What Makes Expensive Candy Taste Different Than Cheap Candy?

If you were to go on looks alone, you'd know if you were being gifted with expensive candy. The packaging looks and feels more polished and high-end, making the candies that come within appear more refined. But is packaging really all that sets cheap candy apart from their more expensive counterpart ⁠— or is there more than meets the eye? And if you took the candies out of their packaging, could you tell the supermarket specials from their artisanal, possibly hand-made counterparts?

The answer may be more clear cut for chocolate (many expensive chocolates have more cacao butter, per Huffpost), but it is far less so where candy is concerned. While you could argue that all candy is made with sugar, and that sugar is sugar, it's the inclusion ⁠— or exclusion of certain ingredients ⁠— that makes expensive candy stand out. As confectionery expert Beth Kimmerle explained to HuffPost: "When it comes to making candy, it's really all about sugar and flavor. So some of the nicer candies are going to be using the exact same kind of sugar you'd find in a grocery store candy, but maybe be flavored with something like a real fruit juice instead of an artificial flavor."

"Still," Kimmerle added, "Sugar is the bulk of what candy is, so some of those 'higher end ingredients' or flavor systems we're talking about are a very small percentage of the candy."

Ingredients, ingredients, ingredients

Take wine gums, the popular British gummy candies whose colors were inspired by sherry, champagne, claret, and Bordeaux, per The Drinks Business. Popular supermarket brand Maynards Bassetts make their wine gums with ingredients that include glucose syrup, sugar, gelatin, carnauba wax, and concentrated vegetable extracts (via Healthfully). When they were being sold at Walmart, each 190-gram bag cost $5 each.

By contrast, Danish candy makers Wally and Whiz omit the use of gelatin when they make their wine gums, which makes the candy wholly vegan. Their mango-flavored gummies come with natural flavoring, are colored with black carrot and star fruit, and are dusted with actual passion fruit powder. A 140-gram container of these Wally and Whiz wine gums costs about $8.60 — or 58% more expensive than the cheaper version from Maynards.

Speaking to HuffPost, Sugarfina CEO Scott LaPorta said his company's gummies, like those from Wally and Whiz, are also no ordinary candies, telling the outlet, "Made with Champagne, our Champagne Bears sparkle in flavors of vintage Brut Champagne. A new addition, our vegan collection of gummies, includes our Magic Mangos and Summer Strawberries, which are made with real fruit purée to give each bite a fresh, juicy flavor."

A matter of personal taste

But is the lack of artificial color and flavor, and the inclusion of fruit juices enough to entice a customer to pay more for artisanal, small-batch candies instead of cheap candy in bulk? The answer, we guess, would be it depends.

When Eater sought to test out some of Sugarfina's most popular sweet treats, its editors came back with decidedly mixed results. Of the Champagne Bears, Crystal Coser said: "If you were to do a blind tasting, you would probably just think these are plain ol' gummy bears. But after learning there's a drop of Dom Perignon, you can identify subtle notes of champagne and a lingering acidity that you wouldn't otherwise get from a normal gummy." She gave the Yes Way Rosé a similar verdict, saying, "The label says it is made with Whispering Angel Rosé — I just wish it tasted more like it."

Then there were the candies that made the tasters' palates sing. Of the Parisian Pineapple, Matthew Kang said: "Super delicious off the bat. They remind me of Dole Whip, which is one of the greatest frozen desserts of all time. There's even a kind of effervescence that makes them truly addictive. Really amazing, and worth the cash too." And his review of the Peach Bellinis was equally effervescent, as he said: "They're visually quite impressive, with perfectly granulate sour coatings. The texture is fresh, with a tart middle and finish. Basically peach rings of the best variety."