Fringe Candy: The Fabulous Fakery of Banana Laffy Taffy

Emphasis on "artificially"...
Emphasis on “artificially”…

There are few things like not having money to make a person into a “value shopper.” For example, kids with a limited allowance who depend on every precious nickle to feed their candy addiction. When I was a kid, a whole candy bar was maybe 50 cents, but damned if there aren’t times when a pre-teen candy fiend jonesing for a fix doesn’t have two quarters to rub together.

Thank Wonka for cheap candies, individually wrapped, and sold at the glass counter of the Circle-K out of a plastic tub for a fraction of the price. Most of these aren’t chocolate–the only exceptions that comes to mind are Andes Mints or the somewhat sketchy Ice Cubes (ok, some people like them, but I was never a fan). The figurative monkey on my back was the Banana Laffy Taffy.

Originally created and sold by Beich’s as caramels, they were really just fruit flavored taffy, somewhat bigger than a Starburst, and chewier. They were acquired by Wonka at some point in the seventies, and then Wonka was in turn acquired by Nestle in 1988. There were other flavors: sour apple, grape, fruit punch, and cherry come to mind. There are a total of seven flavors now, adding  watermelon and blue raspberry to the mix as well. But the banana…wow…I don’t know why, exactly, but those were something special.

Part of it might have been mouth-feel. There was something silky about it. And no, it didn’t really taste like banana. Not really. There is something more banana than banana in the experience. After eating a Laffy Taffy, the real deal feels a little bit like a letdown. The fake banana flavor is a point of contention among the candy crowd. A good chemist friend of mine can rattle off the chemical name for that flavor. She knows exactly what’s in those delightful chewy treasures, and she loves them as much as me.

Laffy Taffy has changed over the years, but mostly in how it’s been packaged and proportioned out. The little individual squares have given way to longer pieces, the wax paper wrapping given way to the plasticy wrap that most candy bars favor these days. I don’t think they still have the crappy jokes and puns on the wrapper, but that used to be part of the appeal. It helped justify the name, at least.

Flavor-wise, it’s still pretty much the same as I remember it: sweet, silky, smooth, and unlike pretty much any other taffy I’ve ever had. Everyone has green apple, citrus, cherry, or grape flavors. Watermelon and blue raspberry are also pretty common. And has anyone ever seen a blue raspberry in nature? I call bullshit on that! It takes huevos to try the fake banana. Not a lot of places try it.

They’re no longer three cents or a nickle or however much I used to pay for them. But they’re still a sweet little jolt of nostalgia. And for the uninitiated, it’s a low cost entry point into the mysteries of flavor fakery.

Because delicious as it may be, there’s no denying that Banana Laffy Taffy is as artificial as King Kong.

6 thoughts on “Fringe Candy: The Fabulous Fakery of Banana Laffy Taffy

  1. I definitely remember that fake banana flavour. For me, it was always too far from the real thing for me to really enjoy. Thinking back, I think if I were not expecting that it was going to be banana, I may have liked it.

  2. Of course they still have the jokes! That’s what makes them “Laffy”–not “laughter-inducing,” mind you, because that would imply a claim they can’t make, i.e., that you will laugh. But you might do something like laughter when you see the kind of joke or pun they faithfully print on the wrapper, usually under the flap of the plastic-film wrapper. Then, if you watch kids of any age read the riddles to each other and try to make sense of them–THEN you might laugh.

    1. That’s good to know! I hadn’t inspected it closely enough last time I got them. Plus, I might have just been tearing through the plastic like a starved wildebeest craving that sweet, sweet release of banana flavored sugar.

  3. I, like you, had a Jones for Banana Laffy Taffy. To make it worse, I worked for a summer in the Beich’s candy factory in Bloomington, Illinois. I preferred to be on the Caramel Bar line (also very addictive) but some days I was in the taffy room. Nice thing was, you could eat them straight off the line. Bad thing was I once ate a large jar of them in a week. Your insides are not fond of that much taffy! I still enjoy this every once in awhile, and bought some today in my local candy store.

  4. I loved Banana Beich’s as a kid. You could get the at the concession stand at our town swimming pool. I still like to get a Laffy Taffy every now and then. Delicious. (I didn’t know there were jokes in the Laffy Taffy, but that does make sense.)

  5. I go back more than a generation, but both my wife and I remember the banana taffies and we paid 1 cent each. It was a feast when we had a nickle, sometimes earned by picking up and returning glass green Coke bottles to store for the few cents each.

    Since that time, war called and childhood friends did not return, and somehow by God’s grace, I did though with some large scars, marriage, and children and grandchildren, education, businesses and now semi-retirement, but oh the banana bites.

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