While preparing the candy corn cocktails for our Halloween dinner on Thursday, the question inevitably came up of ‘what is candy corn flavor?’. We decided that mostly the candy corn added color and waxiness, and debated whether there’s a flavor to corn syrup – the Karo corn syrup I have at home has vanilla added, so we couldn’t really do a plain syrup taste test to hone in on an answer.
Then someone asked, what about bubble gum? That’s a distinct flavor with no obvious corollary among the ingredients one would find in their kitchen – or, necessarily, in nature at all. According to Wikipedia:
A “bubblegum flavor” is the taste of the unflavored gum, made from chemicals such as ethyl methylphenylglycidate, isoamyl acetate, fruit extracts and others, although the exact ingredients were kept a mystery to customers. When blended, the chemicals and extracts fuse to make a sweet, palatable flavor.
I took the origins of candy flavors research a half step further to look up the confections in my 1896 Fannie Farmer cookbook. Here I learned the term Tutti-Frutti existed in 1896 and was not, for Fannie, a chemically-produced flavoring for sticks of gum (it was, however, already patented as a gum flavor at that time, according to a helpful website on innovations in chewing gum):
Tutti Frutti Candy – Fill an oiled border-mould with three layers of melted fondant. Have bottom layer maple, well mixed with English walnut meat; the second layer colored pink, flavored with rose and mixed with candied cherries cut in quarters and figs finely chopped; the third layer white, flavored with vanilla, mixed with nuts, candied cherries cut in quarters, and candied pineapple cut in small pieces. Cover mould with oiled paper and let stand over night. Remove from mould and place on a plate covered with a lace paper napkin. Fill centre with BonBons and Glace nuts.
Generally speaking, tutti frutti means lots of fruits. I still can’t find exactly which fruits make up classic Tutti Frutti gum, although there’s reference to “30 juicy fruit flavors.” That would explain why it’s the bubble gum equivalent to mixing all different colors of paint together and getting brown.
Pondering extremely artificial candy flavors is also a prompt to ponder extremely natural ones.
I’m in Vermont, so maple sugar candy is an obvious candy found in its natural state – although only after a great deal of boiling. Then there’s honey which could be eaten straight from the comb. There are all the fruits that are sweet enough to be candy, like lychee or Concord grapes, not to mention dried fruits, like Medjool dates. Some flavors we might recognize as ‘candy’ flavors without sweetness. Vanilla and chocolate are perhaps the best known. There are other ‘candy’ flavors I can find close to home, the wintergreen flavor of black birch or all the varieties of ‘licorice’, like the bronze fennel pictured at the top of the post.
Think about this list, part of me wants to vow to calibrate my tastes to nature and cast aside the candy corn liqueurs of this world. . . but then I have to ask, if I’m not exploring the candy corn frontier, who will? Best not to be too rash about this.