Halloween, as with all events in American society, is a time to argue. What’s your favorite scary movie? Do the rich houses give out the best or the worst candy? And is that best or worst candy, in fact, candy corn? There’s no more divisive candy out there, which makes sense because there’s no other candy that’s based on a grain. What is this shit? Where did it come from? And why does no one seem to (correctly) feel that it’s only fine?

Agricultural Candy

Turnips

(Vanessa Bucceri/Unsplash)

Believe it or not, there used to be a whole world of candy that looked like the sorts of things you dutifully swallow in order to get candy, like turnips, chestnuts, and pumpkins. It was all part of the “agricultural candy” fad designed to appeal to rural populations and farmers, which made up a full half of the American labor force at the time. You know how people today go nuts for Barista Pops and Executive Assistant Chews.

Those Magical Three Layers

What set candy corn apart from the rest of those sugar vegetables was its distinctive layers that were molded together, which people found so novel and exciting that candy corn soon became the dominant player in the agricultural candy game. It didn’t take a lot to work people up back then.

Seasonal Production Made It a Fall Staple

Before widespread industrialization, candy corn was a huge pain in the ass to make, requiring workers to carry heavy buckets back and forth over a conveyor belt until they could find better jobs as chimney sweeps or whatever. As a result, manufacturers conceded to limiting the production of candy corn to March through November, making fall the harvest season for candy, too.

Becoming Halloween Candy

Halloween

(Nick Fewings/Unsplash)

When Halloween really started becoming a thing in the mid 20th century, candy companies jumped on it and started considering which of their year-round offerings they could insist had always been Halloween treats. Candy corn was a natural fit, having become associated with autumn, so they slapped it into teeny bags and earmarked all their candy corn marketing dollars for October (or, now, July).

The 1950 Candy Corn Poisoning Scandal

This backfired pretty much immediately in 1950, when kids ate so much candy corn all at the same time that they got sick, and not just the expected tummy ache. It turned out the orange dye used in candy corn, as well as a lot of other foods, at the time was toxic in such large doses, so they realized they probably shouldn’t have been using food coloring made out of coal tar to begin with and outlawed it.

The 2021 Ransomware Attack

Candy corn didn’t really make big headlines again until 2021, when Brach’s fell victim to a ransomware attack that interrupted candy corn production right at the start of the Halloween season. It was great fodder for jokes about the people rising up against candy corn, but it was more likely just plain old cyber crime, and the involvement of candy corn was incidental.

What is Candy Corn Made Of?

Beetle

(David Maltais/Unsplash)

The formula for candy corn still includes the same basic ingredients that it did back in the 19th century, but these days, it also often includes gelatin or “confectioner’s glaze,” which is “a secretion produced by some species of insects native to Asia.” In other words, bug juice.

Is There a Difference in the Layers?

You might have spent many post-trick-or-treating nights debating the difference in the flavors of the three layers of candy corn, but manufacturers say the only difference is the variation of food coloring. That doesn’t mean your friend was lying when they said they could tell which was which by taste alone -- studies suggest that it is possible, but that would just be because the dyes taste different. So you were all right. Rejoice!

Why Candy Corn is So Divisive

Children playing

(Robert Collins/Unsplash)

There’s a scientific reason people feel so strongly about candy corn, mostly because it’s a flavor so inextricably linked to childhood. "The area of the brain where we process smell (which has a major impact on how we process taste) … is in the same part of the brain where we store memories and evoke emotion," explained one food scientist, so loving or hating candy corn may very well have to do with whether you ate it as a child and whether childhood was an awesome time for you. Feel free to test the theory by quizzing your friends about their childhood traumas over the candy bowl.

Why Candy Corn Sucks

Thumbs down

(Thomas Park/Unsplash)

But there’s a scientific reason for specifically disliking candy corn as well. It’s mostly the lack of acid, which can make it taste too sickeningly sweet for some people, so no matter which side of the great candy corn debate you fall on, you’ve got science on your side. Surely this will put a stop to all arguments.

Top image: Mary Jane Duford/Unsplash

Sign up for the Cracked Newsletter

Get the best of Cracked sent directly to your inbox!

Forgot Password?