Halloween candy, a defence of Canada's molasses kiss

Canada's molasses candy kiss, a longtime Halloween candy staple, may no longer be a favourite but it deserves respect says food columnist Andrew Coppolino.

Ongoing seasonal debate a perennial chance to see who's sweet on molasses kisses

'If you want to work at Kerr's, you've got to love Molasses Kisses,' jokes the president of the Canadian candy company that produces the much maligned Halloween treats. (@KerrsCandy)

At the end of October, news outlets and social media count down the list of favourite – or reviled – Halloween treats.

It's an annual exercise and, we could say, virtually a seasonal exorcism in which individuals extol the virtues of their favourite sweet and cast others into the literal and metaphorical waste bin. Such is the lot of the molasses kiss to dwell in the cellar of disliked candy. 

There's no science or methodology to the listing practice; just the excited sweet-tooth appeal or sometimes literally gut-wrenching revulsion to various candies, taffies, chocolates and other sweets. The reasons may be entirely based on childhood taste experiences and reactions from decades earlier.

Fair enough: that's how we react to most things we eat.

Sweet sales

However, like or dislike aside, sweets in Canada are big business, and the sugar and confectionery industry makes everything from chewing gum to cough drops and includes chocolate bars and hard candy.

The latest figures provided by Statistics Canada show sales increases between the years 2004 and 2012, with processed sugar used in a plethora of ingredients such as breads, baked goods, breakfast cereals and ice cream.

There are about 350 candy-making businesses in Canada, according to StatsCan, the majority of which operate in Ontario and Quebec. They employ about 9,800 people and generate revenue of $4.2 billion (the corollary of that is to support quite a few dentists, to be sure).

That's the basis for Halloween candy production, and amid the popular choices for best candy – favorites like Skittles, Smarties, Sour Patch Kids and peanut butter cups – the Kerr's molasses candy kiss is very unpopular.

Of all the candy that people say they dislike – and granted, this is only anecdotal evidence – the most candy vitriol is reserved for the molasses kiss. Self-proclaimed candy aficionados put it very near – or at – the bottom of their list. 

Loved and reviled

A National Post reporter, Tristan Hopper, has called the molasses morsel, "the worst Halloween candy ever devised by human hands."

His dislike was so intense, he even created a humorous video that gave a reasonable Milton Friedman-based economic explanation for why people buy molasses kisses for Halloween. It has to do with low cost and significant quantity when buying something for someone else: an economic efficiency that Halloween candy shoppers strive to find. 

Let's not be fooled, though. The molasses kiss has been selling for 75 years, and even the manufacturer recognizes that candy emotions run high; they are well aware of the range of emotions the candy provokes. 

"The molasses kiss has a rich, spicy, earthy flavour which is very specific. It's one of those things that defines Halloween for adults," says Ryan Martic, President of Kerr's.

"It's definitely love or hate when it comes to molasses and each side is very vocal with their view. The reality is the majority of molasses kisses that are sold this time of the year are for personal consumption as much as giving out."

Although I am not a fan of candy per se, and would prefer a good quality dark chocolate, I like the molasses kiss and would describe the candy as a less sweet Kraft caramel infused with molasses.

I'd buy the kisses and not give them out. That would be my little Halloween trick on Milton Friedman.

Read more food columns from CBC Kitchener-Waterloo contributor Andrew Coppolino


Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

CBC-KW food columnist Andrew Coppolino is author of Farm to Table (Swan Parade Press) and co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press). He is the 2022 Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence at the Stratford Chefs School. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewcoppolino.