The Candy Hierarchy (2012)

The Candy Hierarchy (2012)

By David Ng and Ben Cohen for BOING BOING

Candy culture plays a particularly prominent role during Halloween, especially in terms of providing what we describe as "joy induction." Consequently, the "Candy Hierarchy" is a concerted effort to provide systematics that define a candy taxonomy in order of desirability and with the expressed idea of maximizing such joy. Each year, through the tireless efforts by teams of researchers, the ranking receives peer review in the form of comments left. This brings new data that are then tabulated and incorporated into each revised edition.

The Candy Hierarchy has been a work in progress since 2006 when initiated by B.R. Cohen, an environmental historian over at Lafayette College, and has since been published in a variety of venues.  In 2010, with collaboration from David Ng, a geneticist based at the University of British Columbia, the hierarchy established an exclusive relationship with the highly reputable journal Boing Boing. This then allowed a significant increase in feedback from the peer review community due to the journal's high citation index.  

We, the authors, have greatly profited from this peer community feedback. That is to say, we almost got rich — the Hierarchy was optioned by a few Hollywood types and months were spent in writers' rooms hammering out a pilot for NBC, before having the whole thing axed once it became clear NBC was not a thing anymore. But we got to keep the money.  And we bought candy with it. And now here we are.  So on with it already.

Discussion: There comes a time, when we heed a certain call. When the world. Must come, together as one.  That time is now. We can't go on, pretending day by day, that someone, somehow will make a change. Therefore, presented within is the newly reformulated Ng and Cohen Candy Hierarchy. This taxonomy updates the 2011 edition, which culled massive peer review in the form of several hundred comments, and by including the latest research findings.

As with prior iterations, we placed a high value on this process, since past attempts (see previous versions 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2010) produced noteworthy revelations, including establishment of reference samples, now understood as index candies, as well as the discovery of the importance of caramel in defining the upper tiers.  

Along with minor adjustments, two new broadly defined features stand out this year.  One is the discovery through spectral analysis of a mint-based layer (you can almost taste it just by reading it, right?); two is the demotion of American chocolate products from their prior (and erroneous) exalted placement near the top.  Clearly, that earlier placement was a remnant of North Ameri-centric cultural commitments that somehow (damn you post-modernism!) snuck in to the lab. We'd prefer to blame the children for this flaw, those doing the grunt work of tricking and treating, though we shouldn't — colleagues in biology recently confirmed that they are our future — but come on, it had to be their fault.

So chocolate is all in a tizzy and the tectonic shift this year comes from a groundswell of new research coming from our international contributors, the basic thrust of which is that European chocolates embarrass Hershey's. (This does open things up to a probable adjustment next year to account for a global account, not just Western.) Hershey's Dark Chocolate stands a chance, but all in all, the Cadbury's, the Lindt's, the Nestle's, the Ferroroses of the world are the aristocrats to Hershey's proletarians, the hoities to American toities, the Prince Williams and Harrys to our Prince Fielders and Bonnie Prince Billys. Having said that, it sort of doesn't matter that much anyway.  Kids still won't snag a Lindt Truffle before a Hershey's Kiss, so what can you do.

Interestingly, this particular discourse led to heated discussions on the overall reliability of our peer review process.  If we could so easily miss the contrasting nature of North American and European perspectives, then might there be larger biases at play?    And then, literally at the very moment when our voices had reached an ugly and angry crescendo and fingers were pointing with blame, LIKE AN OMEN FROM THE HEAVENS (or at least somewhere approximating a breathtaking view of the Milky Way from Mars), we received word of a most relevant piece of research.

Yes, it was research with real data, collected from real children.

And not only that, it clearly laid out, in a sort of pencilly scientific table kind of way, that only a paltry third of the participants queried even bothered to single out chocolate as a preference!

Of course, we should note that these were Canadian children, so one could argue that the data is hardly what you might call trustworthy.  Nevertheless, if taken at face value, it would suggest that this Candy Hierarchy is a potentially invalid piece of work.  Or put another way, might we be witnessing a paradigm shift, perhaps?

And so, let us also apply some caution to this current Candy Hierarchy, as well as offer a plea for more children-centric candy data.   This will be good for candy, good for science, good (dare I say) for the world, and certainly good for our continued search for a TV pilot since Disney or Nickelodeon might now take note.

And please, please remember that we do this because this here is relevant stuff.  It affects the mindset of our planet, truly.  Indeed, it was only recently, that we learned that our Hierarchy has been applied to broader research programs.  Although we were not cited in this report, recent studies by Franz H. Messerli, M.D., show that those countries receiving more Nobel Prizes also eat more chocolate.  [from Chocolate Consumption, Cognitive Function, and Nobel Laureates (October 10, 2012DOI: 10.1056/NEJMon1211064), New England Journal of Medicine.]  But now in light of our new observations (albeit observations recorded with shaky handwriting and some minor spelling mistakes), we are forced to ask whether this research was performed under a chocolate bias paradigm and subsequent flawed methodology.

In conclusion, then, and as we present this year's hierarchy, we can honestly say, without hyperbole, that this is the biggest, most significant categorization that has ever been created. Big and significant because there is so, so much at stake.  So remember, it's not your father's candy hierarchy.  It's your kids. Sort of.




