Love it or hate it, candy corn is as synonymous with Halloween as the costumes. In fact, National Geographic once called the iconic treats the Halloween equivalent of fruitcake: “a holiday food that everybody has, but nobody actually eats.”
Yet despite widespread condemnation, candy corn has persevered for well over a century. Which, if you ask us, means it deserves a bit of respect.
So how did good old candy corn come to be?
Well, that’s a sugar-filled tale that begins way back in the 1880s. According to the National Confectioners Association, candy corn was invented by a Wunderlee Candy Company employee named George Renninger, though it’s been produced by the Goelitz Candy Company—now the Jelly Belly Candy Company—since 1898.
In the early days, candy corn was extremely difficult to make—as were most things. After sugar, corn syrup, and other ingredients were cooked together in 45-pound batches, fondant and marshmallow were added to create a smooth texture. The warm candy was then poured into buckets, and men walked backwards pouring it into kernel-shaped molds. The National Confectioners Association states that it took three passes to make the white, yellow, and orange colors.
The recipe is basically the same today, though the process has been fully mechanized.
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Fascinatingly, these bite-size candies were first marketed not as candy corn, but as “Chicken Feed.” They were even sold in a box with a rooster on the front. Considering that half of America’s work force were farmers at the time, it wasn’t a bad idea. Agriculture-themed products were common, and Chicken Feed was marketed year-round.
People didn’t start calling it candy corn until the 1940s, when trick-or-treating took off after WWII. The candy’s harvest hues and low price point made it a popular choice for trick-or-treating, and it quickly became associated with Halloween.