Algonquin Books, 2004
Kindle eBook, 284 pages
A self-professed candyfreak, Steve Almond set out in search of a much-loved candy from his childhood and found himself on a tour of the small candy companies that are persevering in a marketplace where big corporations dominate.From the Twin Bing to the Idaho Spud, the Valomilk to the Abba-Zaba, and discontinued bars such as the Caravelle, Marathon, and Choco-Lite, Almond uncovers a trove of singular candy bars made by unsung heroes working in old-fashioned factories to produce something they love. And in true candyfreak fashion, Almond lusciously describes the rich tastes that he has loved since childhood and continues to crave today. Steve Almond has written a comic but ultimately bittersweet story of how he grew up on candy-and how, for better and worse, the candy industry has grown up, too.Candyfreak is the delicious story of one man's lifelong obsession with candy and his quest to discover its origins in America.
In Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America author Steve Almond tells us three important facts in the prologue:
1. The author has eaten a piece of candy every single day of his entire life. (pg 1)
2. The author thinks about candy at least once an hour. (pg 3)
3. The author has between three and seven pounds of candy in his house at all times. (pg 6)
Almond also admits he has a stash of 14 boxes of Kit Kat Limited Edition Dark in a warehouse as well as other secret stashes of candy in case of an emergency.
Obviously Almond has established his candy street creds to be the self-titled candyfreak, although he admits:
"I am not blind to the hypocrisy of my conduct, nor to the slightly pathetic aspects of my freakdom. I am, after all, in my mid-thirties, suffering from severe balding anxiety and lowerback pain. I am not exactly the target demographic." (pg 8)
Besides being a candyfreak, Almond began to reminisce about favorite candy bars that were no longer made, the Caravelle, or candy he had when he lived in California that is not available in Massachusetts. This lead him to investigate some of the independent candy companies that are still in business. He met the owners, toured the factories, saw the steps they took to make their candy, and, naturally, received numerous free samples. His visits include trips to: Dorchester, Massachusetts where Necco wafers and candy hearts are made; Burlington, Vermont and the Five Star Bar; Sioux City, Iowa's Palmer Candy, maker of the Twin Cherry Bing; Kansas City's Sifers' Valomilk, Boise, Idaho's Idaho Candy Company, maker of the Idaho Spud; and California's Annabelle Candy Company, maker of the Big Hunk, U-no, and Abba-Zaba.
Almond also interviews some other interesting characters. Steve Traino, another candyfreak, buys and sells discontinued items online on the nostalgia market. Ray Broekel, who wrote two books on the history of candy bars has a collection of memorabilia and is the industry's historian. The history of the candy bar is also the history of the big three: Hershey, Mars, and Nestle. Their power has greatly endangered the local independent candy makers - that and the cost to have your product displayed on store shelves, slotting fees, which are ridiculously high.
I found Candyfreak wildly entertaining. Almond was hilarious at times. His genuine interest in candy and how it is made as he describes the candy-making process at various factories was palpable and palatable. If there was one drawback to Candyfreak it was that the tours of the factories, while focusing on different products, also seemed to be very similar experiences.
I very highly recommend Candyfreak
Every now and again, I’ll run into someone who claims not to like chocolate or other sweets, and while we live in a country where everyone has the right to eat what they want, I want to say for the record that I don’t trust these people, that I think something is wrong with them, and that they’re probably—this must be said—total duds in bed. Page 16
I suppose I was aware, in an abstract way, that there were men and women upon this earth who served in this capacity, as chocolate engineers. In the same way that I was aware that there are job titles out there such as bacon taster and sex surrogate, which is to say, job titles that made me want to weep over my own appointed lot in life. But I had never considered the prospect of visiting a chocolate engineer. I could think of nothing else for days. Page 103
“What you’re eating,” Dave said, “is a dried cherry, infused with raspberry and covered in a Select Origin 75 percent dark chocolate.” He held out the bag. “Have another.”
Here is what I wanted to say to Dave Bolton at that precise moment: Take me home and love me long time, GI.“ Page 104
In some sense, though, this decadence is a return to the pre-Columbian days of cocoa, when the bean was viewed as a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl and considered the domain of royalty. Five hundred years later, Theobroma cacao (literally: food of the gods) remains the single most complex natural flavor in the world. Flavorists have been trying to reproduce the taste for decades—and they’re nowhere near doing so. This is because chocolate is made up of more than 1,200 chemical components, many of which give off distinct notes, of honey or roses or even spoiled fish. There’s even one chemical in chocolate that’s cyanide-based. This is to say nothing of chocolate’s oft-touted psychoactive ingredients, which include caffeine, theobromine (increases alertness), phenylalanine and phenylethylamine (both known to induce happiness), and anandamide, which is similar to THC (yes, stoners, that THC). In truth, most of the brouhaha over these chemicals is trumped up. They only occur in trace amounts. The main reason chocolate is the ultimate physiological freak is because it’s half sugar and half fat. Page 107
I will leave it to the reader to determine just what sort of “diet” would encourage the consumption of these ingredients, though it bears mentioning that this product is but one in a tsunami of pseudo–candy bars, variously called PowerBars, Granola bars, Energy Bars, Clif Bars, Breakfast Bars, Snack Bars, Wellness Bars, and so on, all of which contain roughly the same sugar and fat as an actual candy bar—with perhaps a dash of protein sawdust thrown in—but only half the guilt, and stand as a monument both to shameless marketing and the American capacity for self-delusion, particularly in matters related to consumption (see also: frozen yogurt, fat-free chips, and low-calorie lard). Page 135
Most of our escape routes are also powerful reminders; and whatever our conscious motives might be, in our secret hearts we wish to be led back into our grief. Page 250