(caramel, chewy, elegant)

Any full-sized candy bar[1] — Caramellos[2] — Milky Way — Snickers — Rolos[3] — Twix — Reese's Peanut Butter Cups — Cash, or other forms of legal tender[4] — Cadbury Creme Eggs[5] — Goo Goo Clusters[6]


(a minor disruption in the stratigraphic sequence, this recently identified vein of mint is)

Mint M&Ms — Junior Mints — York Peppermint Patties — Senior Mints — Mint Kisses — Mint Leaves — Mint Juleps — Anything from the Franklin Mint


(not surprisingly, it's predominantly chocolate-based)

Hershey's Kissables — Lindt Truffle — Nestle Crunch — Peanut M&M's — Regular M&Ms[7] — Three Musketeers[8] — Kit Kat — Dark Chocolate Hershey — Tolberone something or other [9]


(oh look, mostly chocolate, just not as good)

Mounds — Tootsie Rolls — Whoppers[10] — Fair Trade Chocolate[11] — Butterfinger — Pay Day — Baby Ruth — Swedish Fish[12] — Almond Joy — Cadbury's Creme Eggs[5] — Ferrero Rocher[13]


(the chewy range or, in some circles, the Upper Chewy or Upper Devonian)

Milk Duds — Benzedrine — Jolly Ranchers (if a good flavor) — [14] — Starburst — Skittles — Stale Tootsie Rolls — Licorice (not black) — Reggie Jackson Bar — Bonkers[15] — 100 Grand Bar — Heath Bar — a DVD copy of Candy, starring Heath Ledger — Minibags of chips [16] — Glow sticks — Hershey's Milk Chocolate


(the Lower Chewy or Middle Crunchy Tart Layer)

Dots — Lollipops — Nerds — Runts — Trail Mix — Mary Janes — Gummy Bears straight up — White Bread — Spree — Black Licorice — Anything from Brach's[17] — Hard Candy — Bubble Gum — Including the Chiclets (but not the erasers) — Black Jacks — LemonHeads — LaffyTaffy — Good N' Plenty — Jolly Ranchers (if a bad flavor) — Bottle Caps — American Smarties [18] — Chalk [18] — "those odd marshmallow circus peanut things" — gum from baseball cards — candy that is clearly just the stuff given out for free at restaurants — ribbon candy — Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction, by Luke Davies.

Tier so low it does not register on our equipment [13]

Healthy Fruit[20] — Pencils [21]— Hugs (actual physical hugs)[21] — Lapel Pins — Extra Strength Tylenol — Pebbles — "anonymous brown globs that come in black and orange wrappers" — Now'n'Laters[22] — Whole Wheat anything — "good tidings", or "helpful advice" or renewed calls to "get the F- off my porch or I'll call social services on your Mom again, Jason!" — broken glow stick — kale smoothie

Benjamin R. Cohen & David Ng

The hierarchy is also available in PDF format for easy printing

1. Because like, score! (Bcsizemo, 2010)

2. a.k.a. God's Candy

3. These may be rolled to a friend.

4. Not sure if this should be included. Systematics are still on going – denomination appears to be key.

5. Appropriate ranking may depend entirely on date of purchase versus date of opening. Experts in this field often refer to this dichotomy as "fresh CCE" versus "stale CCE," or FCCE versus SCCE (Beschizza, 2011). Note that its interior has also been described as "pustulent." (Petersen, 2010)

6. Sometimes spousal influence forces these placements as with, ahem, this primarily southern delicacy.

7. Includes comparable Commonwealth version of "Smarties." (Devo, Legionabstract, gadgetgirl  et al, 2011) 

8. Although has also been classified as packing material (Cunning, 2010)

9. This and the Lindt one are higher quality, which makes it strange that trick-or-treaters just don't want them.

10. Whoppers blow.

11. The authors are curious as to which neighborhoods you belong to.

12. Admittedly an outlier – like that fish you've seen on television. You know – the one which looks like it can breathe air and stuff.

13. Whose value comes as payoff to parents, as children do not rank this highly.

14. Still a contentious subject with a rich history of controversy. Briefly: Candy Corn, as of 2006, remained unclassified, but as of 2007 had been tentatively placed in the Upper Chewy/Upper Devonian. 2008: no sighting. In recent years, we have elected to leave in the same tier as consensus has yet to be determined.

15. The discontinued candy, not the equally rankable discontinued board game.

16. Oh smack, can you even imagine if you got Fritos?

17. Unless it's something caramel, pronounced "caramel."

18. By some accounts, these two are actually one and the same (Gadgetgirl, 2010)

19. Yet some would be just as well to be left off. Bit-o-Honey, for example, might be called a lower tier member, but why bother? It says to your trick-or-treaters, "Here, I don't care, just take this." The lesson of Bit-o-Honey is: you lose. Doorstep offers of lectures in civics, too. You're making a social statement–"I hate you and everything you represent"– when you give these out.

20. Yes, we really meant fruit that is healthy, clean-cut upstanding fruit that takes time from its gym membership and all the demands that come with it to contribute a positive message of citizenship and camaraderie to the community.  This isn't a typo of healthy for healthful. (see U.M.H. 2011)

21. Research has further defined this relationship. Currently, it has been suggested that Blackwing Pencils > Hugs > Creepy Hugs > Pencils. (Lobster, Prufrock451, and Warreno, 2010)

22. Unless you eat them properly. To quote Anonymous, 2010: "The trick to realizing how brilliant and delicious Now 'n Laters are is a two step process. The first step is to carefully read the name of the candy. "Now 'n Later." What does it mean, you ask? Well, it implies that the candy will be different "now" (when you put it in your mouth) and at some point "later" in time. A small leap of logic takes us to the second step: be patient. You need to suck on it for a while until it softens. If you skip this step, the Now 'n Later will be an inedible, rock-like colorful brick quite worthy of the low end of the hierarchy. But if you are patient in your candy-eating process, oh the rewards you will reap!"

B.R. Cohen is a professor, a writer, and a guy who used to blog with Dave Ng.  He teaches at Lafayette College in Easton, PA.

Dave Ng is a guy who used to blog with B.R. Cohen. He runs a science literacy lab at the University of British Columbia, and you can also find him on twitter.

Read this next: The best cheap, all-purpose juicer is the Omega 8003