Dig into Grandma’s Jar for the 11 Best Hard Candies

Yeah, yeah—hard candy is “for old people.” It belongs in that weird jar at your Grandma’s house or in the dusty pocket of your elderly neighbor’s cardigan. Quite frankly, I’m tired of the stereotyping! Hard candy is more than just a sweet antique. When done right, it can be a delectable treat worthy of savoring at any age. At its best, hard candy is chock full of flavor and delicious fat; there’s absolutely no good reason for it to be dismissed or maligned. In fact, I predict that hard candy will see a resurgence in the near future. Hell, a few of the items on this list were previously discontinued, then actually made a comeback last year. Telling, I think.

My rules for hard candy: It should be sweet, and flavorful, with a nice resistant texture. If it has endurance, that’s a bonus. The core ethos of hard candy is that it can be savored for a long time.That said, we also included some “crunchy” candies that you can chew rather easily. Hard candy is best when it’s indulgent, so give us an excess of sugar, creaminess, or fruitiness. Bring us deep, robust flavor in a candy that lasts.  To invoke a term used by editor-in-chief Justine Sterling, a good “activity snack” goes a long way. Here’s what kept us coming back.

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. Best of the Best

Werther’s Original Caramel Hard Candies

This is the grandfather of all grandfather snacks, and it’s time to show some respect to the name Werther’s Original. This is a smooth, buttery, decadent hard candy you can savor for a long time. It’s a damn treat, and it puts any argument against hard candy to bed. The real miracle of Werther’s? It has a strong caramel and toffee flavor that’s rich in fat (the ingredients list milk and cream), whereas most hard candy doesn’t taste fattening at all. You really feel like you’re indulging in dessert. Fat is king here at Sporked, and Werther’s brings it. Exemplary, iconic, and timeless—Werther’s Original is an OG.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Walmart

Rating:

10/10

Sporks

Best Fruit

Creme Savers Strawberries & Creme

Similar to Werther’s, Strawberry Creme Savers have a pronounced fattiness (more fat than Werther’s!) and a ton of sugar. The fat works wonderfully in tandem with the sugar and strawberry flavor to create a delectable, well-balanced candy that feels like a high-quality strawberry dessert. It’s like strawberry cheesecake in hard candy form. Compared to the iconic looking strawberry bon bon we tried, the strawberry flavor of the Creme Saver was a clear winner. It’s much more pronounced and fruity. This is the move if you like Werther’s, but want fruit. A perfect score for hard candy.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Walmart

Rating:

10/10

Sporks

Best Lemon

Perle Di Sole Lemon Drops

The best lemon candy by a mile, Perle Di Sole offers a wonderfully fragrant and tart lemon flavor that shines brightly. It’s absolutely delightful in the way that citrus candy should be, with a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. Plus, these hard candies contain a core of fizzy lemon powder that delightfully dissolves on the tongue. Perle Di Sole also has an orange drop, but the lemon flavor is best. It’s what Lemonheads should be. This is my personal go-to.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Amazon

Rating:

9.5/10

Sporks

Best Sour

Jolly Ranchers

Jolly Ranchers bring such a balanced fruity and sour flavor that they put to shame any other sour hard candy. The blue raspberry is as coveted as a pink Starburst, and the cherry, watermelon, and green apple all offer boldly tart flavors. Jolly Ranchers are also the hardest of the hard candies—they’re like concentrated and pressurized diamonds of fruity sugar. The endurance factor is also very strong; you can suck on a Jolly Rancher longer than any other candy on this list. It’s an all-time classic hard candy.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Target

Rating:

9/10

Sporks

Best Old School

Washburn Hard Candy

This jar of hard candy has an outdated, old-timey, Christmassy aesthetic that I quite enjoy. It really leans into the traditional qualities we associate with hard candy. The art is old, the packaging is old, and the flavor? Kind of old, but it works. Washburn candies stoke nostalgia with simple, old-school tastes and textures. It comes in an assortment of classic, understated flavors: orange, lemon, strawberry, raspberry, green apple, spearmint, peppermint, and grape. I saved grape for last because it was the best one by far. There’s not enough grape hard candy, in my humble opinion. This is good for a party, if that party is you and your 70-year-old friends reuniting after a decades long hiatus. 

