Aside from their red stripes, candy canes have changed remarkably little since the 17th century, when, as various sources have it, a German choirmaster took straight white sticks of candy and bent them into hooks to hand out to children attending church ceremonies.
The stripes came later, around the beginning of the 20th century, and now, candy canes are as synonymous with Christmas as outlet mall congestion and flight delays. On the face of it, there wouldn’t seem to be much variation in their quality and flavor, given that candy canes are, basically, sugar and artificial flavors. But that’s before you bring the 21st century’s new breed of artisanal confectioners into the equation, with their painstakingly crafted creations purporting to taste like simpler, more bearded times. So we decided to see how a humble CVS candy cane would stack up against a more pedigreed competitor from Papabubble, the Barcelona-based candy maker with a Broome Street outpost.
First up was the CVS candy cane, which was sold in a 4.5-ounce pack of 10 for 99 cents. It was a frail little thing — placed next to Papbubble’s steroidal specimen, it looked like Karen Carpenter. Its flavor was similarly weak, tasting of generic, non-distinct mint. One taster noted that with its gummy, sticky, “fucked up” texture, “two bites in, it’s a Now and Later.”
Surprisingly, the CVS candy cane does include “natural peppermint flavor” on its list of ingredients, along with sugar, corn syrup, water, titanium dioxide, and red 40. Natural peppermint flavor is nowhere to be found on the Papabubble ingredients roster: instead, there’s sugar, glucose, water, citric acid, red 40, yellow 5, blue 1, titanium dioxide, and the dubious sounding “flavors.”
Also a bit dubious was the Papbubble price tag: $8 for one five-ounce candy cane. Granted, it’s handmade in a well-appointed little boutique instead of spit out by a machine in some nameless factory, but eight bucks still seems a bit steep for what is, basically, a hardened mass of sugar and artificial flavors.
Those artificial flavors did taste like peppermint, though for all of the sugar and glucose involved, the flavor was almost not sweet enough. The cane had a dryer taste than its CVS counterpart; it didn’t linger, but instead shot straight into the nasal cavity, leaving only a mentholated sensation in its wake. One taster noted that the flavor “verges on the medicinal, in a Jagermeister sort of way.” The best part was the candy cane’s appearance — when broken into pieces, it revealed a beautifully striated interior and amber core.
Where CVS’s candy cane would be ideal for sucking on in an absentminded, drunken sort of way, Papabubble’s would be perfect for stirring hot chocolate or incorporating into peppermint ice cream — unless you’ve got a bottomless appetite for candy canes, there’s no way you’d want to eat the whole thing straight-up.
So flavor-wise, Papabubble is the winner. But its Scrooge pricing means that it’s unaffordable for Tiny Tim, and thus leaves a bitter aftertaste that’s altogether absent from its CVS competitor.