Whenever I dig into a package of mixed fruity flavored candies, I have an entirely predictable response: savor the purples first, then the pinks and reds. (And only after I’ve plucked out those flavors will I offer to share what remains.) Even though artificial grape receives the full measure of my devotion, I’m awfully fond of red candies, too. It doesn’t even matter to me whether the reds are cherry or strawberry or something else; I like them all. So, during a recent meander through a gas station candy aisle, I was thrilled to note that the Starburst selection included a variety called FaveReds. The company describes the candies this way: “Like a mixtape of your favorite songs, the FaveReds bring your favorite juicy red flavors–strawberry, fruit punch, watermelon, and cherry–together in one pack.” A package of nothing but reds?! How could I resist?
When I pulled the package open, I smelled something peculiarly familiar. My brain struggled for a few seconds to identify it, and then suddenly I knew: cherry chapstick. In a blind smelling test, I would have been hard-pressed to differentiate between them. The package contains 12 precisely alternating pieces, three of each of the four flavors. The wrappers more or less matched the colors of the candies they contained: watermelon, the palest, was a whitish pink, while the darkest (fruit punch), was closer to plum. And each candy felt just a bit sticky, clinging to its wrapper for a second before tumbling into my waiting palm.
Even though I rarely buy Starbursts as an adult, I often ate them as a kid. So I figured that at least the strawberry and cherry flavors would seem familiar since they were among included in the packages I used to buy. Sure enough, biting into the strawberry made me wonder why I had waited so many years to revisit this candy. It was my favorite flavor: sweet and subtle, just a tiny hint of tartness. Fruit punch came in at a close second, though, with a more complex mix of flavors that made me want to keep reaching for more to figure them out. Cherry tasted more tart than sweet, and watermelon more bitter than tart or sweet. Given a choice, I would still choose watermelon over lemon (one of the original flavors that I always tried to pawn off on someone else), but I finished the watermelons only after I finished the other three reds.
Starbursts are classic candies that have been around for a long time and are familiar to almost everybody. The fruit chews were first introduced in the UK in 1960 under the name Opal Fruits (sold in packages of lemon, lime, orange, and strawberry) and then in 1967 they came to the United States under the Starburst name. The strawberry ones weren’t created until 1984. I’m glad that new flavors and ideas keep coming along, because I’m still waiting for a grape Starburst. Maybe someday.