Confectioners Association – are eaten around Halloween.

Like everything else, candy corn will likely cost more than in the past. For instance, Brach's Candy Corn at Walmart is priced about 4.7% higher than last year, according to consumer data financial platform Klover.

However, the price increase is lower than that for Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bars (increased by 15%) and Reese's King Size Peanut Butter Cups (up 14%), Klover found.

Higher prices won't likely deter those who love candy corn. "I will fall.on.a.sword.for my CANDY CORN!" exclaimed business development guru Perrin Kaplan on a Facebook thread about the candy.

That sweet, waxy texture isn't for everyone though. And investigating how the candy is made might give some pause – confectioner's glaze on the treat contains a bug secretion.

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Candy corn originated in the late 19th century and today is one of most beloved – and most disliked – Halloween candies.
Candy corn originated in the late 19th century and today is one of most beloved – and most disliked – Halloween candies.

Bones and bugs in candy corn?

The ingredients in candy corn might surprise some candy lovers. In addition to sugar, corn syrup, salt, sesame oil, honey, artificial flavor, and food colorings, candy corn also has gelatin and confectioner's glaze as ingredients.

Those last two items have led some candy corn detractors to note that candy corn is made of animal hides and bones, like Jell-O gelatin. And confectioner's glaze, also known as shellac, is made from lac-resin, which – are you ready for this? – is a bug secretion. The lac bug – a parasite found in tropical and subtropical regions, according to news site Science Daily – secretes a waxy, waterproof coating to protect itself.

Workers scrape those secretions from plants and, as education site ThoughtCo.com notes, some of the bugs are gathered in the process. The shellac is also used in paints, cosmetics and plenty of other products, according to The Vegetarian Resource Group.

Wait, bug secretions in my candy? Yes. "It's not unusual at all," said Paul Adams, a senior editor at Cook's Illustrated Magazine, which is published by America's Test Kitchen. "The lac insect produces a shiny, durable resin that's used as the basis for all kinds of coatings: the words 'shellac' and 'lacquer' both come from the name of the bug."

Typically found under the name "confectioner's glaze" or "pure food glaze," lac coating is used in making gum and on all sorts of shiny candies including jelly beans, Milk Duds and Whoppers, Adams said. "It's also responsible for the glossy coating on many pharmaceutical pills, as well as citrus fruits and cosmetics."

Good news for chocolate lovers: M&M's do not use the substance.

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Candy corn originated in the late 19th century and today is one of most beloved Halloween candies – by many, but not all lovers of sweets.
Candy corn originated in the late 19th century and today is one of most beloved Halloween candies – by many, but not all lovers of sweets.

The caloric breakdown: Each piece of candy corn has 4 calories, according to Jelly Belly. But Brach's puts the caloric count at about 7, since 15 pieces add up to 110 calories on its packaging of Classic Candy Corn. That serving has 22 grams of sugar – experts recommend no more than 25 grams per day.

Candy corn: Why is it so divisive?

Candy corn traditionally ranks high has a Halloween candy, with it grabbing came in third behind chocolate and gummy candy in a survey last year by National Confectioners Association. This year, the NCA estimated consumers will buy 5% more chocolate and candy than in 2021.

As for candy corn, not everyone loves, or even likes, the candy. Many despise it.

"Run away. Gross. Weird consistency. Corn isn’t candy and even kids don’t like it," tweeted public relations executive Patrick Seybold. "So … why does it still exist?"

About 22% said, "Candy corn is the best!" in an unscientific survey I conducted on Twitter (it got 550 votes). But 49% disagree ("Nope. I'll pass."). For about 29%, "Candy corn is just OK."

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Perhaps those who dislike it do so because of its texture and humdrum flavor. "From a sensory perspective, the hatred of candy corn can be explained because, unlike many candies, its flavor profile doesn't incorporate contrast," Adams told USA TODAY. "It's just intensely sweet-tasting, which can produce palate fatigue, like eating spoonfuls of honey or sugar."

