Unwrapping a Halloween Mystery
If you go trick or treating tonight — especially if you’re in the United States — there’s a pretty good chance you’ll end up with a handful of Dum Dums in your pumpkin bucket. These ubiquitous lollipops, some seen above, are a cultural touchstone of sorts — just about everyone in the U.S. has at least heard of them, if not had a few over the years. The company that makes them, Spangler Candy, has been producing them for sixty years now, and produces 10 million of the little lollipops each day — that’s enough for about a dozen Dum Dums per American per year. Dum Dums come in 16 flavors, and the most notable, brand-wise, is the “mystery” Dum Dum flavor. You can see them above — they’re the ones whose wrappers have yellow question marks outlined in purple — and if you think it tastes like a mix of watermelon and root beer, you might be right.
The Spangler Candy company is a relatively small, family-run business with a manufacturing plant in Byran, Ohio. If you hit that link above, you’ll learn that “relatively” small means that they have enough sugar in their warehouse to fill eight Olympic-sized swimming pools, which is cool, but they still only have one manufacturing plant. That means that all of the sixteen current flavors get produced in the same plant, and in many cases, on the same production lines. To add further complications, the company retires flavors on occasion (sometimes temporarily), replacing it with something new. (In 2013, for example, the company added “Raspberry Lemonade” and “Peach-Mango” while retiring “Dulce de Leche” and “Mango.”) When that happens, it’s not like a brand new line of equipment can magically appear. All the machinery gets reused.
If you’ve ever been in a manufacturing job, you know that taking machines offline in order to wash them down for the next batch is not a good way to make money. So, beginning in 2001, the Spangler Company decided to just skip that part. According to mental_floss, “the Mystery Flavor pop is a mixture of two flavors that come together when the end of one batch of candy meets the beginning of the next batch. [. . .] The candy lines keep running continuously, and the Mystery Flavor pops are a surprise treat every time.” So while your mystery pop may have tasted like some weird mix of watermelon and root beer, don’t be surprised if your friend swears that the mystery flavor is a grape-ish cream soda. You both may be right!
From the Archives: Pumpkin Saving Time: The nefarious (okay, not really) connection between Daylight Saving Time and Halloween.
Related: At 12 Dum Dums per person, per year, here’s a lifetime supply. If you live really, really long.
Image by Kodamakitty on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.