Last year, I posted a review of Brach’s Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner Candy Corn on Twitter. They were hideous beyond belief, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. Later that week, I tweeted a joke about hoping to see a Tex-Mex version, so this may be the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me:
I am beside myself with the hilarity of it all, and I snapped up a bag as soon as they hit the shelves. Just in time for Easter, they’re available only at Target and retail for $2.99. It’ll be hard for them to top the Thanksgiving edition, but from the flavor lineup, it’s clear they’ve tried: Horchata, Margarita, Churro, Salsa, Guacamole and Beef Taco. I’m anxious to taste them, in the sense that I feel a mixture of anticipation and intense dread.
One of the most disgusting things about the Turkey Dinner Candy Corn was the package design, so I’m delighted that Brach’s has stepped it up with this bag. The near-black and neon artwork is minimalist but festive. Somehow, even though opening the bag feels like walking into a party where anything could happen, it also appeals to my deep love of comfort food and of home.
Let’s see whether they can ruin it.
The bag helpfully prints a little key to the colors and flavors, but in practice, it’s sometimes hard to tell one from another. Compared to premium jelly beans, they vary a lot in size and color even within a certain flavor.
For instance, the greens represent two flavors but are devilishly similar in appearance. Some of them are a little darker green, others have speckles. Some are a little darker green with one speckle. Which one is that? They did this on purpose, and I hope they allot an extra hour for confession this week so they can at least skim the surface of what they’ve done.
Margarita and Guacamole
I’m a big fan of taco-based cuisine, and margaritas are an integral part, so I have high hopes for this one. Margaritas are so common, and so commonly made poorly, that you could be forgiven for thinking they’re glorified limeade, but a good one is complex. There’s an absolute sea of possibility within which to play with flavors — the bitter joy of lime, the smoky ferment of liquor, the exhilarating rasp of a sea-salted glass. Any good meal might start with a cocktail, and I figure eating this one first might help me make it through the other five.
The shell of the jelly bean is what you taste first of course, and here, it’s citrusy, with lime most prominent. Is there a hint of orange in a nod to Cointreau? Perhaps, in the way that a ping pong ball is a nod to the harvest moon. The flavor of the jelly inside is so strange though, undefined, as though it tried to divide by culinary zero and exists in a quantum state between right here and not anywhere. It’s definitely floral rather than faunal, more like a celery soda than anything else. How is this a margarita? They went with raw green bean to pinch hit for green bean casserole at Thanksgiving, so are they trying to evoke raw agave? These giant succulents that are smoked and distilled into tequila are related to aloe; maybe I should rub some on the wound this one has made in my psyche. There’s certainly no alcohol to dull the pain.
I’m terrified, but let’s try the slightly different green one: guacamole. As with the margarita, the shell is lime, but it’s even stronger.
Hmmm. Wait. Maybe this one is the margarita. It’s a solid lime monolith. That has to be the margarita, right? It’s very convincing, as long as you mean a canned convenience store margarita mixer, 0% alcohol by volume. Let me try one with the little specks again.
OK, the speckled ones are the guacamole, I think. It’s so nondescript, I could honestly make a case for either one. Upon tasting a second time, I think I have a better understanding of what they were going for here. You know the guacamole salad you get on the side of a taco plate? This tastes like the shredded iceberg lettuce that’s under that. With lime.
If you had “Can’t reliably tell the difference between the margarita and guacamole” in the office pool for this review, my hat’s off to you. I did not see that coming.
There is nothing quite like a fresh churro. If you’ve never had the pleasure, seek it out. They are a fried dough with this amazing firm, chewy texture, and the crispy ridges hold extra cinnamon sugar the way rigatoni holds Bolognese. Sometimes they’re filled with caramel or chocolate, but I love the plain ones the best. This churro-flavored jelly bean has all the hallmarks, except instead of the dough, it’s unsalted Saltine, and instead of cinnamon, it’s vanilla, and — oops! — they’re also out of vanilla. They’ve got the sugar part down though. These definitely have sugar in them.
This one is festeringly fascinating to look at, like an Amanita mushroom. You could get lost in the whirling reds and pinks, but it’s best to keep your wits about you. I’m going to take my life in my hands and eat one. What price glory!
Wow, these taste like a salsa factory! Specifically, the compost pile behind it.
There’s tomato, but it’s not the flavor, exactly. It’s more like the way tomato leaves smell, astringent, green, vaguely poisonous. There’s chili powder, but it’s the wrong kind of chili — unripe and shallow, and it didn’t come alone. Is that vinegar over there, shining the brass knuckles? As bad as the henchmen are, the real villain here is a decaying onion flavor that is truly horrific. It’s disturbingly far back on the palate, as though its creeping, sulfurous fingers are winding up through your throat and into your skull. My husband used the word “lacrimating.” It’s just too bad they didn’t make two red flavors, so that we could all really live on the edge.
I wish the shell were thinner and more refined, but this flavor is pretty good, especially for a grocery store candy. Like the creamy beverage it’s based on, it has a natural cinnamon start, but not too assertive, and there’s a delicate vanilla milkiness at the finish that’s reminiscent of a simple but respectable horchata. I have a strong emotional attachment to this flavor, and they’ve managed to tug at my heartstrings a bit. Or maybe that’s just the relief that it’s not another salsa one.
Why is it yellow, do we think? I’m hoping it’s heavy on the corn tortilla and light on the beef. Here goes.
Oh … no.
These taste alarmingly beefy, something like stew, if you replaced the carrots with corn syrup. I had to stop taking notes for a few minutes to weep openly.
The beef evaporates suddenly and mercilessly, though, because it’s quickly overwhelmed by the lost episode of the 1960s-era Adam West "Batman" where the Joker tries to paralyze the citizenry of Gotham by pouring a metric ton of cumin into the water supply. There’s not even the memory of corn, and the sour cream is but a dream. It’s unvarnished cumin, only cumin as far as the tongue can see. I had to go sit on the patio for a while after eating this one, staring into the yard, contemplating what my life has become.
I certainly hope Brach’s will be hearing from Mexico’s lawyer.
In sum, the horchata one is lovely and would sell well packaged alone, while the worst of the bunch is thankfully easily spotted — the salsa. With the murder-scene spatter pattern, the depthless, dead-eyed chili and the decomposing allium funking up your sinuses, Brach’s salsa jelly beans are better suited to Halloween. Want to fully experience the dark origins of this flavor? Open a Tabasco plant inside a mortuary, staff it with zombies, and when the one that was formerly an ill-tempered onion farmer falls in the vat, make jelly beans out of the remains. It’s hard not to feel like Brach’s made this flavor to offend me personally. That’s silly, of course; they’re out to get you, too. I hope you all try these before running out to get real taco truck fare, but seal up the bag carefully, lest you wake in the night to the salsa ones eating your brain. Make sure to get video when your friends try them.
I honestly don’t know how flavors like this are crafted. Are they laughing with me, or do they actually enjoy death by cumin? One thing’s for sure: Avoid the Brach’s flavor development team’s departmental picnic. I have it on good authority that they put celery in their guacamole.