An Oral History of Candy Corn, the Most Polarizing Confection of Them All

Love it or hate it, today is National Candy Corn Day.

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The National Confectioners Association celebrates National Candy Corn Day on October 30, a time to honor the annual production of 9 billion pieces of candy that most people probably only eat once a year (unless you’re a diehard fan who buys 10-pound red-white-and-green ones for Christmas or red-white-and-pink ones for your sweetheart on Valentine's Day).

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The trade association claims candy corn was invented in the 1880s by a Wunderlee Candy Company employee named George Renninger. Wunderlee was reportedly the first to produce the candy, followed by the Goelitz Candy Company (now the Jelly Belly Candy Company), which has been producing the tri-colored candies since 1898. Back then, the cooking process was done by hand: a sugar and corn syrup-based mixture was cooked into a slurry (a semi-liquid mixture) in a large kettle, dumped into buckets called runners, and men dubbed stringers walked backwards, pouring the hot concoction into a tray of molds in the shape of corn kernels.

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Today, machines do most of the work, as demonstrated by The History Channel’s Modern Marvels segment on Brach’s candy factory, another major candy corn producer. Sugar and corn syrup are blended, gelatin and sugar are whipped with air and a fondant is added, followed by yellow and orange coloring. The fondant is a “highly-crystalized sugar syrup” for “crystalized candy is one that breaks off easily in your mouth and doesn’t have a chewy type texture and that comes from the sugar crystals,” Dr. Richard Hartel, a food engineering professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explains in an American Chemical Society video. Then Brach’s candy factory’s corn starch molding machine puts corn starch in trays of 1,260 individual molds and moves them along a conveyer belt as triangle-shaped air nozzles nix extra corn starch, and layers of white, orange, and yellow liquids are injected in that order. The pieces are then cooled, polished, and shipped out. However, if you want to deep-fry them, you’ll have to do that at home.

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Candy corn has been primarily associated with autumn because of corn’s link to the fall harvest, and it seemed to become a Halloween standard in the 1950s when people started handing out individually-wrapped candy to trick-or-treaters, according to The Atlantic‘s series on the history of Halloween candy. That said, candy corn was also nicknamed “chicken feed” in the 1920s and sold in a box with a rooster on the front, not to mention a 1951 advertisement called it great to eat all year round, the magazine points out.

Of course, you probably know people who can barely bring themselves to eat candy corn on Halloween because it’s too sweet, doesn’t have enough flavor, or as comedian Lewis Black once joked, “Candy corn is the only candy in the history of America that’s never been advertised. And there’s a reason — all of the candy corn that was ever made was made in 1911.” But in a world where there are candy corn-flavored bagels, Oreos, M&Ms, creamy panna cotta, arabica bean coffee, and vodka martinis made out of a pound of the stuff, maybe the real thing doesn’t taste so bad after all.

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