When it comes to Halloween candy, some things are obvious. Full-size candy bars are the most covetable plunder. Candy Corn is divisive: Love it or hate it, at least respect it as an icon. Anything associated with health or virtue — raisins, dental floss — has no place in the trick-or-treat bowl.
But what should be included? It’s clear from the loot on offer each year that terrible misconceptions abound. It is a travesty that the humdrum Mike and Ike continues to show up while Good & Plenty — a pinnacle of candy-dom — is routinely snubbed. There’s no reason to give out plain M&Ms or (heaven forfend) Reese’s Pieces when Peanut M&Ms exist, a whole snack. And whither went the Charleston Chew, so heavenly frozen? Meanwhile, middle-of-the-road Hershey’s Miniatures and Kisses continue to sink to the bottom of the pumpkin-shaped basket, to be grudgingly consumed mid-November.
It’s time to clear up any confusion. These are the best and worst candies of Halloween.
You know how when you bake a pie you’re aiming for those flaky, flaky layers? Butterfinger goes ahead and gives them to you, flavored with peanut butter and coated in chocolate. I understand the love for the soft-bellied Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and I share it to a degree. But I’ll take Butterfinger — a candy bar with backbone, a candy bar that continues to assert its presence long after it’s gone, adhering to your molars in salty defiance of the probing tongue.
Starburst, go home. You’re fine, but you’re not funny. When it comes to fruit chews, Laffy Taffy is the champ. Conceptually, they win Halloween with their goofy jokes on every wrapper. (How should you greet women’s shoes? Hi, heels.) The texture hits the ideal mark between soft and chewy. The flavors are tangy, bright, and bold. Laffy Taffy even has the power to make me enjoy flavors I usually avoid (banana and cherry, looking at you).
I don’t think I ever tried Mounds as a child. I scorned the candy bar by association with the nefarious, ironically named Almond Joy (more on that later). I assumed Mounds would be a lesser version of its already bad sibling. After all, how could something without an almond be better than something with? But sometimes less is more. Unlike the Almond Joy, the Mounds features dark chocolate. This balances the sweetness of the coconut filling, which here tastes more coconut-y, less oily. Despite the porntastic name, which perhaps hit ears differently in the 1920s of its invention, Mounds is so pure.
Peppermint Pattie (and Junior Mints)
When I bite into a York Peppermint Pattie, I think why on earth doesn’t everyone love peppermint as much as I do? Long before ASMR videos were at our fingertips, we could enjoy the soothing sound of a Peppermint Pattie being broken in half directly next to the ear, a soft release of tension, a sugary sigh. (Try it. You’ll see what I mean.) The bracing peppermint beside the bosky chocolate is invigoratingly alpine. Junior Mints are ace as well, but I prefer them as movie candy, in a full-size box — the squished ones stick too much to the miniaturized Halloween container. It is the very fragility of the Junior Mint, though, that is its magic; as the thin chocolate shell yields to the smooth, refreshing filling, it evokes the ephemeral nature of all things, the bittersweet passage of time.
Sheer nostalgia. Beautiful perfection. An idealized past that never really existed, captured in concave pastel lozenges and rolled up in cellophane. Smarties come in white (orange-cream), yellow (pineapple), pink (cherry), orange (orange!), green (strawberry?), and purple (grape), which is clearly the best and thus seems to me to appear less often than the others, whether or not that’s the actual case. These are so simple, just sweet-tart sugar, nothing more, nothing less. The curved shape feels nice to flip over and over in your mouth; the texture is pleasantly baby-aspirin chalky when you crunch.
Sour Patch Kids
The pleasures of sour are underrated when it comes to Halloween candy. Consider Sour Patch Kids a palate cleanser, an intermezzo, the sorbet of Oct. 31. (Skittles, also excellent, can serve a similar purpose.) They have all of the floral, juicy bouquet of Swedish fish, but in multiple flavors, with an acidic sugar that rubs the tongue pleasingly raw. We could have done without all the unnecessary iterations — there’s nothing worse than ripping open a bag of SPKs mid-trick-or-treat in the dark and realizing you’ve got Tropical rather than Original. Too, it would be cool if they actually looked more like kids, or even gingerbread folk. But: Sour then sweet. Can’t beat it.
