We got the semi-bright idea to host a Starburst taste test after reading that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) recently bought a small haul of the fruit candies and ordered a staffer to separate out the strawberry and cherry flavors for the president, who otherwise would (apparently) have to do the tedious sorting himself.
The president’s typical diet — maybe “stereotypical” would be a better word, given Trump still has a crack White House kitchen cooking for him — wouldn’t usually inspire journalists to ignore their deadlines and dig into a table covered with, say, Big Macs, Diet Cokes and well-done steaks. But Starbursts are different. They’re neatly wrapped gifts from childhood: a chewy little reminder of simpler times — in the days before your mother used “shithole” in casual conversations.
The problem with those neatly wrapped candies, of course, is that each is color-coded to its flavor, and some tasters may share the president’s bias for cherry and strawberry, or have a bias of their own. So we had to conduct a blind tasting. Literally. We blindfolded the tasters, gave them one unwrapped candy at a time and asked them to judge it on a scale of 1 to 5. A “1” score would be the presidential equivalent of “sad!” and a “5” would be a #MAGA moment.
Each taster tried six Starburst flavors: the original four (strawberry, cherry, orange and lemon), plus two more from the FaveREDs assortment (watermelon and fruit punch) to better blur the lines between flavors. Their adult palates, without any visual cues, occasionally struggled to assess the flavors. One taster found the candies so foul, she spit out half her samples.
“It doesn’t smell like anything,” said Matt Brooks, assignment editor for the Food team, as he examined a lemon Starburst. “It smells like scarf.” Brooks was wearing a scarf around his head as a blindfold.
The terms that came up most during the tasting were waxy, chewy, sweet, artificial and Lemon Pledge. A few tasters noted how hard and/or “crusty” the chews were. “It’s really hard. It’s harder than I really thought,” said Becky Krystal, Food staff writer.
Some tasters just used colors to describe the flavor, borrowing a page from the work of gastrophysicists, who have shown that diners often equate the two. “It’s yellow,” said Caitlin Moore, a digital editor on the pop culture team. She hates lemons. She spit out the candy after two courtesy chews.
The final tally was razor close. Strawberry and cherry topped the journalists’ list, just as they top the president’s. The flavors racked up 26 points apiece from eight tasters, for an average of 3.25 each. Not sad, but not exactly #MAGA territory, either. We should note that Ranker’s list also places strawberry and cherry at the top.
Incidentally, orange Starbursts, with 25 points, were just a single point behind the front-runners in our tasting.
“That’s strawberry!” Brooks said, enjoying the “sweet bubble-gum flavors” of the candy. “It’s why me and millions of other Americans dig for it.”
“That’s what a Starburst is supposed to taste like,” he added.
Not everyone agreed on the superiority of the red flavors. “It’s like the Kool-Aid Man sneezed in my mouth,” said Book World editor Ron Charles about a cherry Starburst. He did not mean it as a compliment: Charles awarded the chew only 2 points.
Entertainment reporter and beer columnist Fritz Hahn compared the orange Starburst to a childhood drink. “It tastes like concentrated Donald Duck orange juice,” he said. He gave it 3 points, so one can assume he still thinks fondly of concentrated OJ. At least a little.
But of all the comments, one landed particularly hard. Brooks casually mentioned that strawberry junkies can order their preferred flavor in a two-pound bag. You can do that for Starburst cherry chews, too. Which makes you realize that both McCarthy and Trump can stop wasting all those unwanted Starburst chews — not to mention wasting the staff hours and taxpayer money required to do the sorting — and just order a few two-pound bags for Air Force One.
Consider it #fakenewsyoucanuse, Mr. President.