A Delicious History of Candy Corn

20181009_154406Well, it’s that time of year again. The leaves are changing, the nights are cooler, Halloween beckons, and every store is stocked with candy corn. It’s my favorite time of the year, and all that candy corn is a big reason why. Candy corn has been one of my favorites since childhood. Perhaps because I grew up in Iowa, and we love corn in all its many varieties there. Or maybe it’s because those colors are so pretty to look at. Or maybe it’s just that good (but I know a lot of people would disagree with me there – it seems to be a love it or hate it kind of candy).

I love candy corn so much that one year I contemplated trying to make my own, but after seeing the complexities involved, I decided I shouldn’t attempt something like that in the kitchen. Besides, I don’t know exactly what accidents our renter’s insurance covers. So, I won’t be sharing a personal candy corn recipe anytime soon. But I am good at sharing the history – so I dug into the roots of this iconic candy to find out how it came to rule the drug stores every autumn.

According to the National Confectioners Association and a few other online sources I found (see below), corn in its candied version appeared thanks to an employee at a candy company called Wunderle. Since the story passed down orally, we don’t know a ton, but we do know the inventor’s name was George Renninger, and that he came up with candy corn sometime in the 1880s.

At that time, many candy companies made “butter candies” shaped like various plants and flowers, so a corn kernel wasn’t anything out of the ordinary… until Renninger slapped on that famous tri-colored design. The bright yellow, orange, and white layers gave the corn kernels something special. It was also revolutionary at a time when candy makers did their decorating by hand. And for a sales perk, the colors made corn candies stand out on store shelves, extra-enticing to children with a sweet tooth.

So, even though Pre-WWI Americans didn’t much care for corn itself (they mostly used it for animal feed), they went nuts over the candied version and bought it in droves. The colorful treat soon spread to other companies. One of these was the Goelitz Company, which we know today as the makers of Jelly Belly jelly beans. In addition to every candy bean flavor you could ever want, they have also made and sold candy corn since 1898.

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Maple Syrup

Back in those days, people made candy corn by hand. They cooked the mixture in a giant kettle, and then placed it into buckets known as “runners.” Employees poured the runners over a tray containing dozens of corn-shaped molds. Once the candy set in the molds, they decorated and polished it with its distinctive three-layered colors (imagine doing that by hand). Companies dubbed the treat “chicken feed,” and by the 1920s, it appeared in little boxes with a picture of a rooster pecking them off the ground.

They didn’t just sell it at Halloween either. In fact, summer stole the big market on candy corn. As late as the 1950s, Brach’s still marketed it as a summer candy alongside their circus peanuts and citrus-flavored confections. Candy Corn also performed well at Easter time, as it made an adorable garnish for all the animal-shaped chocolates in Easter baskets. However, the bright orange and yellow colors were a dead ringer for fall, and its corn shape conjured up images of the harvest. It wasn’t long before candy corn showed up at Halloween parties and Thanksgiving dinners.

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…And Football parties!  Thanks to these chocolate, caramel, and classic-flavored pieces.  Hut, hut, hike!

In the late 1950s, candy companies began pushing Halloween as the king of candy holidays, and America on October 31st was never the same. Since it had already made a lasting impression on fall, candy corn fit into the emerging holiday like candy in a mold. Each year, it saw a massive spike in sales around September and October. Bowls at every Halloween party carried the tasty treat. Kids went home from trick-or-treating with individually wrapped pieces as well as small packets of it. Candy Corn soon wore the crown of the ultimate Halloween treat. In the early 2000s, it even received its own holiday on October 30.

In the modern day, candy corn remains so popular that companies returned to the original concept of marketing it all year round. They’ve changed the famous colors to suit specific holidays (pinks and reds for Valentines, Reds and Greens for Christmas… you get the picture). They’ve even released a host of bizarre flavors. I went in search of some unique candy corns for this article, and I couldn’t believe all the varieties I found. Maple syrup, footballs (flavored like fudge, caramel, and regular), and corns with a chocolate or fruity twist. I gave them all a whirl (see my assessments below) but I have to admit, it’s always been that classic flavor and color that I adore most.

