“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” – Charles Schulz
On a lovely November day 17 years ago I moved into the apartment building in which I still reside. That night I discovered that downstairs, right beside the mailboxes, is a vending area consisting of a pop machine (as we say here in West Virginia) and another machine filled with various snacks of both the sweet & salty variety. I knew at that moment that I was in big trouble. Now I’m really not a huge fan of potato chips or pretzels, but I am most certainly a chocoholic, which Webster defines as “a person who craves or compulsively consumes chocolate”. My family knows this about me, to the point that last Christmas I received a five pound chocolate bar as a gift (it was gone within three days…and that was me pacing myself). In doing my usual lackadaisical research for this ode to candy I ran across articles like Struggles Only A Chocoholic Would Understand and Signs You’re A Chocoholic that describe me so accurately it’s a little disturbing. Alas, all good things must come to an end…or atleast be scaled back to a reasonable level. Bloodwork indicates that I am a pre-diabetic (shocker!!), and since I am not a fan of medication, needles, comas, or death I am attempting to eat a bit healthier (for the 700th time in my life). That doesn’t mean I’m giving up chocolate…just that perhaps, going forward, I’ll refrain from consuming five pounds of it in less than a week. At any rate, Willie Wonka once stated that “invention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple”. I’m not sure about butterscotch ripple, but pondering peanuts, caramel, & nougat (whatever that is) has inspired me to dive into a discussion of my favorite candy bars. As you’ll see, I’m not a chocolate snob. I understand that there is high quality chocolate out there for sophisticated palates, but for me most of that stuff isn’t really…accessible. I have nothing against Godiva or Ghirardelli or anything with a fancy European name, but I’m a simple guy who’s just fine eating whatever candy is available at the grocery store, movie theater, ballpark, or arena concession stand. As always I’d love some feedback. What’s your favorite candy?? What do you think is missing here?? Let me know your sweet thoughts in the comments.
25 Zero / Payday
Not only do we start out with a tie, but we begin with two non-chocolate candy bars. Sometimes one just craves something off the beaten path, right?? Zero bars were conceived in Minnesota in 1920. The name is supposed to be indicative of it being cool…as in really cold cool, not jazz or Rat Pack cool. I guess it was a Minnesota thing…it’s not like the candy is frozen or anything. At any rate, like so many candy bars we buy today Zero, thru a series of mergers, buyouts, & takeovers, eventually became a product owned & produced by one of three chocolate giants…in this case Hershey. The candy bar itself consists of caramel, peanuts, & almond nougat covered in white chocolate. Nougat is officially defined as “candy made from sugar or honey, nuts, & egg whites”. It’s a broad definition, and not all nougat is created equally. The almondy nougat in Zero is…different, which of course is exactly why one picks up a Zero bar in the first place. The other defining characteristic is the white chocolate, which, as all chocoholics know, isn’t actually chocolate at all. Whereas chocolate is made with a mixture of cocoa solids (from ground cacao bean powder) & cocoa butter, white chocolate is made without any cocoa powder or solids, just cocoa butter mixed with milk & sugar. I’m not typically a fan of white chocolate. It just tastes a bit…off…to me, and it’s not aesthetically pleasing. However, it does help make Zero a unique alternative. Payday has been around since the 1930’s and is also a Hershey product after following a very similar path to Zero. Payday consists of a firm, chewy nougat center covered in caramel & salted peanuts. Salty & sweet are flavors that can go well together, and the balance of nuts & caramel is perfect in a Payday. I suppose it’s forbidden to those suffering from a peanut allergy, but for the rest of us it’s a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth when you’re just not in the mood for chocolate.
24 Baby Ruth
Depending on which story one believes, Baby Ruth is either named after a candymaker’s granddaughter, the daughter of President Grover Cleveland, or the Hall-of-Fame baseball slugger (with the President Cleveland story contrived to avoid paying The Babe royalties). Who knows?? It’s a fun debate. The candy itself, first produced in 1921, is now owned & produced by one of the other chocolate conglomerates…Nestle. It consists of peanuts, caramel, & chocolate nougat covered in chocolate. The bar is visually unappealing for reasons I won’t detail, but…well, you know. Baby Ruth has never seemed, to me, to be all that commonplace. I suppose it’s there, we just don’t pay it as much attention as we do some other choices, probably because the ingredients & flavors are so familiar but done slightly better in other candy bars. It’s a nice occasional change of pace though.
