Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What's your idea of the perfect candy? Sweet, obviously. What about fun? Do you like your candy gross? How about something you can stick in your pocket and take with you?

Americans eat about 24 pounds of candy per person each year, a number that has actually been falling -- in 1997 it was about 27 pounds. To get people to eat more, candy companies have been tinkering with their treats. And it's definitely making candy more interesting.

The move to improve candy starts with taste. Today there are hundreds of fancy flavors to choose from -- many of them so intense they will pucker your mouth. Candy Dynamics' new sour-apple chew bar, called Toxic Waste Nuclear Sludge, will make your jaw hurt! (Kids seem to enjoy that.)

"I like to taste sourness because I like challenges, and it's kind of like a challenge for your mouth," said Simon Enagonio, 8, of Silver Spring. To prove it, he popped an Extreme Sour Warhead into his mouth -- it's like sucking on a lemon -- and chewed it up with no problem.

Sour or not, flavors are getting stronger, said Susan Fussell of the National Confectioners Association, a group that promotes candy. One example is the Fruit Splosions version of Life Savers Gummies. Another is a new gum from Trident in which half the pieces in the pack are sweet and half are sour. Gum that feels cold in your mouth when you chew it -- such as DragonFruit Freeze Ice Breakers by Hershey -- is another twist.

Cherry sounds pretty boring now, huh?

Some kids demand even more from their candy. They want to gross out their friends, and there's plenty of ways to do that, or to horrify Mom and Dad. For starters, there's Frankford Candy's new Gummy Body Parts. After you have eaten a "bloody" candy nose or fingertip, sucking sweet candy syrup out of the abdomen of a toy spider doesn't sound so gross.

What does sound yucky is Cap Candy's Lick Your Wounds Candy, with a fake bandage that you tape on your arm and lift up to reveal a "wound" of red candy. Eeeew.

Increasingly, companies want you to play with your candy. Tung Toos are super-sour tattoos you put on your tongue, giving you a reason to stick it out at your little brother. Watch out for drool, though!

Cap Candy's Super Jocks gumballs come with four-inch-tall soccer or hockey players to knock your gum around before you chew it. CandiCraft pens come with edible paper and a liquid-candy-filled pen. Topps's Juicy Drop Pops have a squeezable container of liquid goo to pour on the lollipop -- so it's probably not a great treat for the back seat.

Candy makers want you to take your candy with you, though, and are making lots of smaller, portable packages. Sunkist's Fruit Gummies and Fruit Chews and other smaller packs limit the amount of sugar you eat and are easy to take with you. They just might persuade Mom to put a sweet treat in your lunch now and then!

-- Margaret Webb Pressler

© 2006 The Washington Post Company