After Halloween 2017, when faced with a bowl of un-trick-or-treated candy as well as a gallon bag of the previous year’s un-trick-or-treated candy, I posed a simple question: can you save leftover Halloween candy for next year? The answer turned out to be simple, too. The closer to pure sugar the candy is, the better it will hold up. Gather ye Reese’s while ye may, but Nerds can probably outlive you.
These results ensured that I was out of peanut butter pumpkins before the beginning of peanut butter egg season. There was, however, a serious flaw in my earlier study, which was that I did not open the tasting to my then-three-year-old who still believed fruit snacks were candy. The now-five-year-old keeps trying to bring fruit snacks to school for a “healthy snack,” so this year he was ready taste-test stale candy at 3:00 on a Friday afternoon.
We were candy sommeliers, biting each piece only long enough to get mouthfeel and flavor before depositing it in our spit bowl. After an hour, in need of a walk and a glass of milk, we took a break.
What you most need to know about stale Halloween candy is that a five-year-old let the remaining candy sit on our dining room table, undisturbed, for a full 48 uninterrupted hours, and only ate more candy once I reminded him that research is sometimes hard work.
But if you’re facing a big surplus of candy and want a little more guidance, we’ve collected our results into Tricks and Treats.
Almond Joy: Stale candy may be the single situation in which I do not feel like a nut. The almond was soggy from a year spent in its coconut bed.
Butterfinger: If you want a candy that conjures Bertie Botts’ earwax bean, a stale Butterfinger might do the trick. Of all of the candies in our taste test, it’s the only one I’d truly warn against. It was extremely soft and extremely bitter, presumably from rancid oils and/or nuts. The bar looked like someone had laid at least one finger on it, as the chocolate was cracked and there were little orange bits on the outside of the bar.
Haribo Gold Bears: Haribo gummies are supposed to be just a shade uncomfortable to chew right from the factory, but the year-old versions were too hard. When dropped on the table, these sound very much like dried red kidney beans also being dropped on the table. Both would need soaking before eating.
M&Ms: These candies were a little discolored, so trick-or-treaters will know you’re passing off last year’s candy. But they still taste great and wouldn’t be out of place in a sugar cookie.
Milky Way Minis: These chocolates are not Snickers. They are far too mushy even when fresh, and offer the same mouthfeel after a year on the shelf. I’ll cover 3 Musketeers Minis here too: similarly mushy, but without the distraction of caramel.
Muddy Buddies: These were still crunchy and surprisingly unsweet, which may have just been a result of all the candy eaten before them. They’ll certainly last you until next year, but they’re just not as good as the ones you make yourself, which should make you mourn for the days when we trusted our neighbors not to poison us with homemade treats. The five-year-old was underwhelmed: “Not too good, not too bad.”
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: We tried both the miniature and original sizes. The miniature cup had no visible blooming, but the peanut butter inside was quite grainy and had a grassy finish. The original size cup looked perfect, save a tiny hole at the top that would make me fear poisoned candy if that had ever actually happened. The peanut butter, which tasted fine, was a bit more yellow-bright on the larger cup, so if you’re planning to ration your leftover Reese’s, eat the little ones first.
Snickers: We tested the bite size and fun size. The fun size was really soft, and had clearly lost volume between the top of the peanuts and chocolate. The bite size was not at soft, and had fewer peanuts than I prefer. They are both still Snickers, which are better than no Snickers.
Starburst: These were hard, but aren’t Starburst always hurt-your-mouth hard? I feel like kids who trying to loosen teeth would love these. My son agrees: “Old candy tastes pretty good.”
Twizzlers: The right way to eat a Twizzler is to let it flop casually in your hand while you take tiny nibbles, repeating from the moment you buy the bag at the Angola Travel Plaza on the New York Thruway until you reach Albany. The flavor of a Twizzler is only five more hours to see my parents. Stale Twizzlers, which have no flop and no flavor, are just a threat to dental work.
Whoppers: I really had to suck on these to get the malted milk to break down on these normally Top Ten candies. My son offered faint praise: “A little too crunchy, maybe a little good.”
Hershey Bar: These were in good shape. We could still taste the parmesan cheese. Still perfect for S’mores.
Kit Kat: The orange Kit Kats were good enough that my research assistant said “That’s so good I want to have the other half” and stole my sample. We tested the original version, too, and found that both versions had an audible crunch and still tasted great.
Milk Duds: We were surprised at how these held up texturally. They are still soft and chewy, but there is a weird floral note mixed in with the familiar burnt toffee taste. This is obviously the candy you buy to get the Junior Mints (not featured in this review, because my 2018 candy collectors didn’t have any leftover Junior Mints). You should obviously buy the 2019 mix, but you can mix the old Milk Duds in with it.
Nerds: My research assistant agreed that all of the Nerds held their texture, but he has some firm opinions on flavor he would like voiced to snackdinner readers:
Of “Gotta Have Grape”: “Good.”
Of Lemonade Wild Cherry: “They’re a little sour, and a little good.”
Of Seriously Strawberry: “Oh, no artificial flavors. But there is an artificial color! Why can’t I taste the strawberry?”
Sour Patch Kids: None of these made it into the spit bowl.
Skittles: Even my husband, who wanted no part in any of this stale candy tasting, popped in to taste the rainbow when he heard our son say “I like these. So amazingly good!”
We’ve learned a few new lessons from this year’s taste test. We’ve learned that some chocolate, especially Kit Kats, can last you until next Halloween. We’ve learned that if you hide a gallon-sized Ziploc bag full of Halloween candy in your linen closet, your child won’t know its there. We’ve learned that we still don’t buy enough Bottle Caps and SweeTart Skulls & Bones to last for a full year.
Above all, though, we’ve learned that almost all taste tests are improved by the presence of children. Maybe next year we’ll host a stale candy party.