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The scientific reason why candy corn is so polarizing

Candy corn is "a very emotional candy," according to a food flavor specialist.
/ Source: TODAY

If, for some reason, you're looking to start a heated debate this Halloween, all you have to do is ask someone what they think about candy corn. Either you think the tricolored treat is delicious or disgusting — there's no in-between.

Food flavor specialist Marie Wright, one of just 300 experts in the world, explained to TODAY Food why a treat as simple as candy corn has gained such a controversial reputation.

"It's funny really, it seems to be a very emotional candy," Wright said. "People have a real strong opinion. It's almost like, if you want to start a little bit of a heated discussion, you can ask somebody about candy corn … It seems to evoke a very strong response."

Wright said that the two factors that seem to spur most of the response is the waxy yet crumbly texture of the candy, and of course, its taste: Some people find it too sweet, while others see it as a fall-defining flavor.

"I think Halloween and fall is a very nostalgic time in the United States," said Wright. "For some people, candy corn is a representation of fall and they're not bothered by the texture or the taste."

Wright said that in general, that feeling of nostalgia impacts the way people react to food — and might be part of why candy corn provokes such an emotional response.

"The area of the brain where we process smell (which has a major impact on how we process taste) … is in the same part of the brain where we store memories and evoke emotion," said Wright. "In that primitive part of the brain, often there is a strong connection between an event, especially when it's food, especially childhood."

Wright said that the actual flavor of most candy corn is a mix of vanilla and marshmallow with notes of honey. That overwhelming sweetness can be part of why some people dislike the seasonal treat.

"I think when you compare it to a lot of other similar types of candy, even if they are creamy tasting, they usually have acid in it, and the acid makes you salivate and makes it more palatable," said Wright, who noted that the sweet flavor also makes it hard to eat more than a few pieces at a time. "... I think probably most households are throwing away more candy corn than they're consuming."

While candy corn might be dominating the conversation, there are plenty of other fall trends to enjoy if the Halloween sweet isn't your thing. Those flavors of vanilla and honey can be found in plenty of other seasonal foods, according to Wright, and there are plenty of other options like apple cider or pumpkin spice flavors.

"The primary one is pumpkin spice," said Wright. "It's kind of iconic now … There's a lot of interest in warm flavors, warm spice flavors, or smoky flavors like maple."