This might just be the best Halloween candy on the market, and too many are sleeping on its excellence. Skip the giant assortment bags and be the home that specializes in niche candy. The 5 in question are chocolate, caramel, peanuts, peanut butter, and pretzels. Although a skosh more caramel would improve the ingredient ratio, this nugget has it all: It’s sweet, salty, smooth, crunchy, creamy, chewy, and salty again. Invented in 2004, it was ahead of its time, foreseeing the coming trend of bumped-up salt in the inventions of pastry chefs and home cooks. Bonus: Crush up any leftovers to bake into cookies or sprinkle over vanilla ice cream.
I once had the pleasure of living above an old-school drugstore with a soda fountain, and those jerks made a mean malted. On Halloween, Whoppers bring the extra-thick shakes to mind. Malted milk balls are so old-fashioned they are ripe for a comeback, the Hazel or Silas of candies. Malt also has hipster cred, behind all our craft beers and artisanal bagels. And it tastes lovely, toasty and round. The proper way to eat these bb’s is to crunch them in half, then suck them until the powdery center and chocolaty coating dissolve.
Its blue wrapper features chocolate-colored bubble letters, a tantalizingly split coconut, flying flocks of almonds, and mysterious white kabbalist symbols that are perhaps meant to represent … almond contrails? Intriguing. But inside is a sarcophagus-shaped nugget with a lewd bulge: the single almond contained in each miniature bar. The milk chocolate and coconut are cloyingly sweet, the nut inevitably stale. Unlike with Mounds, the coconut filling here tastes oily. Sometimes you feel like a nut, and when you do, you probably ought to look elsewhere.
There’s so much that’s wonderful about Dum Dums in concept. The little lollipops come in so many flavors, from cream soda to peach-mango to sour apple — and, best yet, Mystery Flavor™, the wrapper imprinted with ebullient yellow question marks. Plus the aesthetic is charmingly Pink Panther retro. But in practice, Dum Dums are too small to satisfy anyone old enough to actually eat them, and the suckers are tongue-slicingly sharp. You’d be glad enough to get one at the bank or the doctor’s office with your kid, but Tootsie Pops and Blow Pops are the superior lollipops of Halloween.
The very thing that’s touted as its main asset is in fact a Halloween liability. No one wants a candy that lasts forever on this night. Everlasting Gobstoppers are a sweet for lean seasons, not times of plenty. Halloween is for eating as much candy as your parents will allow, and Gobstoppers can only interfere with that pursuit. Plus, anyone who hands out these choking hazards is clearly not familiar with litigious America.
They’re called that for a reason, you know. They taste like the cardboard box, and they stick in your teeth forever. (Tootsie Rolls are almost as bad.) If it’s chocolate-caramel chew you’re after, avoid these duds and roll yourself a Rolo or 100 Grand.
Milky Way (and 3 Musketeers)
There’s a good candy bar out there with caramel and nougat, and it’s called a Snickers. Milky Way is the same thing without the peanuts, which is to say without the purpose. Texture and contrast are the hallmarks of good art, vibrant cities, culture. A bland sweetness with no salt, no crunch, is a predictable life, a pleasant enough life, so sure, go ahead and eat the Milky Way. And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful house.” And you may tell yourself, “This is not my beautiful wife.” Anyhoo, 3 Musketeers are lame too, but I’m making an allowance for those who just really love nougat and want to sink their teeth into it like they’re floating along on a pillowy dream. (There is a strong correlation between 3 Musketeers fans and patients who enjoy nitrous oxide.)
Oh my goddess. They’re just so bad, people. The year-round full-size ones are at least edible. The miniaturized Twizzlers are the very worst Halloween candy of them all. You can tell by their very smell: cornstarch and soap? Not strawberry, that much is certain. They taste vaguely fruity, vaguely sweet, vaguely brackish and bland. They taste like paste. They’re waxy and they’re oily and they’re sticky, and you should trade away every last one of them for whatever you can get.