I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again, even if it gets me cancelled: Halloween is the lowliest of the food-centric holidays. Instead of sitting down with friends and family to eat a lovingly made meal that took hours to prepare and cook, you’re relegated to a world of mass-produced, too-sweet candy that contains so much sugar that it causes actual tooth pain. (And no, your leaf-shaped chips from Trader Joe’s don’t count as Halloween food.)
But that doesn’t mean that all Halloween candy is bad. Some of the bite-sized treats are enough to keep you sitting on the couch with your five-pound bag of candy for hours, mindlessly working your way through the stuff you were supposed to hand out to the kids. (Or is that just me?) Others are… unappetizing, to put it mildly. And though we all have our separate preferences when it comes to Halloween candy, I truly believe that this rigorous ranking highlights the best of the best and maligns the sugary snacks that are destined to pull a trick on your tastebuds.
Okay, listen. I know that this is a completely unoriginal take. But putting candy corn in last place is just a formality. Think of it as a litmus test to determine if I’m a reputable source or not. Like, if I put candy corn in sixth place, could you really trust me? Now that you know we’re operating from the same point of reference, that point being that candy corn is truly one of the worst candies to ever grace this planet, you can relax knowing that I’m not going to do something stupid, like put Haribo gummies in first place.
I remember at one point in my life, I absolutely loved Tootsie Rolls. Maybe it was because my childlike tastebuds were too sensitive to appreciate anything that actually has some flavor, but by the time I was in middle school, I suddenly came to the realization that Tootsie Rolls are a true culinary crime. It essentially feels like chewing on plastic. The brown sugar absolutely coats your teeth, requiring an extensive tongue workout as you try, in vain, the clear your palate of the gunk. The flavor, too, tastes plastic, like someone who had been without their sense of taste for years tried to explain what chocolate actually tastes like. I’m genuinely shocked that I’ve never had a cavity when I think of just how many Tootsie Rolls I used to eat around Halloween.
If you’ve never had chocolate other than Hershey’s, you can convince yourself it’s good. The milk chocolate is ultra-sweet and generally inoffensive (unless, you know, you’re not usually into ingesting spoonfuls of sugar in every bite). But once you experience the true, uninhibited joy of real chocolate, you can never go back to Hershey’s. I’m fully in favor of loading the little ones up with plenty of Hershey’s and saving the good stuff for the adults who can appreciate more complex flavors than aggressive sweetness.
I know there are some serious Skittles lovers out there, but I have to admit that I just don’t understand you people. The first time I ever tasted a Skittle, I was mistakenly under the impression that I was about to bite into a particularly vibrant-colored M&M. Instead, I was met with the acrid, not-really-sweet, not-really-sour flavor of a plastic-y red Skittle. It was a traumatizing experience, and I’ve never truly recovered. Childhood traumas aside, Skittles have a strange texture, none of the flavors are particularly interesting, and you’re left wishing that you had gotten M&M’s instead.
Starburst, as a whole, aren’t great. They’re not far off from Tootsie Rolls, in fact, when it comes to the texture. They stick to your teeth and even your gums, leaving you to periodically bite into a fruity mass hours after you’ve finished eating them. So, you may be wondering why Starburst aren’t further down on our list. It pretty much all comes down to the orange Starburst. Their lovely, fragrant bouquet and gripping sourness with just a touch of sweetness is truly the best the Starburst line can offer. Sure, it’s a bit disappointing to get Starburst in your bag when you’re trick-or-treating, but an orange tastes like a little slice of sunshine at 9:30 p.m. at the end of October.
Here comes one of the most ubiquitous and easy-to-enjoy candies of them all: M&M’s. Are these the highest-quality chocolates you’ll ever eat? Of course not. But it’s hard to beat milk chocolate coated in a sweet little sugary casing that makes you think you’re eating something more colorful than plain chocolate. They don’t stand out as a particularly interesting candy, but they’re incredibly versatile, and adults can enjoy them just as much as the kiddos do. In fact, in 2021, RetailMeNot found that M&M’s are the most highly ranked Halloween candy for adults. I’m not surprised.
This may not be a popular take, but there are much better sour candies than Sour Patch Kids out there. However, these are what you’re most likely to find in a trick-or-treat haul. And on the spectrum of Halloween candies, they’re definitely one of the better options. This is due to the relative complexity of the flavors. When you first put a Sour Patch Kid on your tongue, you’re first met with intense acidity. Let it sit for a while, and you’ll start to pick up some of that sweetness that makes it more accessible to a wider range of candy-eaters. If you’re not going to get chocolate, Sour Patch Kids are a solid pick.
I know not everyone is going to be a fan of this placement, but let’s not kid ourselves: Almond Joys are some of the best candies that have ever graced a Halloween candy dish. They have a thin layer of chocolate—enough to give you the sweetness you’re craving but not so much that you’ll feel full after a single piece. Then, there’s the creamy, soft coconut that falls apart in your mouth. I don’t know what to tell you if you’re not into coconut because you’re definitely missing out on the Almond Joy front. The titular almonds provide just the right amount of crunch, leaving you convinced that you’ve just tasted the most well-composed candy bar you’ve ever experienced. If you don’t feel a spark of joy when you pull an Almond Joy out of the bag of Halloween candy, we can’t be friends.
Chocolate is generally considered the cream of the crop when it comes to Halloween candy, but let’s not pretend that we’re not all thrilled when we come across one of those tiny little boxes of Nerds. Personally, I prefer the grape Nerds, but I won’t turn down the little combo pack that comes with both grape and strawberry. It seems like these sour little pebbles of sugar always take up a unproportionally large amount of space in a big bag of Halloween candy, but I’m definitely not complaining. That being said, getting a Nerds rope is on a whole different plane—I’ve never experienced that kind of bliss, so I’m honestly pretty jealous of the kids in upper-middle class neighborhoods who just might get that lucky.
Finally, we’ve come to the final boss of the world of Halloween candy. Is it any surprise that Reese’s Cups easily rank in first place? There’s that thin, soft, almost-always-melted layer of chocolate that lovingly protects the slightly gritty, ultra-salty peanut butter inside. The ridge provides the perfect amount of structural tension, holding the delicate ingredients in place. Biting into a Reese’s provides a textural experience like no other; I will remember that feeling against my teeth when I’m on my deathbed and no longer need my dentures.
Reaching into your trick-or-treating bag and pulling out a Reese’s is like winning the lottery. Unfortunately, the kids who stop by my house will never know that feeling because I’ve already eaten all of the Reese’s from the mixed assortment bag. Sorry guys.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.