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Amazon

Rating:

8.5/10

Sporks

Best Spicy

Atomic Fireballs

Fireballs are a hard candy from childhood that totally holds up in adulthood. They aren’t spicy so much as spiced. They offer a pure injection of cinnamon to the dome that’s so intense it makes you forget how much sugar is in these things (16 grams added sugar in three candies!). But the balance of spice to sweet is actually quite nice. Fireballs succeed because they have a bold flavor that’s properly tamed. The end result is quite lovely, and wholly unique in the hard candy canon.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Amazon

Rating:

8/10

Sporks

Best Nostalgia

Lemonheads

Lemonheads are a classic, but pale in comparison to the greatness of Perle Di Sole. I quite dislike how Lemonheads stain your fingers yellow. How did I never notice this as a child? The only reasonable answer is that as a child you’re oblivious to just about everything around you. The texture of a Lemonhead is nice and crunchy, and the flavor is good enough—somewhat sour and tart. However, Lemonheads reek of artificial flavoring and agents. The nostalgia factor is high, but there are better lemon drops out there now.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Amazon

Rating:

7.5/10

Sporks

Best Sugar Rush

Nerds Rainbow

This is crunchy hard candy, but hard candy nonetheless. Nerds provide a blast of sugar crystals, like eating sweet confetti. The flavor is not that pronounced, but that might be because usually you typically ingest a palm-full at a time. What Nerds candy does best, however, is texture and sugar. They’re crunchy, but small enough that it doesn’t feel like chewing through rocks. Points added for texture, but docked for flavor.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Amazon

Rating:

7/10

Sporks

Best Orange Flavor

Orange Creme Savers

Creme Savers were rolled out in the late ‘90s, then discontinued in 2011. That turned out to be a mistake, because they made a comeback just last year due to high demand. Compared to the Strawberries & Creme version,  Cream Savers Orange & Cream are just as delightfully creamy, but noticeably less fruity. Still, the flavor is reminiscent of an orange creamsicle (one of the best frozen desserts to ever do it). Personally, I prefer this one to some of the other candies ahead of it on the list, but the weakness of the orange flavor kept it from ranking any higher.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Amazon

Rating:

7/10

Sporks

Best Old School

Dad’s Root Beer Barrels 

Root Beer Barrels have all the delightful snap and bite of a carbonated root beer. To me, this candy feels even more traditional than a butterscotch candy. Root beer has an old-timey, sassafras taste that harks back to a different time. There’s a comedy club in San Diego that has a big jar of these things near the front entrance, and it has always bewildered me because it’s such an odd choice. But, personally, I think these are a delightful blast from the past. Root beer continues to endure, in all forms.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Amazon

Rating:

7/10

Sporks

Best Movie Theater

Everlasting Gobstoppers

Staff writer Jordan Myrick shuttered when I bit into these things with my teeth, but ,hey, I have strong teeth! I quite honestly don’t see the point in sucking on a Gobstopper, as the flavor isn’t anything you really want to savor. Once you bite through the hard shell with your molars, there’s a sugary, Runts-like quality to these which dissolves in your mouth (speaking of which, we couldn’t find Runts—are they okay?). I like Gobstoppers for their candy shell, hard texture, and sugary crystals, but other than that, they don’t bring a whole lot of flavor.

Credit: Sarah Demonteverde / Instacart

Rating:

6.5/10

Sporks

Other products we tried: Smarties, Life Savers, Acor Strawberry Bon Bons, Warheads.

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About the Author

Danny Palumbo

Danny is a comedian, cook, and food writer living in Los Angeles. He loves gas station eggs, canned sardines, and Easter candy. He also passionately believes that all the best chips come from Pennsylvania (Herr's!). If you can't understand Danny when he talks, it's because he's from Pittsburgh.

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  • You’ve two for “Best Old School.” There was a tie? Also, how did Warheads possibly not win for “Best Sour?”

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