Reading Roger Ebert's latest essay "Nil By Mouth" got me thinking about the candy I liked as a kid. The poignancy of his essay, about what he does and doesn't miss now that he is no longer able to eat after surgery for thyroid cancer, moved me to seek out some of my childhood favorites.
Chewy fruit candies are one of the main classifications for candy in the 1970s and 1980s. Some of these, like the giant chewy SweetTart (which was exactly as the name described - a giant, chewy, SweetTart) are no longer in production. Others, like Mentos fruit candies, are still in production, but I have not yet been able to find any at the store.
One thing that all these candies share is a ridiculously artificial fruit flavor. For example, no one would ever mistake the flavor of a yellow Starburst with the flavor of an actual lemon. Nibbling my way through my samples it occurred to me that these candies must be specifically aimed at a younger audience, because the fruit flavors were like the flavor equivalent of toys. Brightly colored and completely unreal.
Just the thought of a chewy fruit candy aimed at adults seems vaguely silly. I imagine it would be in natural colors - pale green, light yellow - and subtly flavored in fruit flavors tailored for grownups. Like pomegranate, Meyer lemon, and blueberry. I would definitely try such a candy, but I doubt it would be a big seller.
Speaking of chewy fruit candy for grownups, I was surprised to learn in my research that many of these candies are suitable for vegetarians, and some are even vegan. Although Skittles are not suitable for either (because they contain shellac and gelatin), Mambas are safe for vegans. In the UK at least, Starburst are vegetarian friendly, although they contain trans fats. (Which as we all know will kill you dead INSTANTLY RIGHT THERE IN THE STORE. Whatever. If you're eating so many Starbursts that the trans fat content is a concern, I'm here to tell you that you've got other problems you should be dealing with first.)
The biggest change between now and the early 1980s when I was a little kid is that my tolerance level for Skittles is about five. I used to be able to eat bags of the stuff without a second thought, but the sixth Skittle gave me a terrible tummy ache. I'm sorry, Skittles. It's not you; it's me. I have no idea why six Skittles made me want to ralph, because I have a pretty strong stomach, but there you have it.
In the middle of the pack I would rank Starbursts. I bought a pack of the regular kind, although they make specialty Starbursts in every conceivable flavor assortment now. The Starburst's flavor was acceptable, if a little too brightly aggressive. The worst thing about Starbursts was the odd waxy texture, which lingers in the mouth long after the candy is gone.
Mambas turned in the best performance, emerging as the clear winner. The fruit flavors were less exaggerated than Skittles, and the texture was more chewy than waxy. A+++++ Would Nom Again.
Creative Commons-licensed image courtesy of Flickr user sun dazed