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Not Pumpkin Spice, just pumpkin shapes

And I’m not the only one! There is still an insane demand for candy corn. Just ask Brach’s, which is probably the most well-known and best-selling makers of candy corn in the country. They produce over two billion kernels every single year, and a single day will see 15,000 pieces come off their lines. It would be an insurmountable amount of candy in the old days, but today, machines do the bulk of the cooking, molding, and packaging. The kitchens are even run by computer commands.

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Vampire’s Teeth Candy Corn – Strawberry flavored

What must George Renninger think of all this? Did he ever imagine that shaping a piece of corn in a mold and painting it with pretty colors would become such a sensation? What made him think to use those colors? What inspired him to do something different? Unfortunately,  Renninger, nor anyone else, never wrote it down that we know of. So, I guess we’ll never know. And to a history enthusiast who loves candy corn, that is frustrating. But luckily, I have a delightful comfort food to help me cope with the pain.

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A little love for all of it!

SOURCES

Time Magazine – “History of Candy Corn on Candy Corn Day”

The Atlantic – “Where Our Love/Hate Relationship with Candy Corn Comes From”

History Channel – Modern Marvels – Candy Episode/Candy Corn

Wikipedia

All photos taken by M.B. Henry in one of the funnest photo shoots ever.  

Your guide to the candy corn bizarre:

Lollies & Pop’s Classic (header photo) – (found at Lollies & Pops candy store) This candy store has their own recipe and the molds are done by hand! It makes the corn look extra pretty, as you can see. And it’s delicious, I actually recommend it over Brach’s. It’s my “go to” candy corn every year.

Brach’s Harvest Corn – (found at Target) It’s pretty similar to the classic, but it has just a hint of a chocolate twist. Not bad, but I wouldn’t stray from the classics for them.

Brach’s Marshmallow Pumpkins – (also found at Target) Are they truly candy corns?  Probably not since they’re pumpkin-shaped.  But they taste the same and are sold on the same shelf, so I included them.  Except I don’t like them as much because the pieces are bigger.   

Brach’s Football Candy Corn – (also found at Target) What a delightful idea for us football fans and our wild parties. All three flavors (chocolate, caramel, and regular) were tasty. However, I felt that the individual pieces were way too big and too rich. I probably wouldn’t buy again.

Brach’s Maple Syrup – (found at CVS) Um… no. Not for me. I know candy corn is sweet, but this stuff was “gag me” sweet. And I believe that maple syrup belongs on pancakes and sometimes on bacon. Nowhere else.

Brach’s Vampire Teeth – (found at Michael’s Craft Store) Had a nice strawberry flavor. Although I’m typically a “purist” when it comes to my beloved corn candies, I consumed a healthy amount of these. I would probably buy them again (shhhh, don’t tell the classic).

105 Comments on “A Delicious History of Candy Corn

    • Yes!!! Yes you do! 🙂 Just get the classic! Hahaha Glad you came by for a read, I hope you have a lovely week yourself.

    • I would actually wait until late spring or early summer! 🙂 You won’t regret the taste of home-grown sweet corn that’s for sure

  1. Wow! This was a truly “sweet” article! Candy corn is also my fave Halloween treat. I just bought a book, A Little Book of Halloween that tells about many of the symbols and their meanings, how they are associated with Halloween. This holiday dates back 3 to 5000 years! It’s the oldest known holiday. Thank you for your story! Two questions: did you make the heart shaped candy corn photo? I’d you did how did you keep the kitties from destroying it? 😃

  2. Candy Corn was always a staple for Halloween with my mother who was from Nebraska. I wonder if there were any regional differences. Timely post. 🙂

    • Nebraska also enjoys their corn just like us Iowans! 🙂 I’d be curious to know about any regional differences as well – although I suspect most places (other than local candy stores) get it from the same companies

  3. I will try again to comment! This is a “sweet” article! I just bought some candy corn and am munching as I write!

    • Both your comments showed up 🙂 Sometimes it just takes a minute to load. Glad you’re enjoying some candy corn deliciousness.

