(THE WASHINGTON POST) - In the past year, America's confectioners collectively got the hots for spicy candy.
Jolly Rancher Hotties hit stores last summer. They were followed by Sour Patch Kids Fire and Starburst Sweet Heat in the fall, and then Skittles Sweet Heat last week. All of them add a little tongue-tingliness to your typical candy flavours - and some Guy Fieri-esque flames to the packaging. The names followed suit - a prerequisite for making spicy candy, it seems, is giving every flavour a totally rad spicy name. It is not just watermelon - it is "Angry Watermelon" or "Fiery Watermelon." Orange, it seems, is always "flamin'". Apple is "Apple Fever," and I hope my flu shot has inoculated me against it this year.
It used to be that spicy sweets meant Red Hots, or Atomic Fireballs - two candies that clobbered you over the head with the taste of cinnamon. But spicy candy is getting more, well, sophisticated, I guess? Can you really call something that comes in the flavour "Sizzlin' Strawberry" sophisticated? Probably not, but these candies incorporate flavours of cayenne, habanero and Sriracha, in the case of the Jolly Ranchers. And they have a mix of flavours - sour, spicy, sweet - that change and build through every chew.
They might seem like new flavours to some, but the turn toward spicy candy reflects Americans' interests in Latin American flavours. Mexican candymakers, after all, have been mixing sweet and spicy and sour for ages, in mango and tamarind hard candies that are popular in Central America and in the United States. These four new candies are from mainstream candymakers, so the heat is dialed back. Think of it more as a tingly sensation that creeps across the tongue, rather than a full-blown forehead-sweat fire. Here is what we thought of each brand.
Sour Patch Kids Fire Flavors: Berry Blaze, Tropical Flame, Angry Watermelon and Apple Fever (they really ran out of steam naming that last one).
What the bag says: "Sour then sweet. With a heat sensation." "Contains heat sensation, may cause mouth irritation; excessive consumption is not advisable."
What we say: Despite that very aggressive-sounding warning on the bag, these were the mildest of the bunch. The spice comes later, but it is a barely perceptible tingle, followed by the familiar flavour of Sour Patch Kids.
Skittles Sweet Heat Flavors: Lemon Spark, Flamin' Orange, Fiery Watermelon, Sizzlin' Strawberry and Blazin' Mango.
What the bag says: "Fruity flavors with a spicy kick."
What we say: It is good that these do not look like regular Skittles - they all come in shades of pink, yellow and orange. The heat is pretty immediate with these candies, but it is mild and burns off quickly. Mildly addictive.
Starburst Sweet Heat Flavors: Fiery Watermelon, Flamin' Orange, Pipin' Pineapple and Strawberry Mango (what, they just ran out of hot names?)
What the bag says: Also "Fruity flavors with a spicy kick." Skittles and Starburst are distributed by Wrigley, and they are very consistent.
What we say: For the first few seconds, it tastes like a regular Starburst - but when the heat kicks in, it is much spicier than the previous candies. It spreads throughout your whole mouth, too - not just the back of your tongue. Except for a little flame on the wrapper, these Starbursts look a lot like the regular-flavoured ones, so it would be easy to play tricks on people. Pipin' Pineapple has both the best flavor and the dumbest name of any candy on this list.
Jolly Rancher Hotties Flavors: Watermelon Cayenne, Blue Raspberry Sriracha, Cherry Habanero and Green Apple Ginger.
What the bag says: "Sweet & spicy hard candy." "Keep on sucking!"
What we say: We were pleased that these were named after actual spices, and had a hypothesis that it meant they would be better than the rest (even though Sriracha feels very 2013). And, for some flavors, at least, we were right - the cherry candies were the spiciest of all the candies, and the heat continued to build. They were kind of reminiscent of a hard Mexican candy this writer loves, called Locochas - except the spice is spread throughout, rather than just in the middle. But the green apple Jolly Ranchers, as you'd might expect based on their name, are the weakest of the bunch - they are barely different from the regular kind.