Regular versus sugar-free candy — who will win?
Full disclosure: I’m not diabetic. But my step-sister is — and in point of fact, she learned that she was diabetic after over-gorging on Halloween candy at age ten. This did not stop her from occasionally over-gorging on Halloween candy in later years, with occasional predictably bad (read: insulin shock) results. My step-sister still loves candy, and I myself am a fan. Thus, I am personally aware that candy is… not so great for diabetics. On the other hand, this is supposed to be an article about Halloween, and if Halloween isn’t about candy, then what is it about? …Paganism? …Wiccanism? …Girls dressing up like skanky witches? Those all seemed like bad options to me, so I went with candy.
With that in mind, I decided to review a bunch of regular and sugar-free candy. It was at this point that I remembered that I actually kind of like candy more in the abstract. Sort of the way that I abstractly pretend to love the Democratic Party, while actually hating Nancy Pelosi in reality. …Or the way that I abstractly pretend to think that David Foster Wallace is a great writer, but in real life, I just can’t stand reading his novels.
What I’m trying to say here is that I quickly realized that I haven’t actually eaten a whole lot of candy in — well — years, at least, even though candy supposedly rocks. But as a professional writer, I must make sacrifices, and so I was given a bunch of free candy, and then was forced to eat it. …And so. Let’s begin.
Hershey’s Bar: I actually grew up right outside Hershey, Pennsylvania, home of the chocolate factory and of Hershey Park. This might sound like a great place for a kid to grow up, full of chocolate and candy and magic and rainbows, but if that’s what you think, then you’ve definitely never been to rural Pennsylvania.
So anyway, biting into my first Hershey’s bar in more than a year gave me the definite sensation of, “Yep, this is what chocolate tastes like; I remember now.” And chocolate is tasty. But let’s face it; the Hershey’s bar is no one’s favorite candy bar. It’s just too generic to achieve that exalted state. It’s like if your top picks for hottest girl ever are Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie. Bleh. Boring, dude! Too unoriginal.¹ No one cares.
Biting into a sugar-free Hershey bar, by way of contrast… also wasn’t that bad. Yeah, there was a definite blandness factor there, but if I hadn’t been really paying attention, I wouldn’t really have noticed or cared too much. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t compare it to prison food or anything awful like that. So… Regular Grade: B. Sugar-free Grade: C-plus.
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: Man, Reese’s Cups are delicious. If you’re expecting me to make fun of Reese’s Cups in any way, then prepare yourself for a world of disappointment. …But as a side-note, I might mention that I was initially very impressed with my local drug store’s stock of sugar-free candy (because I wasn’t even sure that they would have any), and then quickly became less and less impressed. …Dude? Where’s the sugar-free Butterfingers? Or Three Musketeers? Or Snickers? Out of all the potential sugar-free candy on tap, Reese’s Cups were the lone representative that I would actually really go for in regular, sugary life.
As for what they tasted like… regular Reese’s Cups are fantastic and there’s nothing bad to say about them, so let’s move on. …Sugar-free Reese’s Cups… tasted identically delicious, with merely a slight chemical aftertaste, thereby proving for all time that there is nothing bad or funny to say about Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Regular Grade: A-plus. Sugar-free Grade: A.
York Peppermint Patties: When I bite into a York Peppermint Patty, I get the cool, crisp sensation… that I’m not really a big fan of peppermint. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not majorly against peppermint. I mean, I wouldn’t kick it out of bed or anything. But it would never ever be my first choice.
The nice thing about the York Peppermint Patty is that I only ever want to eat about half of one before the overpowering peppermint thing kicks in and I want to stop. There’s no way I’m ever getting fat off of this particular candy — so that’s a good thing, I guess. …This sort of reminds me of a friend of mine who was on the “Dunkin’ Doughnuts Breakfast Sandwich Diet.” She could eat all the sandwiches that she wanted, but — as she cleverly pointed out — “They’re so disgusting that you can never even finish one sandwich.” It worked and she lost weight. I have pretty much the same attitude concerning the York Patty. Regular Grade: D-minus. Sugar-free Grade: D. The sugar-free version was actually slightly blander, and therefore was a better choice. This was a major victory for the sugar-free contingent.²
Werther’s Originals: The commercials for Werther’s Originals always used to freak me out. They took place in the “old country” — which was some imaginary Germany-land where a woman reminisced about being fed Werther’s by her “old timey” grandpa. In the commercials, her grandpa was this vaguely threateningly Teutonic white-haired dude, and anyway, the commercials just freaked me out. I don’t have the world’s most positive associations with Germans in the first place but – well, that’s a topic for another time. …And then there were all the images of little blond-haired, blue-eyed German children being fattened up with Werther’s candy, intercut with porn-y shots of caramel pouring out of bubbling cauldrons, and, anyway… ugh. As a kid, I found the Werther’s ads to be highly unappealing.