  4. I love candy corn ( though I suspect the only thing corny about it is a lot of corn syrup)! But last year’s bag just about overloaded me in sugar, so I’ve sworn off. Loved reading the history, you know. Always fascinating to me. FYI, my ancestors’ letters indicate that they loved eating sweet corn in the 1850s. Or maybe it was popcorn. 😊😊

    • I suspect you are right about the corn syrup! 🙂 Good call. I’m also very glad to hear that not everyone was down on the corn! Especially sweet corn – YUM.

      • I wish I was more moderate in my intake of things I find yummy, then I could indulge my sweet tooth more often. Candy corn is such a temptation!

      • You know, science is making incredible advances. Why can’t they make broccoli that tastes like candy corn? 🙂

    • Yay! Glad you still get something positive out of it! It’s totally a love or hate candy though – I’ve sure noticed that over the years.

  5. It has been so many years since I have had candy corn that I cannot even remember what it tasted like. Now, I think I might be missing out on something good. Might have to pick some up tomorrow. 🤔

    • It tastes like delicious 🙂 But you better go grab a bag and just make sure we’re on the same page 😉

      • Going out and sampling candy corn isn’t the worst homework assignment to have. I can at least promise that much 🙂

    • Well I had tons of fun taking the pictures of it, so I imagine you are absolutely right! 🙂

  6. That’s awesome! I’ve never had candy corn and I wouldn’t even know if we can get it here.

    We do have a seasonal thing called ‘pepernoten’ and now I wonder about the history of that 😂

  7. I loved this! I never knew its history and that it’s still made in such quantity. I always figured it was a niche product and that the stuff we buy at the supermarket is probably old and stale.

    • Can you believe how much they make?? I had no idea Brach’s still made so much of it either. I wonder what they do with the leftovers!

    • Yay! Glad you enjoyed it. And go ahead and give into the temptation… all the cool kids are doing it!

  8. Surely, you meant to write “candy porn”? 🙂 I swore I wouldn’t have any this year — but by way of teaching me all about this favorite treat, you’ve worn down my resolve. Oh, well. I’ll try again next year. All joking aside, what a great post! You have a gift for making history entertaining.

    • LOL maybe I did mean candy porn! I’m so glad you enjoyed the story – and glad you enjoy the candy as well (although sorry I pushed you off the wagon!)

      • No apologies needed, MB. It was so delicious that I didn’t even feel guilty. Now I want more, though. Uh-oh. 🙂

      • Get the candy corn minis! Just as delicious, but you don’t have to feel as guilty! (Not that we ever feel guilty eating candy corn)

      • Isn’t it funny how eating mini-anythings can make us feel less guilty? Like those tiny Snickers bars … surely it must take 20 of those to equal a full-size bar, yes? 😉

      • Right? Lol!! And it must take an equal amount of Reese’s mini cups to equal a full Reese’s cup.

  9. Fab history. We don’t have anything like that over the pond here, though maybe that’s a good thing, our dentists are overworked as it is!

    • I’m sure lots of dentists have extra work to do after Halloween hahaha. Good point! Glad you enjoyed it

  10. Well written. Even though I’m not much of a Candy Corn lover, the History behind it all is interesting.

    • Glad you found it interesting! I couldn’t resist posting it (both the candy and the history) 🙂

      • Didn’t think of this before, but when I was in Grade School we could get Candy Corn like that in a paper bag for just 5 cents! Can you believe that?

      • Five cents!!! Oh my goodness – it would be dangerous for my health if candy corn was that cheap still today. It’s hard enough to say no to a bag for three dollars!

    • Classic is my favorite as well! 🙂 Although the pumpkins are in the top 3 for sure 🙂 So glad you came by and enjoyed it!

  11. I went to an American school as a kid so was introduced to the delights of candy corn early on. Can’t get it here in Sweden or the UK except for specialized US stores (they are far and few between). Fascinating to hear the origins of this candy!

