I love Necco wafers. If I see them at a gas station, food mart, or liquor store, I buy them no questions asked. This isn’t some fake, contrarian opinion piece.
I have spent decades both in and out of the food industry trying various dishes and raucous flavors, and I’m here to tell you that I enjoy every part of a Necco wafer. Slowly and delicately unfurling the wrapper to reveal a candy coin is a joyful undertaking. It allows you to savor each brittle, sugary little disc. There’s an elegant practicality to Necco wafers, a pleasant unboxing that allows you to enjoy each individual candy. And the flavor? Brother, the flavor of a Necco wafer is, despite what the rest of the planet says, delightful. It’s straightforward and it satisfies my craving for sugary simplicity. But the real selling point of a Necco wafer is its unparalleled texture. It is crumbly, yet once you bite into it, it almost completely dissolves in your mouth. A Necco wafer is both hard and soft candy. It’s complex (like you and me) and steady. It’s well adjusted. And the powdery, sweet, crispy crunch that is a Necco wafer continues to endure despite your overwhelming negativity.
And look, I completely understand why people don’t like them. I mean, if we roast the ones we love, then sure, I’ll take some time to burn one of my favorite candies:
Neccos were first created way back in 1847 when the President of The United States was James Knox Polk, which I am just now learning is the name of a former President. They’re a candy that could reasonably be on the shelves of a general store in a fake town populated with historical reenactors. I am aware that Necco wafers look like a dusty roll of quarters. It’s like if JPMorgan Chase Bank decided to manufacture candy. Necco wafers have color, but the colors don’t look vibrant so much as they look like the ghost of a rainbow. The blues and yellows appear faded like a photograph left out in the sun. Nothing, and I mean nothing about a Necco wafer pops. Predictably, the list of ingredients features virtually no flavor (unless you consider high fructose corn syrup and “coloring” to be flavor). And, of course, Necco wafers are iconically chalky, like they were pulled out of a package of sidewalk Crayolas. Plus, the word wafer? Doesn’t exactly make your mouth water. Nobody accepts the Body of Christ and says, “Mmmm! It’s like a flavor party in my mouth!” Neccos are tragically basic. But, that’s what I like about them.
When it comes to dessert, I’ll be the first to admit that I have the palate of an old man shouting at a scarecrow to get off his property. I like butterscotch candy. I enjoy anise flavoring. If all desserts were lemon flavored I’d be completely content. Vanilla ice cream? It’s great. Milk rules and I love watching baseball. Sometimes I just want simple things. I’m not dropping acid and eating Sichuan food every day. Most of my week is already spent eating wild things with tons of bitey flavors. I like anchovies. Fish sauce. Garlic. I enjoy boat noodles topped with beef organs. I went to Portugal once and ate something called chicken blood stew, and I’ve dined on pigeon brains at a two-Michelin starred restaurant. I don’t say “no” to food. I eat adventurously and I eat with a religious zeal, which is why at the end of the day I want something simple and sweet. I often want a Necco wafer to contrast the risks I take in the savory food world. A Necco wafer puts my life in perfect balance.
It should also be said that I am a victim of nostalgia. My aunt would often bring us Necco wafers as kids, and something about that experience just stuck. The chalky candy is synonymous with not just my childhood, but my family. When I eat a Necco wafer, I think about the corner store back home in Pennsylvania and how my mom used to work there. I think about my dad hitting baseballs to me for hours on end at the Baptist church field (we were Catholic and it was trespassing). I remember how lucky I was to grow up with a strong family who cared endlessly about me. Somehow, Necco wafers remind me of that. This horribly boring, tortured candy not only transports me to my childhood, it makes me grateful for it.
We often say the phrase “guilty pleasure” when there’s nothing really guilty about it. Someone will say, “molten chocolate lava cake is my guilty pleasure,” when it’s not only incredibly decadent and tasty, it’s widely accepted. Conversely, every single person I’ve told that I like Necco wafers has asked me if I’m mental. Google “Why Are Necco Wafers So Good?” if you want your phone to explode. Moreover, liking Necco wafers immediately discredits the rest of your tastes. Friends will stare at you inquisitively, silently asking, “What else is he wrong about?”
It’s not that big of an issue, of course, because I don’t see Necco wafers that much anymore. They’re no longer at the liquor store. I can’t pair them with a cheap bottle of red like I used to. They were discontinued for a few years, but even though they came back, it’s still not the same. Currently, I can only find them at Walgreens, which is a shame. The only time I’m inside a Walgreens is if some horrible tragedy has befallen my life. I would argue that a Necco Wafer is infinitely better than Good N’ Plentys (which are neither good nor plenty). At least a Necco wafer dares to be different.
More than anything, Necco wafers taught me patience and understanding. Truly enjoying this awful, dusty chalk conditioned me to hear out other people’s food choices. If I can like something as universally loathed as a Necco wafer, who am I to judge someone else’s taste in food? I have to, with a clenched fist, accept that people love well-done steak. Sure, put marshmallows on sweet potatoes. Eat plain almonds. Bathe in bottles of Hidden Valley Italian dressing. I can disagree, but if I judged you I’d be a hypocrite.
We’ve all got food skeletons in our closets. Mine are just a roll of chalky, colorless quarters created in 1847.