For this week’s exploration of the wacky and wild items found at most neighborhood supermarkets, I decided to go gummy. I’ve always been bewildered by the random shapes of gummy candy, which are often molded to resemble spiders, snakes, frogs and other creepy pests.
In a short time span, I found around 15 different weird gummy items and also became a passable gummy expert. (Call me, attorneys working gummy-related murders cases.)
In the early 1920s, German company Haribo introduced the gummy bear, kicking off a long, proud legacy, so I grabbed Haribo’s “Happy Cola” gummy candy to sample. Haribo might be the Elvis Presley of the gummy world, but their soda-bottle-shaped, clear and brown treats were mediocre. We’ll cut ’em slack because it’s hard to mimic a good cola taste. Just ask RC.
German candymaker Trolli is The Beatles to Haribo’s Elvis, taking the gummy formula and creating a psychedelic array of innovative sweets. The company began in 1975 and was the first to introduce gummy worms.
The ingredient that makes gummies different from Swedish Fish or those “fruit snacks” for kids’ lunches is gelatin, which gives the candy its stretchiness. Since gelatin is made from animal byproducts, it also makes gummies incompatible with some diets. I love sour gummies, and Trolli is one of the best sour-gummiers going. But, while their Sour Brite Octopus candies (multi-pastel-colored octopuses) were good, the sour level was a bit low. I like my sour with a kick that twists your facial features into Picasso-worthy shapes.
Nestle’s Wonka line is an example of the many big corporate confectioners who jumped on the gummy bandwagon. Wonka makes the Sweetarts Bugs Gummies, which scored much higher on the sour-meter. Sweetarts’ bugs buck a sexist gummy trend — instead of creepy-crawly creatures aimed at little boys, they have nicer bug shapes like cartoony butterflies and snails.
It comes as no no surprise that the big-brand gummy treats are way better than the ones from no-name companies. My Gummy Sharks (with creamy white underbelly and blue top) tasted OK and the Muddy Bears (chocolate-covered gummy bears, not the name of some extremely niche gay bar) were passable. But the tubs of Sour Splat-A-Pillars and Bugzz were so nasty and difficult to chew and swallow, I spit out my first and only samples. They have a strange flavor — like a mix of some unappealing, bland spice and chemicals from under the kitchen sink.
The key element of a great gummy is flavor. My favorites were Wonka’s Sluggles Gummies, non-threatening grubs, slugs and snails that tasted the most like actual fruit. Too many gummy products end up tasting the same — like a generic mélange from some bizzaro fruit out of a Dr. Seuss book.
Gummies have had a small but consistent role in culture. The gummy bear was the subject of an overseas hit novelty song (“I’m a Gummy Bear”), had memorable roles in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Hedwig and the Angry Inch and starred in the mid-’80s cartoon Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears. Gummies have also played a part in the science and health worlds — we now have gummy multivitamins, as well as gummies that are actually good for your teeth. There’s even a type of breast implant called the Gummy Bear.
Gummy candy might not be healthy for you, but it sure is fun. Rock band The Flaming Lips’ merch booth recently added life-size gummy skulls and fetuses with MP3 sticks inside. And there are several kinds of naughty gummies shaped like penises, boobs and other sexy bits.
The gummy snack’s role in society is subtle but constant … and they’ll probably be around when all of us are long gone. At least the cockroaches will have something to eat post-Apocalypse.