The History Behind Candy Corn's Bizarre Original Name

Love it or hate it, candy corn is synonymous with Halloween celebrations and fall festivities (via History). As Mental Floss explains, this sweet treat is often voted the worst candy in the nation, and Buzzfeed states that social media has opened up a discussion of whether candy corn is tasty or trash. While many praised the candy, one Twitter user in 2017 wrote, "This is my yearly reminder that candy corn is evil, and no good can come from its poison." Despite this, USA Today reports that nine billion kernels or more than 35 billion pounds of candy corn are made each year.

In a 2021 poll done by the National Confectioners Association (NCA), candy corn came in third place as a favorite Halloween candy. Chocolate came in first, while gummies were second. Lauren O'Toole, from the NCA, told Allrecipes that she thinks that candy corn continues to thrive thanks to nostalgia. She stated, "I think so much of it revolves around your memory of trying it for the first time." According to National Geographic, the origins of candy corn are hazy. However, it's believed to have been created sometime in the 1880s by George Renninger, a candymaker who worked for the Wunderle Candy Company in Philadelphia (per History).

Candy corn was first known as chicken feed

According to Mental Floss, Renninger first used buttercream to make his kernel-shaped candy invention. However, other shapes, including chestnuts and turnips, came first. Although this might seem odd now, Allrecipes states that it was common during this time period for candy to be agriculturally- focused. Renninger then decided to go with corn kernels, which he fed to his chickens. His grandson Ken Renninger noted (per Mental Floss), "When the chickens finally started coming after the corn, he knew he had (the perfect shape). If he had the chickens fooled ... then he had the right thing." Nevertheless, candy corn did not become popular until the 1890s.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that this is thanks to the Goelitz Company. They began to mass-produce candy corn under the name "chicken feed." O'Toole, from the NCA (via Allrecipes), explained, "When it was created over 100 years ago, we were a very agrarian-focused country." She added, "That's really where it pulls from originally. It first appeared with the tri-colored design and was really considered to be quite revolutionary at the time." 

Per History, corn was also considered to be food for animals, not people. Thus, the name "chicken feed" stuck. In addition, the original packaging for candy corn featured a rooster.

It was rebranded as a Halloween candy

Mental Floss reports that in the early days of its inception, making candy corn was not an easy feat. Allrecipes writes that candy corn is made of sugar, gelatin, and corn syrup. Factory workers created the candy by hand and had to carefully craft each colored layer. That said, USA Today states that the recipe has remained the same throughout the years. The only change? Machinery is now involved in the process. History explains that candy corn was never originally intended to be a fall or Halloween-themed candy. However, its difficult production and the emergence of trick-or-treating in the 1950s cemented its status as a seasonal treat.

According to Mental Floss, trick-or-treating led candy companies into marketing candy corn as a fall-only candy. They didn't have to put much effort into this as its colors and size made it perfect for Halloween. Up until then, History notes that candy corn could be purchased during any season. It's likely that this rebrand made candy companies ditch the "chicken feed" name. Per Better Homes & Gardens, the Goelitz Company later became known as The Jelly Belly Candy Company, and they still make candy corn today. Furthermore, candy corn now comes in different shades for Easter, Valentine's Day, and more. Always a Treat adds that candy corn even has its own national day, October 30.