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.