Many new types of candy were introduced in the 1980s but which was one of the most iconic ones that are still popular today?
Nerds candy came out in 1983 and were sold by Nestle. They were small, irregularly shaped pieces of candy that came in two different flavors in each box. There were a variety of flavors and it would become one of the most popular candies of all time.
When I was a kid, we had a convenience store a few blocks from my house. This place was like Willy Wonka’s factory to us and even though I realize now, it was just a crappy little variety store, it seemed like Shangri-La to me.
Any money, or allowance, I earned I would start thinking about what I would get down there. As much as I loved all the variety in candy and general crap that I could get I always had a few go-to’s that I spent my money on. Big League Chew, Lik M Aid,
And Nerds Candy.
Nerds were like the perfect candy. It came in a cool box, it obviously tasted great, and you got variety with the two different compartments that made up the box. As much as we used the term nerd to take someone down a notch, the name began to take on a different meaning and I think over time that the word is as much associated with the candy than an individual.
Even though Nerd culture dominates society and is a trillion dollar industry. But that’s for another time. This is the story, and history, of Nerds Candy.
What Is Nerds Candy?
I’m hoping you’ve at least tried Nerds Candy but just in case you haven’t, Nerds is a small, irregular shaped candy. It’s kind of similar to rock candy but has a very thin candy coating to it. They are basically only made up of sugar and contain dextrose, sugar, and malic acid. The rest of the candy is made up of less than 2% corn syrup, artificial flavors, carnauba wax, and artificial coloring.
The aye carnauba wax is what gave Nerds its glossiness and also the hard bite. Each “Nerd” starts out as an individual sugar crystal which is a clear monoclinic crystal which means they have varying shapes and features to them. They would use sugar crystals that vary from 0.2 to 1mm in length and this is what gives them all the variations in shapes and sizes.
Each box contained two different flavors with its own compartment and opening and they would vary from sweet to sour. The Nerds “mascot” was a booger-like looking anthropomorphic creature that seemed like part Smurf, part pebble.
They come in many flavors and the artificial flavoring used will obviously vary depending on the variety. Here are some classic Nerds candy flavors:
- Strawberry and grape (pink and purple)
- Wild cherry and watermelon (orange or red and green
- Double dipped lemonade-wild cherry and apple-watermelon (red and yellow)
- Sour-lightning lemon and amped apple (yellow and light-green)
- Surf n’ Turf: Tropical punch and road rash raspberry (red and blue)
- Wildberry and peach (blue and orange)
- Watermelon and punch and wildberry (green and blue)
Setting The Stage For Nerds
Not only was the 80s a time of massive growth for cartoon shows and toys, but it was also a period where we got more junk food than ever. Fast food growth was on the rise and it brought us the creation of the Happy Meal. There were now so many facsimile foods vying for our attention. All this new candy and junk food were like the Kardashians, it was shiny and appealing but empty and pointless.
Whatever, we still loved it and the 80s brought us things like pop rocks, Mike and Ikes, and candy buttons. Nerds were able to carve its own path and create a beloved, and identifiable candy.
It started in 1983 with a guy named Angelo Fraggos who has also worked for Gardettos Bakery which is a snack food manufacturer as a sales and marketing vice president. He was big in the pasta game too and was vice president of sales and marketing for New World Pasta. These days he works for Dave’s Killer Bread which is a non-GMO, Organic, whole grain bread company.
It seems obvious that the candy takes its name from Nerd which was first created by Dr. Seuss from the book “If I Ran A Zoo”. In the book, the very first mention of the word ‘nerd’ is used as one of the creatures that the narrator would collect for his zoo.
The thing is there is never any direct connection that they are talking about nerds in this sense or the geeky sense as there is no indication of that on the packaging or promotion of them. Either way, Nerds candy was released in 1983 and they first started with cherry/orange and strawberry/grape.
They were a huge hit right out of the gate and by 1985 it was recognized as “candy of the year”.
How Are Nerds Candy Made?
So Nerds start out as that sugar crystal that I mentioned before and they are a pure white color. They keep coating it with thin layers of sugar over and over to thicken each piece. This is done with massive barrels that contain all the sugar crystals. These barrels keep spinning until all the nerds have received sufficient amounts of coats of sugar.
Since they start out white they receive their specific colors in individual barrels. The various Nerd flavors from the individual barrels are then transported to fill in the coordinating flavor on the boxes to be shipped out into your greasy little hands. The whole process takes about 6 hours for something you eat in about 12 seconds.
The most popular flavor? Grape and strawberry. So now you have great dinner conversation for your next supper club meeting.
Nerds Candy Nutrition
So a serving size of Nerds candy is considered 0.5 ounces or around one tablespoon. Not that you’d only eat one serving, but in that one serving, for all flavors, you will find:
- 60 calories
- 0 grams fat
- 0 grams protein
- 14 g total carbs
- 14 g sugar
- 0mg sodium
- 0 g dietary fiber
Different Varieties Of Nerds
Nerds started out in 1983 being made by Nestle but are now owned by Wonka. Side note: I always feel that the company named Wonka received very little fanfare for what it was named after. But that’s just me.
There are a bunch of different varieties of Nerds so here’s a few highlights:
Nerds ropes: Legend has it that an employee in the Nerds factory poured some gummi mixture they had over a bowl of Nerds and then went to lunch. When they came back, they found that the gummi had hardened, and the Nerds had stuck to it and Voila, Nerds rope was born. 150 million nerds are made just into the ropes each day.
Here are some of the other top versions:
- Sour Nerds
- Rainbow Nerds
- Jumbo Nerds
- Nerds gum ball
- Nerds Gum
- Dweebs – these were a soft chewy version of Nerds
- Neon Nerds
And let’s not forget Nerds cereal. This came out in 1985 made by cereal company Ralston. They featured two different sides in the box that contained two different varieties of cereal, There were two different varieties of Nerds cereal; one was orange/cherry, and the other was strawberry/grape.
The boxes also contained little packages of Nerds candy inside and unfortunately, I never got to try this amazing dual cereal. It seems quite similar to the “Nintendo cereal system” that was also released in the 80s and you can read about this in my breakdown of the best cereals of the 80s.
Also, be careful if you ever get to eat Nerds cereal as it was reported that eating it would produce red/orange colored bowel movements – and I think that was one of the first signs of the Apocalypse.
Final Thoughts On Nerds Candy
Not a lot more needs to be said about Nerds candy as it is one of the most famous, and iconic, candies of all time. I haven’t honestly had any in a few decades but I can vividly remember the taste of them. They were the ultimate in novelty as they were bright, colorful, full of sugar, and had a unique design and brand.
Also like the Kardashian’s.