Silky. That’s the word I associate with Dove. The history of the brand is rather curious, originating as an ice cream bar in Chicago in the late 1950’s, long before the candy was invented. Today it is owned by the third multinational chocolate corporation…Mars. There are still ice cream bars, as well as chocolate milk, hot cocoa mix, & cakes, but we’re here to talk about candy. Several varieties…dark, caramel, peppermint, etc….are produced, but I like to keep it simple, so I love the milk chocolate and sometimes the dark. More often than not one sees bags of little bite-sized individual chocolates in the store, which is great for those who are trying to diet but just can’t resist cheating every once in a while. You can have a couple of pieces of Dove and not feel all that guilty. I like to unwrap some Dove chocolates and throw them into a container with nuts & dried fruit for a tasty trail mix. It’s an excellent way to consume dark chocolate, which is far healthier than milk chocolate. As mentioned, the flavor of Dove chocolate is smooth…rich yet subtle. It is definitely an underappreciated brand.
Milk chocolate & Rice Krispies…a simple yet fantastic combination. Krackel was first introduced by Hershey in 1938. Interestingly, from 1997 to 2014 regular sized Krackel bars were not available. The only way one could get your fix during that time was by buying a bag of Hershey’s Miniatures, with Krackel being one of four chocolate varieties in the pack. That is probably how most folks are familiar with the brand. If you’re going to be a Krackhead this is the way to go.
There are four candy bars out there that have a really similar formula…a crunchy peanut butter center covered in chocolate. You won’t be seeing Zagnut or Clark bars in this countdown because…well…that’s just how I roll, but Butterfinger does make the cut. It was created in 1923 and has been owned by Nestle since 1990. I’ll give Butterfinger credit…one doesn’t feel cheated when buying the huge bar. It’s a good sized piece of candy. Butterfinger is aptly named, as the filling does have a buttery taste. My only complaint is that it can be a little dry. Still, it’s a great way to satisfy a peanut butter craving, and there’s something so…pleasurable…about eating anything with a bit of crunch. In the 1990’s television’s Bart Simpson became a memorable spokesman for the candy, which probably did a lot to increase its pop culture cool factor. More recently Nestle has introduced Butterfinger Cups, which have less crunch than the candy bar but more crunch than a famous competitor that we’ll get to later. The chocolate in Butterfinger Cups tastes a little smoother than the candy bar, and that’s a good thing. If you haven’t tried Butterfinger Cups I’d highly recommend giving them a whirl.
20 Mr. Goodbar
You may be vaguely familiar with a 1977 film called Looking for Mr. Goodbar, a gritty drama about a promiscuous teacher who is eventually murdered, starring Diane Keaton, Richard Gere, & Tom Berenger. Well, the candy bar came way way way before the movie. It was first produced in 1925 by Hershey. The concept is, once again, uncomplicated…milk chocolate & peanuts. A couple of decades ago they added even more peanuts, and it was a fantastic change. Like Krackel, you are probably most familiar with Mr. Goodbar as part of the Hershey’s Miniatures pack that is really popular at Halloween and, for some reason, in jars alongside the cash register at restaurants, right there with the toothpicks.
You might be surprised to see Snickers this low in the countdown. While I like it just fine, I have to admit I’m not as in love with it as most seem to be. Unlike many of its competitors, Snickers is far from simple. There’s a lot going on in that candy bar…chocolate, peanuts, caramel, nougat. It was first produced in 1930 and is owned by Mars, who named the candy after a beloved family owned horse. The marketing folks deserve a tip of the cap because Snickers ad campaigns have always been fun &…durable. I’m not sure, from a nutritional & scientific perspective, if Snickers “really satisfies” any more than other candy bars, but I’ll be darned if they haven’t done a fine job of convincing the masses of its power to do so.