    • I’ve had other people say that it’s not available in the UK – Maybe someday Brach’s will go global! Glad you got to enjoy it as a kid. I am hearing there are other UK delights to enjoy while we await the global take over of candy corn! 🙂

    • The Maple was the one that I really couldn’t get behind – “different” is a very good word to describe it 🙂 I hope you guys enjoyed it a little more!

  12. In the UK, we have sweet or savoury pop corn. I feel we need to import candy corn. It looks enticing. We’ve only just cottoned on to Halloween. I love all things USA. You are amazing xxx ps I live in Bath England, where we drink tea and eat Bath Buns, a small sweet cake.

    • I’ve always wanted to visit Bath! I’ve been to England twice now and haven’t quite made it there yet, hopefully next time 🙂 I love little small sweet cakes – I had a bunch in Dijon when we visited there this summer. There were some that I definitely wish we had here!

  13. I have to say I’ve never seen the appeal of candy corn, but I want to try it again now that I’ve read its history. I had no idea so much went into making it, and I also didn’t realize there were different shapes and colours. I appreciated your adding a Guide to the different types.

    • Well, adding that guide and tasting all those candy corns was a tough job, but someone had to do it, am I right? 🙂 So glad you enjoyed the article – and I hope you enjoy your candy corn samples just as much!

  14. Hmmm, that was informative. and i believe classic will stay your favorite because it tastes of childhood.
    But i wouldn’t mind those chocolate and strawberry ones…. now i have a sugar craving.

    • That is a very good point, there is something very nostalgic about the whole thing. I would recommend the strawberry one – it’s delicious!

    • I will certainly enjoy it, thanks very much! I’ve seen a lot of comments on this post about that, I’m very sorry indeed. But my recent experience in Europe taught me that you do have very delightful treats that we don’t have over here! (like a really good scone, for example. Not a fan of scones here!)

  15. Thanks for the deep dive into the history of candy corn. I couldn’t think of a more fun topic.

    This, however, is what caught my eye:

    “In the late 1950s, candy companies began pushing Halloween as the king of candy holidays”

    I never realized until years ago that the popular image of Santa Claus was a product of a Coca-Cola advertising campaign. I would think an interesting topic for historians would be the influence of of marketing on the shaping of culture. Good Grief! Could Hallmark be behind it all?

    • I think that is a very excellent post idea, especially in terms of Christmas! When I was working on a television show a few years back, I had to research Christmas traditions for an episode they were doing, and I was very surprised how new a lot of them are, just like Santa, as you pointed out! A very interesting study that would be.

    • Definitely! 🙂 I conveniently time out my dentist appointments for right after the holidays!

  16. My adopted city, Cincinnati, had a role in the story too. Apparently Goelitz was based here when they developed candy corn as we know it now, but relocated to Chicago in 1912. Fun read, M.B.!

    • Wow! That’s super cool, I didn’t know that about Goelitz. Thanks for sharing! And here’s to Ohio! I kicked around there a lot as a kid 🙂

  17. So…you hit my sweet tooth psyche. 😊 I have always loved these and it’s difficult to stop eating them. George would be so proud of his creation and how it has been ingrained in the sweet culture. Interesting information. Thanks.

    • I can definitely see why that picture would make you think of candy corn! What a pretty picture too. Glad you enjoyed the article – long live candy corn! 🙂

      • I’m glad what I wrote reached you. After I clicked the Post Comment button my comment disappeared.

        It’s good to see articles whose authors do thorough research. Your other recent posts show that that’s your approach.

      • I have that problem on WordPress sometimes too! And sometimes when I like a post, it automatically unlikes it. So weird, I think it just gets a little buggy sometimes. Silly technology! And yes, I’m a big fan of the research. It’s just as much fun as the writing in my opinion 🙂 Glad you enjoy that part of the process.

    • You are welcome! I agree, old-fashioned candy is the best 🙂 Thanks for giving this a read and sharing your thoughts

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