Sugar Babies: Down With Red 40!

Sugar Babies: Down With Red 40!

Sugar Babies are the most easily available member of the Babies family. The primary caretaker in this family is Sugar Daddy, which is a funny rectangular lollipop made out of caramel. If there is a Sugar Mommy in the picture, I haven't seen her. Even Sugar Daddy is something of an absentee parent. I think the only place I regularly run across Sugar Daddy candies is at Rite-Aid and other oddball drug store candy aisles.

I guess it's still considered a little bit oddball to say that you can taste Red Dye #40, but I swear it's true. I never really noticed it before I started writing about candy, which caused me to slow down and really pay attention to what I was eating. It's gotten to the point where I'll be eating something - even something that isn't red - and think "This has Red 40 in it, doesn't it?" Inevitably when I flip over the package and study the ingredients, there it will be: Red 40.

A lot of people are claiming that Red 40 is what really gives kids the ADD and hyperactivity fits. The science behind these studies is hardly definitive, but at this point I figure the jury's still out on that one. But what I can tell you for sure is that Red 40 tastes really bad.

If you eat a candy and detect a harsh chemical aftertaste, that's probably the Red 40. Now that I know what I'm tasting, I taste it everywhere. Including in Sugar Babies.

Sugar Babies are a great example of how the candy industry's "better living through chemistry" philosophy is totally wack. Sugar Babies aren't even red! They're brownish! Surely that brownish tone could be conveyed through natural means. Surely Sugar Babies don't really need to be dyed? Not in the name of terrible flavor.

But no, everything has to look "realer than real." High contrast! High flavor! Punch it up! Insufficiently caramel colored! Add Red 40! And the next thing you know, the taste is totally ruined.

I would like to know when Sugar Babies started using Red 40. Have they used it all along, and it's only when I started paying attention to the taste that I started noticing it? Or did they formerly use a better (tasting) colorant? And since when do our foods need to be colored, anyway? Starburst, sure, but why color caramel? Surely it will be the appropriate color just by version of being, you know, caramelized?

All of which is to say, I used to love Sugar Babies. But I bought a box last week, and the Red 40 taste was just too much for me. Sugar Babies have a subtle, textural appeal. It's completely overrun by the Red 40 taste. I hated it, and was terribly disappointed.

Did Sugar Daddy sign off on these changes? What kind of absentee parenting is THAT, I ask you?

They still had a nice chewiness, though. And while it may not be strictly speaking necessary to coat little nuggets of caramel with confectioner's glaze, it gives them a little extra kick of sweetness and a slightly crumbly texture on the outside. (Probably keeps them from sticking together, too.)