And speaking of being fattened up, Werther’s heavily advertises — even on their packages — the fact that their candy contains fresh cream and butter. Urk! Cream and butter? Isn’t butter just basically cream that has been churned for a little longer anyway? Is there a way that they could make this candy worse for us? It’s caramel, so the only other ingredient is… burnt sugar. I just imagine the Werther’s people standing in a conference room somewhere, discussing this: “Okay, cream, butter, sugar. What else can we throw in there? Some lard, mayhaps? Maybe some pork rinds or fatback? …No, no. Let’s hold off on that for a bit.”
ANY-way. Was I supposed to talk about how this candy actually tastes? The regular version is delicious, probably because it’s just BUTTER, CREAM, and SUGAR. The sugar-free version is completely awful. It combines the blandness problem with the horrible aftertaste problem with an entirely new problem… that it just feels like plastic in your mouth; and since the sugar-free candy looks like a toilet seat (for some reason), the whole experience exactly approximates the experience of licking and sucking on a plastic industrial toilet seat, except I’ve never actually done that in real life, so maybe not. Regular grade: A-minus. Sugar-free grade: D-minus.
Nips: All right.3 To be honest, neither “Werther’s” nor “Nips” are traditional Halloween candy, although you were occasionally given them by very very old people who understood neither the concepts of “candy,” nor “children,” nor “happiness,” nor “joy.” But I really wanted to make fun of both of these types of candy, hence their inclusion on this list.
And speaking of old people… Nips were the one candy that was ever served at my great-grandmother’s house. I know that my great-grandmother must have had children, since I’m directly related to her, but she didn’t appear to “get” the whole children thing. Also, old Jewish grandmother-type people are supposed to be great cooks, but she just really wasn’t. …And so, after a nice dinner of boiled chicken on toast, the ceremonial dish of Nips would come out, and you could have one or two, while feeling very depressed and wishing that you could have real candy and wishing that you were somewhere else. …My great-grandmother also always served ketchup by pouring it into little cut-crystal decanters instead of just putting the bottle on the table. I know that has nothing at all to do with candy, but it always deeply freaked me out.
But once again, my snarky desire to make fun of things undid me here. Despite my unpleasant childhood memories of them, Nips… didn’t taste so bad. Maybe my tastes are becoming more “adult” and someday soon I will start having to put ketchup in little cut-crystal glasses; I don’t know. The only thing about Nips is that they’re a major commitment. They don’t dissolve, and you’re stuck with having one in your mouth for like fifteen minutes. They’re like the candy equivalent of a clingy, sophomore year, Goth-y, poetry-writing girlfriend. They just will not go away.
Sugar-free Nips, on the other hand, taste slightly less good than the regular option, but you can also just bite through them, by way of contrast, and make them go away. So for once, both versions of the candy receive the same grade. Regular grade: B-minus. Sugar-free grade: B-minus.
1) Which means, by implication, that Brad Pitt is the most boring person of all time. Sounds plausible to me, I guess.
2) This also marked the exact point in this experiment where I was already really sick of eating candy. My eight year-old self would have been highly disappointed with me, but, man, this whole experience signaled the death of a particular childhood dream, which was as follows: “Maybe someday I’ll work for a CANDY FACTORY or something and can eat all the candy I ever ever want.” …Nope. That would not actually be fun.
3) It’s almost too obvious to say, but “Nips” is just not a good name for candy. Plus they’re nipple-colored and are the exact same shape as aureoles. I don’t even feel like making a joke here, because the whole thing is just way too blatant.
Also – and this ties in with comment No. 2 – I was way too overconfident entering into this whole candy-eating thing. People were like, “All that candy! I hope it doesn’t make you sick.” And I said, “Dudes. It’s just candy.” Wrong! I stopped with York Peppermint Patties, and divided this experiment into two days, and I felt sick both times.
Another thing that was mentioned to me was that sugar-free candies give you gas. …Ummm… yes. That also turned out to be accurate, a day later. So maybe go back and decrease all the sugar-free grades to a “C” or lower, depending on your feelings on the whole flatulence issue.
Oliver Miller has an M.F.A. in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College and has been published in numerous magazines, including Nerve and McSweeney’s. Currently, he writes for The Faster Times, and is also working on a book of reviews.