Photos: The Best, Weirdest & Grossest Candy At The 2017 Sweets & Snacks Expo

By Rachel Cromidas in Food on Jul 12, 2017 8:00PM


Every spring, Chicago hosts a massive trade show devoted to candy and savory snack products known as the Sweet and Snacks Expo. And like last year, we were there to sample from the bounty of gummies, jerky, chips and more.

We rounded up about 30 of the most intriguing, odd, and new products that we wanted to try, and reviewed them for our readers, because service journalism. This year Chicagoist Food Editor Anthony Todd couldn't make it to the expo, so editors Rachel Cromidas and Stephen Gossett served as taste testers, along with our resident gummy expert David Wolff.

Above, you'll find a gallery of the snacks with our notes attached, and you can also read more of our notes below. As in years past, some trends quickly emerged: For example, this year Sriracha spice was out, and Mexican spice flavors were in. We also noted a continued push for more varied and appetizing gluten-free options (with mixed results) and the continued popularity of so-called "healthy" options.

Our two favorites this year were the Best Bites cured pork snacks and the Creative Snacks Co. Almond Clusters. Our least favorite: Edible Shots. You read that right—and whatever you're picturing is not horrible enough, so check them out in the gallery above. And before we forget, the award for Most Perplexing Candy goes to the Chocolate Tree Stumps. Why, you ask? Why indeed.

Here's the full list of snacks we sampled:

On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina - Nacho cheese chips
Stephen: It looks like a classic Dorito. I feel like it's milder than a Dorito, which I'm not sure is a good thing. I could eat these... when I'm feeling bad about myself.
David: it's more powdery than Doritos.
Rachel: It's thicker than a Dorito. But it will still turn your fingers neon orange.

Mini Baked Frosted Rice Snacks
David: It's a crunchy cloud. It melts into nothing. A little sweet.
Rachel: It says "original. Sweet with a hint of sea salt," but there is no sea salt.

Black Thunder Chocolate
It's a chocolate covered cookie bar made in Japan.
Rachel: The coating instantly melted off in my hands. I hate anything that does that.
Stephen: I'm pleasantly surprised, since the design is so atrocious, the design almost looks like a meat snack. It's messy and I feel like it's going to be stuck in my teeth.
David: I'm not used to that texture. It's like pieces of cookie.

Kadunks Green Apple

Chewy candy with sour candy dip
David: I don't like snacks that have to have a process behind eating them. It looks like the slime from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It's a very unflavored gummy.
Stephen: This is scary. like the sewer goo from Ghostbusters. I really don't want to dip this in the goo. It tastes like Gushers, but they overly complicated Gushers by having that gelatinous goo that doesn't break off. I can't imagine eating a whole package of those
David: That's some goopy sour stuff right there. I could also see parents not wanting to buy that because that stuff would get on their [kids'] hands, on the furniture, etc.

Off The Eaten Path - Hummus crisps, olive oil and herb flavored, made with real chickpeas.
-Stephen: That is potent. It feels like I accidentally spilled the spice cabinet on it.
-David: It really hits you with that herb flavor. Like I took a bite off a brick of oregano and gargled it.
Rachel: This is why people who require gluten-free foods complain; it's almost there, but it's not good.

Mountain Thins, a dark chocolate wildberry bar.
Rachel: I'd be happy to eat this... if I had no choice.
David: It's like an after dinner chocolate.
Stephen: It's a very slight berry taste, which is good. If that was at a movie theater, I could see myself reaching for that.

TCHO Orange Toffee Dark Chocolate
Rachel: The orange flavor is perfect, the toffee is crunchy, and it's dark chocolate, which is less common, I would usually expect to see this with milk chocolate and toffee. I like it.
Stephen: The orange is an off flavor. If somebody just handed this to me, I'd feel like I was eating dark chocolate with an off flavor. If we're going dark chocolate, I'd prefer another flavor like the wildberry that we had before.

Sweet Tarts "whipped and tangy"
David: I assumed it's a gummy at first, but then it has a marshmallow-y spring to it, and then it kind of dissolves in your mouth. I'm not a huge fan of the sweet tarts flavoring, but I like it.
Stephen: I like this, it's almost like Peeps meets Sour Patch Kids, in a good way.

