West Hartford Patch's Guide to Candy Canes

In which I and my stepchildren develop Type 2 diabetes to find one candy cane to rule them all.

I don't feel too good.
I don't feel too good.

Kids, c’mere and sit next to the Candy Ninja for a bit of a history lesson.

There once was a time — before the continents were formed after the breaking up of Pangea, before dinosaurs roamed the Earth and even before Derek Jeter played shortstop for the New York Yankees — that candy canes came in exactly one — and only one — flavor. Peppermint. Sinus-clearing, boring, old peppermint.

Back in those days, there was a natural order to things. Somewhere around Dec. 4, parents would break out the candy canes to decorate the Christmas tree. Kids would be allowed one or two on their own, while the rest were reserved for decorations. Kids would then ignore the directive, wait for mom and dad to have too many rum-laced egg nogs and subsequently pilfer the candy canes from said tree.

Ah, it was such a simple time.

So many candy canes would be consumed that kids across the globe would be sick of peppermint by, say, Dec. 15. Then, when mom or dad would hand out the officially sanctioned daily ration of one candy cane per day, all while wondering how so many candy canes were disappearing from the tree so rapidly (go back to bed, mom and dad - you’re drunk), kids would act as though it was more of a punishment than a treat as Christmas neared.

So anyway, for years it was just peppermint. But then some candy marketing genius said, “Hey, we can’t make licorice-flavored candy canes. What’s the next worst flavor we can come up with?”

And lo, said candy marketing genius begat spearmint candy canes.

And it was not good.

But something happened on the way to the vomitorium. Taking a cue from its soul and childhood-memory crushing endeavors into jelly beans, candy corn and Oreos, the confectionary industry has taken a stab/hydrogen bomb to candy canes. Everyone, it seems, has gotten in the act.

Indeed, there are no fewer than 15,000 different kinds of candy canes on the market right now. I, of course, had to convene my expert panel — my two stepkids — to test as many as I could for research purposes.

No lie, I bought something like $35 worth of candy canes, prompting my loving wife to question out loud how she could be so stupid in agreeing to marry me. My response? “Too late on both fronts, honey. The candy canes and I are here to stay.”

Anyhoo, here’s what we came up with (brand, flavors and review) on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the best:

Starburst (Green apple and strawberry) - Whoa, these are sweet. Too sweet for me. 1.5 from me, 5 from Hannah, who found the strawberry perfect, while Daniel said the green apple was a 3.

Warheads (One awful, terrifying flavor) - It’s like a nuclear device went off in my mouth. Hannah gives them a 0, Daniel, on a scale of 1 to 5, gave these an 11. He loves sour stuff, though. I had a hard time letting my experience with these go. Lowest rating at a .5.

Sour Patch Kids (Cherry, orange, watermelon) - Not nearly as offensive as Warheads. I actually liked them, as they were - and I can’t believe I am writing this about something named “Sour Patch Kids” - far more subtle than Warheads. A decent change of pace that I give a 3. Hannah agrees, giving them a 3.

SweeTarts (Blue punch, cherry, green apple) - Daniel said these tasted “funky” and proceeded to give it a 4.85. Hannah said they are near perfect at 4.98. Me? I love SweeTarts. I love them in every form: the chalky original kind, the big honkin’ chewy kind, the big honkin’ chalky kind, and even in chewy pellets. Man, these just weren’t that good. I give them a 2.

Spree (just Spree, man) - Like SweeTarts, I have a close relationship with Spree. I jockey between the two frequently. Anyway, the kids loved the candy cane version, with Hannah describing it as a “fablismo” 4.8. Daniel loved it, too, giving it a 4.5, though it was a bit tart. I found it to be a less than fablisimo 2.5.

Lifesavers (Cherry, watermelon, orange, pineapple, raspberry). ZOMG! So good for so many reasons. I love Lifesavers and the canes aren’t too far off the original candies. Hannah used her inner thesaurus to describe them as “horribly stupid, disgusting, awful and putrid.” Daniel thought they were awesome with a 4.5.

