Brow Beat

An Ode to Smarties, Bit-O-Honey, and the Other Halloween Rejects

A child’s first taste of disappointment.

Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

A trick-or-treater’s haul consists mostly of delicious favorites in eye-popping wrappers: Reese’s, Butterfingers, Twix, Snickers, and the like. But every costumed tot always ends up with a few candies that are less exciting than the chocolate-covered stars of Halloween. Some of them are even downright disappointing: Let’s call them the Halloween rejects.

Halloween rejects are the candies that everyone is desperate to trade to their siblings and classmates, usually without luck. They’re always the last to be eaten, if they’re eaten at all. No one seems to like them—and yet oblivious neighbors continue to pass them out. It’s been five years since I last went trick-or-treating as a high-school student, but I’m still disappointed about the sweet old lady down the street whose dish was always filled with the worst candies.

You know which ones I’m talking about: Candies like Bit-O-Honey, with its wholesome, unassuming wrapping and complete lack of personality. Then there are fruit-flavored Tootsie Rolls—the forgotten pastel-dyed cousin of the chocolate variety is a candy that refuses categorization: not quite taffy, not quite nougat; not really terrible, but certainly not tasty. Off-brand gummies in clear individual wrappers creep everyone out almost as much as the man in a clown costume handing them out. (Are they trustworthy? Should you even open the wrapper, or should you throw them out—just in case?) Someone always sticks up for Smarties, the paragon of economical candy wrapping at 15 candies per roll, but they taste kind of like chalk mixed with lemon juice and a dash of Elmer’s glue. Finally, I would be remiss to forget loose candy corn kernels, which sneak into one’s bucket with no wrapper and no mates, courting suspicion.

There are other Halloween rejects, too: Peppermints, those horrible strawberry hard candies, the Circus Peanuts that John Oliver recently ripped to shreds on Last Week Tonight. Since childhood I’ve made a study of the sub-par candies—probably because my limited bartering skills landed me with more than my fair share every year. And these candies do seem to share certain characteristics.

Chocolate seems to be rare in the reject pile—even cheap chocolate is hard to mess up. But artificially flavored fruit candy often goes awry. The reject sweet spot, I think, is at the intersection of synthetic flavorings and an overly rocklike, chalky, or chewy texture. (Consider Dots—I think I still have one lodged in a molar from when I was five.)

How do these sweet treats continue to be sold? Have they survived as a parasite on the backs of more palatable sweets in candy assortment packs? After all, those horrible flavored Tootsie Rolls and Dots can be purchased in a bag along with the much more palatable regular Tootsie Rolls and Tootsie Pops. Do they continue to exist only because they’re cheap? (Two pounds of Smarties currently cost less than half as much as two pounds of assorted Hershey’s chocolate bars on Amazon right now.) Do some people just not care about the flavor profiles of their trick-or-treating offerings?

Maybe it’s a combination of these factors. Or maybe it’s just Halloween candy, and I’m overthinking this—especially since, as little as I want to eat them, I never want these marvels of mediocrity to disappear. Bad Halloween candy gently teaches kids an important life lesson: You don’t always get what you want. And at this point, Halloween rejects are as much a part of the holiday as polyester costumes and cheap wigs.