Candy corn wasn't always controversial.
getty candy corn
Credit: Juanmonino/Getty Images

When it comes to the candy-heavy Halloween season, perhaps no sugary creation represents the holiday better than a certain tri-colored triangular candy that everyone either loves or loves to hate. And while candy corn is definitely one of the most controversial candies around, there’s no denying that Halloween isn’t complete without these kernel-shaped sweets.

Candy corn is so deeply ingrained in Halloween culture that it almost seems like the sugary morsels are as old as witchcraft itself. However, there was a time before the triple-toned candies dominated October festivities and were instead representative of a significantly less spooky part of our culture. In fact, these treats were originally designed to be an agriculturally inspired sweet that appealed to Americans year-round in an era before door-to-door trick-or-treating was popularized.

Watch: How to Make Candy Corn Fudge

The first documented candy corn was created in the 1880s with the specific goal of appealing to farmers, who at the time made up a whopping half of the entire American workforce. While candy companies also attempted to market similar candies in other agrarian-inspired shapes, like turnips and chestnuts, the corn kernels resembling chicken feed were a runaway success with the American public, due partly to their eye-catching multicolored design.

While the question of who gets the credit for candy corn’s rise to fame is the subject of debate, the National Confectioners Association gives the credit for candy corn’s invention to a man named George Renninger of the Philadelphia-based Wunderle Candy Company. However, the candy’s popularity didn’t take off significantly until the Jelly Belly Candy Company began producing and selling the candies in 1898 under the name “chicken feed.” More than a century later, these small, simple candies are still a hit, with about 35 million pounds of candy corn sold per year—despite its reputation as one of the least popular Halloween candies to land in anyone’s basket.

The simple recipe has always consisted of a mix of sugar, corn syrup, vanilla, fondant, and marshmallow crème that’s artfully poured color-by-color into kernel molds, and then coated in confectioners sugar for a glossy finish. While today the candy is made with the help of heavy machinery, at the beginning of its history the complex three-toned design had to be carefully poured by hand one layer at a time, requiring a large labor force to work for months straight to create enough candy to fill the demand. Due to their intensive creation process, the candies could only be produced for a few months in the fall, which might account for the corn-shaped candies eventually becoming an icon of Halloween.

Nowadays, love it or hate it, candy corn has become a crucial part of the Halloween season, ranking right up there with costumes and carved pumpkins. Luckily, for those who aren’t a fan of eating the sugary treats straight from the bag there are tons of recipes that call for the playful addition of the candies, like Candy Corn Cobs, Candy Corn Fudge, and Candy Corn Popcorn Balls.

Or, if you’re strictly anti-kernel, you can still get the look of the candy minus the saccharine taste with the help of candy corn-shaped dishes like Mummified Candy Corn Cake, Candy Corn Cookies, and even Candy Corn Jell-O Shots.

Once the festivities are over and you’re left with a few inevitable extra bags of the candies, you can use this guide for melting the candies down to a festive simple syrup, perfect for drizzling over cakes or flapjacks, or opt to make your own ultimate Halloween cocktail with your leftovers. After all, the party doesn’t stop until the trick-or-treat stash has dwindled and the last of the candy corn is gobbled up.