Hershey (Chocolate/peppermint) - Both kids went nuts over this one, with Hannah comparing it to Andes Candies and Daniel saying (with the candy in his mouth), “It tashtes likesh a Tooshy Rowl.” Translated, that’s “It tastes like a Tootsie Roll.” All of us gave Hershey high marks with scores over 4.

Gobstoppers (Red, white and green) - They change color when you suck on them, for what that’s worth. My mantra is, if you need gimmicks, it ain’t that good. The plain appearance didn’t do much for me, which led Hannah to say, “Don’t judge a candy cane by first impressions.” And thus the patewan became a Jedi. Anyway, my first impression turned out to be correct. “I’m bored,” Daniel said. Everyone scored Gobstoppers candy canes below 3.

Jolly Rancher (Strawberry, mixed berry, watermelon) — Ick. Just … ick. The kids, naturally, loved them. Because … ugh. I gave this one a 0. The kids both gave them a 5. Trust me, they’re not very good.

Hawaiian Punch (Fruit juicy red, lemon berry squeeze, polar blast) - Aptly named, because, like the jelly beans produced by the same company, you’ll feel like a giant Hawaiian punched you in the mouth if you eat these things. Kids loved them with scores above 4, while I give it a 1.

Swedish Fish (One flavor - tastes like Scandinavia) - Does Sweden have Christmas? Stay away from my holiday tree, Sven! (Checks Wikipedia). OK, so Sweden has Christmas. Don’t go anywhere, Sven. I need you to answer a question for me: What do Scandinavian fish have to do with candy canes? Welp, after eating them, who the freakin’ heck cares? They’re my third-favorite candy cane and I graded them out at a 4. Daniel agreed by running around the room declaring how he wanted to eat Swedish Fish candy canes for the rest of his life. Perfect 5. (Round 1 to you, Sven. Välspelad.). Still Hannah thought they were awful and gave them a 0.

Jelly Belly (Watermelon, tutti frutti and blueberry) - By now, I’m not only midway through a diabetic coma, I’m also a tad ticked off. Jelly Belly, by definition, needs to be chewy. You’ve got to be hard to run in the hard candy arena, and Jelly Bellies are soft. And nasty. Freakin’ nasty. The kids, naturally, loved them. Both of them gave Jelly Belly Candy Canes a 5 out of 5.

Brachs Cherry (Uh.. cherry) - Where have you been all my life? Just 99 cents per box and they are delicious. The adult gave them a 4.5, the  The kids scored them below 1.

OK, at this point we had to drop my stepson from the taste test, as he turned from a mogwai into gremlin. Seriously, he became Damien after eating the equivalent of two and a half candy canes. I need a young priest and an old priest.

Smarties (one flavor) - The precursor to SweeTarts is still one of my favorite candies. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the candy cane version. It just missed for me, as it was close to Smarties in flavor, but not quite. I give it a 2.5, while Hannah loved it and gave it a 5.

Spongebob SquarePants (Sour apple, blue raspberry, watermelon, strawberry) - 0 Man, this one was tough to buy. Don’t get me wrong, I love the cartoon. But, by definition, tie-ins tend not to be any good. And I was right. Both Hannah and I, in a rare moment of unanimity, agreed that they they were dull. Hannah was rough - 0, while I gave ole’ Mr. SquarePants a 2.

Disney (Cherry, grape, orange, strawberry) - I knew Disney wouldn’t let me down. When has The Mouse ever attached his name to something that was low quality? Well, except for more than half of its movies in the last 20 years. Anyway, this was my favorite. The flavors seemed real. I gave them my only 5, while Hannah gave them a 0. Don’t listen to her. She doesn’t have taste buds. These were the best.

Dum Dums (Blue raspberry, cherry and watermelon) - So apropos that I get to Dum Dums at the end, because I’m feeling like an idiot for having eaten so many candy canes. They were OK, I guess. I may just be descending into sugar coma, however, so my judgment at this point cannot be trusted. A 2.5 from me, 4 from Hannah.

Happy holidays! Now I’m going to go barf.


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