Caramel is an interesting candy ingredient. It seems to come in two distinct forms…firm & chewy or soft & gooey. I prefer soft & gooey. I don’t think eating a chocolate bar should involve work, so I’m not a fan of candies like Rolo or Tootsie Rolls that involve lots of chewing. I save that effort for meat. At any rate, Caramello is produced in the United States by Hershey thru an agreement with British confectioner Cadbury, which created the product in the late 1960’s. I love how the chocolate is in sections, each with a pocket of ooey gooey caramel. Theoretically allows a person to eat just a bite and either share with others or save the remaining sections for later, but that’s not how I roll. Caramello doesn’t seem to be as…ubiquitous…as other candy bars, which just increases its appeal.
Yes, technically M&M’s aren’t a candy bar, but really…how could I leave it off the list?? The origin of the name can be a little confusing, but stick with me. Forrest Mars Sr. was the eldest son of company founder Frank Mars. Forrest & Frank had a falling out, with the son going out on his own and doing quite well. After working for competitor Nestle for a bit Forrest went the independent route and created a couple of candy bars that we’ll get to later, as well as Pedigree pet food & Uncle Ben’s Rice. During the Spanish Civil War (ol’ Forrest got around) he was inspired by soldiers that were eating Smarties, candy with a hard shell which prevented the chocolate from melting. Upon his return to America Forrest went into a partnership with Bruce Murrie, the son of Hershey President William Murrie, because chocolate was being rationed during World War II. So that’s where the M&M comes from…Mars & Murrie. Eventually Forrest reunited with his father, bought out Murrie’s stake, and M&M’s became property of Mars. Today there are multiple varieties of M&M’s…peanut butter, crispy rice, dark chocolate, pretzel. However, I pretty much stick to the original and M&M’s Peanut, which is my favorite. There is a place in Vegas called M&M’s World, and if/when I make my long awaited trek out west it is one of the places I plan on visiting.
16 Hershey’s Kisses
Sometimes one just needs just a bite of chocolate…a small piece of nirvana to make it thru until lunch or quitting time or to get over whatever hump might be in front of you. Kisses are a perfect way to indulge a sweet tooth without spoiling dinner. First produced in 1907, it is said that the sound of the machine depositing the small teardrops of tastiness onto a conveyor belt inspired the name. I’m a sucker for any candy or other food product in a shiny foil wrapper, an inclination that I am sure a psychologist could explain (and enlightenment I’d love to hear). At any rate, a wide variety of Kisses with flavors ranging from cookies & crème to pumpkin spice are made today at different points thru the year, but I’m a traditionalist so I prefer the original milk chocolate, although dark chocolate & milk chocolate with almonds are delicious as well.
15 Mars (Snickers Almond)
Well, I guess I don’t have to mention which company makes this one. But, I do need to make a clarification. There were two different versions of the Mars bar…one made in the United States and one produced internationally. The international Mars bar still consists of nougat & caramel covered in milk chocolate. If that sounds familiar it is because another candy bar in America is essentially the same thing, but we’ll talk about it later. Remember the falling out I mentioned between Frank Mars & his son Forrest?? Well, that’s part of this story, as the Mars bar is basically Forrest, during his travels, copying in England a product his father was already producing in America. So when the two men reconciled a different Mars bar was made for this country, with nougat & almonds covered in milk chocolate. It’s hard to explain (although you’ll totally understand if you’ve eaten one), but the nougat in the American Mars bar is different. It’s lighter, both in color & texture, and I really like it. It’s…fluffy. To add to the confusion, in 2002 the American Mars bar was discontinued, or rather rebranded, as Snickers Almond. A Snickers Almond is the same as the old American Mars bar except it also has caramel. The Snickers Almond, in my opinion, is superior to original Snickers because almonds are better and less…intrusive…than peanuts, and of course because the lighter, fluffier nougat is awesome.
This seems like a good place to take a break. Stay tuned for the delicious conclusion!!