"Hi, I'm Skinny Sticks" with real sweet potato. Hundred-calorie snack bag.
Stephen: the taste is there right up front, and then it completely disappears
Rachel: the taste of a sweet potato french fry hits you, and it's great, and then it immediately disappears. And then there's nothing once it disappears.

Beer Salt - Lemon Lime
You can put the salt on the rim of a glass a drink, or they also suggest you put the salt directly in the beer. We tried it with Tecate Original.
David: It's flavor salt. I get a bit of the lemon lime flavor. There's a reason that people put a lime in their beer. It works, and it's simpler than this. Just put a lime in your beer and call it a day.
Stephen: All I taste is salty beer. I cannot see this taking off in any way. And I avoid anything that has a "flow agent" as one of the ingredients.


Chocolate Tree Stumps

David: Because why wouldn't you grab "the chocolate tree stump" snack from Japan.
Stephen: I like the character, he looks like a little Nintendo 64 hero.
David: If I saw it in stores, I would definitely buy it based on the packaging. It's like a biscuit.
Rachel: I like it because it's not too sweet. I like how chewy it is. The chocolate has a metallic aftertaste, however.
Stephen: The cookie is good, but that waxy chocolate coating—I cant get over.
David: I like that they look like chocolate tree stumps. The package is not lying about what they are doing.
Rachel: It just seems like a lot of effort to go through to have this thing the size of your thumb shaped like a tree stump.
Stephen: I think they may have had the results before the concept.

Best Bites - country prime meats salt and pepper, pork
The ingredients are really basic: pork, water, sea-salt, really going after as few ingredients as possible.
David: It does not have a greasy feeling at all
Rachel: It's delicious and bite-sized. Keeps it simple.
Stephen: I love it. A decent snack. Sometimes meet snacks are super spicy. This just takes like a good piece of pork. That's my favorite so far.

Jelly Belly - Krispy Kreme Donut
Rachel: Krispy Kreme Donut is the flavor. So they're like 15 years late on the trend.
David: late on the trend, but it does taste like a Krispy Kreme donut. But what's so appealing about a donut is the texture, and you're not going to get that out of a jellybean.
Stephen: Does it? I taste no donuts. I was really excited for donuts, and I don't taste them.

Chocoretas by Ricolino
David: These are reminiscent of thin mints, but also taste like an after dinner mint.
Stephen: It's my problem with most mint candy: it just tastes like chemicals.

Oven Baked Pizza Chips by Napoli's

"Made from real pizza dough, tomato basil"
Stephen: Lotta oven-baked products here. It's not as oppressively oregano-stuffed as the other one, but there's nothing else going on.
Rachel: Ah, they're shaped like pizzas. Very good. Too herby, though. Fails to live up to its name as pizza.
David: The pizza theme made more sense in the '90s.

Mango Revolcado by Jovy
Mexican spices and heat were the big flavor trend this year, and that's reflected in this classic mango-flavored spicy lollipop.
David: It has a very, very odd shape. It looks like a Kidney. It says "chili covered," and it tastes like chili. I think most Americans would find it too spicy.
Stephen: It looks like something out of a Cronenberg movie.

Warheads Hot Heads Mini Worms
They are known for their sour flavor and have an extreme heat. So it's a gummy candy, that's sour and then you get the heat from it later.
Stephen: Seeing this package, it's like my Proustian madeleine, it thrusts me into my childhood. This candy makes no sense. I feel like I just completed a dare. And I love Warheads, I love that extremity. But I'd eat one of these to say I did it, and never have to do it again. It feels like Malort.
David: It is what it advertises itself as.

Larvets "Original Worm Snax"
These worm snacks are flavored with Mexican spice, in keeping with the Mexican spice trend.
Rachel: I'm going to stop dwelling on what they look like. In terms of flavor, it's the mildest spice flavor. They're super airy, not substantial at all.
David: It's a pleasant taste. It's fun, like dare food.
Stephen: I can definitely tell that I'm eating a worm, but I was fine with that. And they spelled "snax" with an x, that's pretty cool.

Clever Cookie - baked, not fried
Rachel: A churro is supposed to be really light and cripsy. It has a delicious flavor. This is not that.
Stephen: Aside from the flavor, I feel like I could eat a bag of those.

Yum Earth, organic, gluten free pomegranate licorice.
David: It's super chewy, way harder than a gummy. I like the flavor though, it has a pleasant taste.
Stephen: It's almost inedible it's so chewy, and it's not overwhelmingly licorice-y. It would take an hour to chew though.

