Tracking Tricks and Treats

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Oct. 30 2001 11:46 AM

Tracking Tricks and Treats

Five kids and one adult rank Halloween candies.

(Continued from Page 1)

Ingredients That Aren't Terrible for You

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Ingredient  Found In Value
LecithinM&M's, Reese's, Hershey's, Snickers, Baby Ruth, Nestle Crunch, Butterfinger, Kit KatAids in healthy liver function
GelatinCandy corn, StarburstA pure and easily digested protein
HoneyCandy cornOne of the most efficient carbohydrates
Gum acaciaM&M'sHighly nutritious; natural source of fiber
Carnauba waxReese's PiecesKeeps your hardwood floors shiny clean


3) The Sweet and the Tart Group. Once past their initial confusion over the concept of sweet-tartness, the kids weighed in decisively in favor of Starbursts. ("They're chewy and stretchy and they pretty much never lose their taste."—Jack) Only one, 4-year-old Eva, evinced any enthusiasm for the SweeTarts: "I never heard of candy that tastes sour," she said, adding, "My shoe came off." For my part, I admired the SweeTart's genre-bending complexity, although the candy has the mouth feel of an Alka-Seltzer. From a nutritional standpoint, it seems worth noting that SweeTarts have basically nothing in them: no fat, no cholesterol, and no sodium. This, combined with their relatively low calorie count—a Giant Chewy SweeTart clocks in at just 40 calories—almost qualifies them as health food, at least compared to the other candies tested. Unfortunately, they also fail to contain any dietary fiber or protein, and their high ratio of sugars to total carbohydrates almost qualifies them as rocket fuel.

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2) The Chocolate Group. A surprising second-place finisher among the kids. This result flies in the face of Commerce Department statistics indicating that chocolate is a clear winner in retail sales ($13 billion last year) versus non-chocolate candies ($7.5 billion). The multipurpose chocolates (Reese's, Snickers, Kit Kat) tested particularly well, although that wasn't unanimous. Chase, 4, evolved a position on Almond Joy that went in seconds from highly favorable ("Ooh! It looks like a cake!") to deeply negative ("Coconut; I don't like it"). Hershey's Special Dark seemed to skew older—it received low marks from the younger kids ("I don't want this anymore."—Jessie, 4) and high ones from Jack, who observed astutely that "it tastes like chocolate chips," and me, for its relative lack of sweetness and complex, sophisticated top note of raw cocoa.

A nutritional note: Pretty much everything in this group is a dietary train wreck. (See Chart 2.) In almost every case the single most prominent ingredient is milk chocolate, which is an amalgam of things that are really bad for you, including sugar and milk fat. The sole, small exception: lecithin, a soy-based emulsifier added to improve texture and mouth feel and reduce the incidence of "bloom," the whitish discoloration that occurs in chocolate over time. The primary component of lecithin is choline, which is believed to have many health benefits including the maintenance of a healthy liver.

Ingredients That Are Terrible for You

IngredientFound InValue
Refined sugarEverything except raisinsBelieved to contribute to obesity, tooth decay, hyperactivity, diabetes, arthritis, eczema, PMS, cancer, and indigestion
Palm kernel oilBaby Ruth, Butterfinger, ReeseSticks, Reese's Pieces, Creepy PeepersHigh in saturated fat
Milk fatSnickers, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, ReeseSticks, Kit KatLinked to coronary artery disease
ButterSnickers, Creepy PeepersSee "Milk fat"
DextrinStarburstUsed in cheap, frustrating adhesive on postage stamps and envelopes

1) The "Fruit"- and "Vegetable"-Based Group. A surprise winner but a clear one, thanks to some fairly strong opinions from the kids. ("Yummy"... "Really yummy..." "Do you want to share that with me?") For the record, with the sentimental exception of candy corn I found every candy in this group to be loathsome—tooth-jarringly sweet, colored and flavored to an unnatural degree, and lacking either the subtlety or the textural complexity of any of the chocolates, even Creepy Peepers. The kids loved them, though. Jessi, Eva, and Maeve summed up the appeal of the group, which seemed to have less to do with the candies' taste than with their amusement value:

Jessi (tasting Twizzlers Cherry Pull-n-Peel, which pulls apart into thin strips): "It's like a red string."
Eva: "It's like a red snake, and like a red worm. Hey, this is bending over."
Maeve: "Silly candy."

If you're looking for something good to say about the candies in this group, it's that they lack the animal fats present in chocolates. That's a plus, nutritionally speaking. What they do have is a high concentration of sugars and oils. This gives them their characteristically slick mouth feel and a relatively fast liquefaction time, which means that the empty calories in the sugar reach the bloodstream double quick. And what did that mean to the kids? To be honest, I'm not sure because at this point they decided they were PowerPuff Girls and they could fly, and sing besides, so I had them fly out of the house and back to their moms before my house incurred any structural damage.

Bill Barol writes Blather, a daily Weblog on pop culture and the news, from Los Angeles.