The start of the NFL preseason is just over a week away, and Brach’s is ready for a tailgate party with its latest flavor combination. In addition to its usual fall-favorites lineup including the original Candy Corn, Mellowcreme Pumpkins and the Autumn Mix, new Tailgate Candy Corn comes packaged with Fruit punch, Vanilla Ice Cream, Popcorn, Hot Dog and Hamburger flavors. As the Candy Corn Science Correspondent for TODAY Food, I’ve been itching to get my hands on a bag of this candy so many love to hate, whether it’s meaty treat-flavored or not. My adoration began with Brach’s Turkey Dinner Candy Corn last fall, grew with spring’s Late Night Taco Truck Jelly Beans, and it promises to really blossom with this unsportsmanlike new assortment, available exclusively at Walgreen’s for $3.49, or $6.00 for two 11-ounce bags.
Even though Brach’s flavor development squad has spiked the shock candy game before, there are no guarantees; the best of teams could drop the ball on any given Sunday. What’s the verdict: Rumble or fumble?
First, the art direction. Previously, Brach’s has employed both high-class neon computer graphics for the Taco Truck artwork, and a crazed Photoshopping raccoon for the Turkey Dinner design, both to compelling effect. This bag is more subtle. I like the AstroTurf green, and the symmetry of the goalposts is pleasing to the eye. The arcing, two-tone font evokes college game TV broadcast logos effectively. There’s even a suggestion of a sideline. However, the bag doesn’t really convey that this product is special, the culmination of many hours of culinary scheming. I want my horror candy packaging to scream: “Out of bounds!” With this one, a person could pick it up on impulse for their tailgate party without realizing that it contains appalling flavors best left to professional Candy Corn Scientists. They could innocently serve this to friends and family unawares!
On second thought: This packaging is genius. Let’s open it!
I was concerned they might smell like hot dog water, but when you open the bag, the only scent you’ll get is buttery vanilla. So far, it’s inoffensive, but one of the most devilish aspects of the 2021 Turkey Dinner assortment was the color choices — there were three similar tans amongst the pinks, greens and browns, so that you risked Turkey when you were angling for Apple Pie. The Taco Truck jelly beans had two greens, too: Guacamole and Margarita. That’s my favorite feature of these novelty bags. Will there be some that are diabolically similar this time?
Heavens to Betsy!
I can’t believe the ref didn’t call unnecessary roughness on this color palette. I’m going to have to stay on my toes, too, because unlike iterations past, there is no color/flavor guide printed on the bag. In addition to being difficult to tell apart, they’re made in shades of the Gates of Hell. You can actually see the little flames flickering.
Let’s find out whether they have flavors to match. Time for kickoff!
Vanilla Ice Cream
This one is very sweet, with a too-prominent vanilla flavor. As a chronic sucker, I was hoping for a waffle cone overtone, but I don’t detect it. There are notes of cream, but since they’re room temperature, it’s more like that freeze-dried astronaut ice cream than a scoop of your favorite vanilla. It’s not bad, though. I will probably eat one of these when I notice the bag in the pantry.
The pink tip and tan base are supposed to represent a hot dog on a bun, I suppose, but if I’m ever served a weenie this particular color, I’m going to hightail(gate) it out of there. As for flavor, did you see the beautiful New York Times Cooking cover photo of the iconic Chicago hot dog the other day, complete with mustard, pickle spear, peppers, sliced tomato, onion, relish and celery salt? Amazingly, this tastes exactly like that.
What? Oh no, not like the hot dog. Like the newsprint photo.
OK, that’s not entirely fair. There’s definitely a nitrite-like aftertaste reminiscent of celery salt, so maybe these are uncured hot dogs — you know, healthy. Anyway, the effect is less revolting than the expectation. Whether you feel relief or regret depends on whether you are a literal glutton for punishment like myself.
What tailgate part would be complete without a vibrant and summery beverage? I really like the red and pink bands. As for flavor, this one tastes a lot like drinking a tall glass of Hawaiian Punch … flavored-Chapstick.
If the tan point is supposed to be the bun, I guess that makes the red base the burger patty. It appears to be raw, à la tartare. Given the visceral color, I’m crestfallen at the overall subdued flavor. At first, I thought I caught a whiff of pickle, but when I tasted the second one, it seemed more like a soupçon of onion instead? With the third, I decided that was probably wishful thinking. The general impression is a punt. Instead of beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onion and a sesame seed bun, these taste like a plain Happy Meal burger, hold the beef, add caramel sauce. It might be hamburger, but it needs help.
OK team, this is the last flavor in the bag, and I’m looking for a Hail Mary! Let’s give it a try.
When I was a freshman in college, my dorm room was on the hall with the one microwave for the whole floor. This was the Early Jurassic, remember, so the only thing one could make in the microwave was popcorn. That was fine with me for the first week or so, but after a whole semester of airborne steeping, everything I owned absolutely reeked of artificial butter flavoring. It was 10 years before I made popcorn again.
While this candy corn color may be washout yellow, the flavor is anything but. For me, it tastes like my freshman year hair smelled after a couple of hours of studying in the common room. You might like it if you frequently snack on a spoonful of margarine dipped right in the sugar bowl. I kind of dig it, but the admission fills me with shame.
I hate to be a Monday morning quarterback, but I wish Brach’s had made some of these more strongly-flavored, and I hope they lean in next time. The absence of a ketchup one colored to match the Fruit Punch seems like a missed play, for example. Still, it’s a good effort. You definitely need two bags: one to share with your friends who up until this point have believed you care for them, and one for garnish, because next summer, if we train hard and work on our offense, the NYT Cooking cover could be a Tailgate Candy Corn-dog.
Clear eyes, candied corn, can’t lose.