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Nerds Candy: All About an American Favorite
by Cynthia Correa
Known for their moon rock shape and vivid color, Nerds are as addictive today as they were in the ’80s. Distributed by the Willy Wonka Candy Factory in Itasca, Illinois, their unique look is almost as magical as the story behind the fictitious candy company in the Roald Dahl novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Here’s a little bit more about the candy that hasn't changed since it was first created more than 30 years ago.
What are Nerds?
Nerds are neon-colored mini candies with an irregular pebble shape. Although today they come in a variety of flavors like orange, cherry, and watermelon, the originals were grape and strawberry-flavored.
What are they made of?
Not surprisingly, the crunchy candy consists mostly of sugar. The exact list of ingredients includes: Dextrose, Sugar, Malic Acid, Corn Syrup, Artificial Flavors, Carnauba Wax (a palm wax), Carmine Color, and dyes Blue 1, Blue 1 Lake, Blue 2, Blue 2 Lake, Red 40, Red 40 Lake, Yellow 5, Yellow 5 Lake, Yellow 6, Yellow 6 Lake.
Who created them?
Nerds were created by the Willy Wonka Candy Factory in 1983, but are currently produced by Nestlé who bought the company five years later. The Wonka brand was created as a marketing ploy to promote the movie Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, debuting one month before the film, in 1971.
What makes Nerds unique?
One of the most unique things about the candy is its packaging design. Nerds come in double-flavored boxes that are divided into two sides with individual spouts, making it simpler to get to your flavor of choice.
How are they made?
While the exact process is top secret, a Wonka factory worker did give some insight into how the candy is made. First, large spinning containers are filled with sugar crystals. As more sugar is added to the vats, the crystals begin to collect into pebbles. Once the sugar has formed into the Nerds shape, a separate process coats them in a flavored candy coating. They're then transferred into their appropriately colored boxes.
What new Nerds products are available today today?
Throughout their existence Nerds have inspired numerous spin-offs (some more successful than others). Today, the Wonka Factory produces a series of seasonal Nerds candies, as well as several popular Nerds items available year-round. One of the seasonal items produced under the Nerds name are Nerds jelly beans that — unlike regular jelly beans — have a bumpy exterior.
A recent addition is Nerds rope, described by Richard and AnnaKate Hartel in Candy Bites: The Science of Sweets as "a bunch of Nerds glued onto a gummy candy roll." They go on to explain: "They also provide a unique texture contrast — the crunchiness of Nerds with the elasticity of a gelatin gummy candy rope."
There's also the Nerds gumball, which is a gum exterior filled with tiny Nerds and Nerds jelly beans that appear around Easter.
At one point, there was an attempt at a Nerds cereal. Like the eponymous candy, the cereal box also featured a divider and duel spouts. Nerds cereal was offered in two flavor combinations: orange-cherry and strawberry-grape. However, due to disappointing sales, the bizarre cereal is now extinct.