Back in the day, when trick-or-treaters weren’t terrified of hidden razor blades and arsenic in their goodies, kindly old ladies would make gooey, sticky popcorn balls to hand out on Halloween night. Now, unwrapped items are pretty frowned upon, but popcorn balls are still a fall favorite at quaint harvest gatherings. Meanwhile, candy corn, despite it’s bizarrely waxy texture and potential choking hazard among youngsters, continues to be one of the most recognizable and popular sweets of the season, selling around 20 million pounds of the stuff per year. But which of these old-timey treats is more treacherous to eat?
First up: popcorn balls. Which, according to Paula Deen, are a “vegetable.” Sure! Let’s go with that. This “veggie” is made by coating popcorn in a warm corn syrup-based mixture, and allowing them to cool. Some people also mix in candies, nuts, or other favorite treats, but we’re sticking with popcorn. And while popcorn itself is generally fairly low in calories (if you air-pop it, or go with the non-buttery kind), it’s the high quantities of sugar and butter that threaten to sink this snack. The average popcorn ball, which is about the side of a fist, will run you about 200 calories, and as many as 10 grams of fat.
Candy corn is in no way related to a vegetable, aside from the fact that it’s maybe supposed to look like corn, even though it doesn’t. Well, maybe it’s kind of related, in that, like its challenger, it’s made from from corn syrup. Candy corn also usually contains gelatin and honey (sorry, vegans), as well as plenty of sugar and food coloring. A serving of candy corn is 26 pieces, which, for 140 calories, is a hefty handful–but much less than many people eat when those little kernels are in a candy dish in front of them. And while candy corn is technically fat-free, it does pack an impressive 31 grams of sugar.
If you go by the numbers, candy corn seems more innocent. However, a handful of candy corn is going to satisfy your sweet tooth much less than a dense, delicious popcorn ball. Plus, popcorn balls (assuming they don’t have razors or poison in them) are made with fewer processed ingredients, which might make them appealing to those who try to skip a lot of preservatives and food dyes. If you’re going to indulge, find a friend to split a popcorn ball with, or stick to a single serving of candy corn. Or, skip the corn syrup altogether, and make air-popped popcorn and sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar. See? You can have your corn and eat it, too.