Invite - Donut Cake
Stephen: It looks very old fashioned. It looks like something my grandfather might pass along to me. It also looks stale, hopefully it doesn't taste stale. It smells buttery.
David: It does not look so appealing.
Rachel: It has a weird fruitcake flavor that just overpowers it. I do like the spongey texture. The fruit flavor is too much though, the whole thing shouldn't taste like fruit.

Spitz Sunflower Seeds - spicy sweet chili
Rachel: It is a spicy sweet chili sunflower seed. It's exactly what the package says it is.
David: This just goes in my meh category.
Stephen: My main criticisms is that it's not a very good sunflower seed. There's no roast to it at all.

Fini Tornadoes
Stephen: This is truly awful. I hope somebody lost their job for this... As I take another bite, it hurts my teeth.
David: Nope. Nope. It's like concentrated pixie stick sugar on the inside, bad chewy candy on the outside.

Double Bubble Birthday Cake Bubble Gum
Stephen: It's vaguely cakey. If I was 7, and I wanted an obnoxious piece of gum. The flavor, it's still there, but it's fading quick... You can't blow a bubble with it. It says bubble on the package... Actually you can, with skill. It takes some time.
David: I'd get birthday cake ice cream instead, that makes more sense.

Kenny's Krumbs - Crumb Cake
"The best part of the crumb cake, now in a cookie."
Rachel: I want it to be kind of like a Mexican wedding cookie. But it's way too Cinnamon-y. Is it as good as just picking the crumbs off of crumb cake? No.
Stephen: If anything, I feel like it's designed to be as inoffensive as possible, and therefore it's not much of anything.

Warheads Smash Ups - "extreme sour cherry lime"
David: When I was in fourth grade, these were currency. These were precious. So I'm curious if it's still as sour as it used to be.... Yes, still sour.
Stephen: It's pretty extreme. The cherry flavor is pretty strong. But it's all up front, and then there's no point in eating the Warhead anymore.

Edible Shots
"As seen on Shark Tank, Mexico"
Rachel: The instructions say make sure you add lemon and salt. Serve them chilled. is this supposed to be for children??
Stephen: I hate squirty foods. No squirty foods. So is the shot glass part of it edible? Oh no. who are they selling this to, Spring Breakers? I can't even imagine some dude named Chad in Cancun doing this. I do think there's an unspoken agreement that it doesn't matter what the f*** this tastes like, because it's purely for novelty. They could try to make it a little better. It doesn't feel like there was much thought whatsoever in making it palatable.
David: It holds liquid... Everything you want in candy. Oh my god, it's like thick fruit leather. Try to bite into the base. Somewhere they would charge you three dollars more for a shot, so you could do it out of this.

Awake Energy Granola Cinnamon
, with caffeine plus B vitamins
Stephen: it doesn't really taste like dark chocolate. There are so many bar options right now, you really have to nail your lane. Is it just hyper-caffeinated, maybe?
Rachel: It's a chewy bar. 100 milligrams of caffeine, gluten-free. I find the owl branding very comforting though, he looks trustworthy.
David: Maybe it's meant for high school students who don't want to drink coffee.

Creative Snacks Co. Almond Clusters
Baked with cashews pumpkin seeds cayenne turmeric and honey
Stephen: this is my favorite of the not-sausages. It's very sweet, but in a different way. This has real honey. It's spicy, substantial.
Rachel: I had just a small handful and I feel like I ate an oatmeal cookie. I would buy that, it's my favorite

Duke's - Chorizo and Lime-smoked shorty sausages
Rachel: I get the lime and the chorizo. It's not sweaty, it's not greasy. I'm a big fan of the flavor. I'd bring that on a camping trip.
Stephen: They work well together.

Pureral Gummy Candy "made with real fruit juice, high vitamin C."
David: This is another gummy candy from Japan. It's like, your adult Gusher. Which sounds bad when you put those words together, but it's OK. It's a fancy Gusher.
Stephen: I didn't get any gush. Did I get a defective one? Maybe that's a good thing, it's light on gush. The base tastes really exactly like a watermelon Sour Patch Kids. if you like watermelon Sour Patch Kids, but maybe scrape a little bit of that s*** off them because they're too overwhelming, then this is what you're looking for.
David: It's a little different than the typical American gummy texture. I like them, I think they're cool. For a sweet, I think this is one of the better ones.