Those who despise candy corn can cherish that it earned the title of Worst Halloween Candy last year for the second consecutive time, ahead of circus peanuts, those orange peanut-shaped marshmallow spongy candies, according to CandyStore.com. Favorite Halloween candy? Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Candy corn still ranked as No. 10 among overall favorite candies.

Yet, for those who love candy corn, the treat can be transportive, says Adams, who recalls his mother eating just the white tips of each piece. "Why is it loved as much as hated? If you grew up eating it, it probably has delightful associations in your mind," he said.

The origins of candy corn

Candy corn was first harvested in the late 19th century. Most histories have the Wunderle Candy Co. of Philadelphia inventing the kernel-shaped treat in the 1880s.

The Goelitz Confectionery Co. in Cincinnati acquired the recipe and began making candy corn about 1898, according to National Geographic. The Goelitz Confectionery Co. changed its name to the Jelly Belly Candy Co. in 2001.

Decades ago, candy corn was a year-round candy called "chicken feed," and aimed at agricultural and rural families, according to History.com. (You can see Jelly Belly vice chairman Bill Kelley, the great-grandson of Gustav Goelitz and a fourth generation candy maker, talk about candy corn in an CBS Sunday Morning video from 2011.) 

"It wasn’t made for fall, but it became a fall thing ultimately," said Marie Wright, chief global flavorist at food processing company ADM, which makes corn syrup, sweeteners and natural flavorings and colorings used in candy corn.

Originally, candy corn was made by hand with candy makers pouring a sequence of passes of different colored hot edible icing called fondant into kernel-shaped molds, according to Jelly Belly, which claims to be the longest continuous maker of the candy and will make about 250,000 pounds, or 125 tons, of it this year.

Today, candy corn is made the same way – using essentially the same recipe – by machines. Where some candies' flavors change over time, candy corn "tastes exactly how I remember it. Everybody says the flavor doesn’t change," Wright said.

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Candy corn even gets a song this year

Brach's claims to sell the most candy corn and says it makes 86% of the candy corn sold in the U.S. Each year, the candy maker says it produces enough candy corn to encircle the Earth more than five times.

Founded in 1904, Brach's advertised in 1932 that it was selling eight ounces of Candy Corn for 10 cents.

This year, Brach's teamed up with singer Michelle Williams, formerly of Destiny's Child, who wrote a song to rev up #TeamCandyCorn, with lyrics including "It is the season, today is the day, candy corn is on the way."

"Every year my beloved candy corn is known to stir up a debate spicier than a pumpkin spice latte 😜 and the haters are getting a little too loud for my liking," she said in an Instagram post.

Brach's has some new candy corn flavors this year, too, in addition to Harvest Corn, which is made with cocoa butter and a brown section replacing the yellow.

Back in August, Brach's brought to market Tailgate Candy Corn, a football-themed mix that includes candy corn with the flavors of hot dogs, hamburgers. fruit punch, vanilla ice cream and even popcorn-flavored candy corn. Also available for a limited time: Funfetti Candy Corn, which recalls cake frosting with sprinkles included.

If you cannot get enough candy corn, you can make your own. The Food Network's Alton Brown shows you how in a video on the channel's website.

America's Test Kitchen has a recipe for a candy corn cake, which uses the candy as an ingredient, that you can bake at home.

America's Test Kitchen has a candy corn cake, which uses 45-50 pieces of the candy as an ingredient.
America's Test Kitchen has a candy corn cake, which uses 45-50 pieces of the candy as an ingredient.

Whether you go to those extremes or not, many homes make candy corn part of their Halloween festivities. "Even the haters still want to have bowls of it at home because it signifies fall. There's this nostalgia thing. But if you ask them if they are going to eat it …" ADM's Wright said.

"It's fun to observe this emotional reaction to this tiny little nothing candy," she said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Candy corn, the Halloween candy you love or hate. Know how it's made?