Loony Binge

I know very little about Oscar Wilde, except he was a 19th-century Irish playwright famous for “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. Wilde lived to be just 46, producing his best works in the last ten years of his life. He was often quoted, lacing words of wisdom with pretty good wit. Here’s one of Wilde’s best: “Everything in moderation, including moderation”.

Poisonous snakes?

Perhaps you caught this story from last week’s headlines: “Man Dies from Eating More Than A Bag of Licorice a Day”.  (I mean, who wouldn’t catch a story like that, right?)  It seems a Massachusetts construction worker with a daily candy habit switched from red to black licorice, and a few weeks later he went into cardiac arrest.

After futile attempts to revive our candy man, medics discovered he was experiencing ventricular fibrillation, meaning the lower chambers of his heart stopped pumping blood.  So he died.  From licorice.  You’ve heard of death by chocolate, but seriously, death by candy?

The New England Journal of Medicine says black licorice contains glycyrrhizic acid, which in ample amounts tanks the body’s potassium levels.  Low potassium levels contribute to heart arrhythmia (and heart arrhythmia is never a good thing).  Can’t say I’ve heard of glycyrrhizic acid until now (bet you haven’t either) but it doesn’t matter.  All I took from this story was: black licorice = death.  That’s disturbing because I love black licorice.

Check out my previous post connoisseur for a “taste” of my licorice obsession.

Whips, twists, nibs, wheels, shoelaces – licorice comes in all shapes and sizes.

Not gonna lie; the moment I read this not-so-dandy candy story I pulled open my desk drawer (left side, second one down) and grabbed the bag of black licorice sitting innocently in front.  Then I reviewed the ingredients very slowly and very carefully.  “Corn syrup, sugar, modified potato starch, caramel color, carnauba wax…” (and several other ingredients I really shouldn’t be eating).  But nowhere did I find “licorice root extract”, the bearer of that nasty acid.  Whew.

Let’s be honest – the real message here isn’t “don’t eat black licorice”.  Rather, it’s Oscar Wilde and his “everything in moderation”.  Our poor construction worker, according to family members, consumed “one to two large bags of black licorice every day for three weeks”.  If it wasn’t the glycyrrhizic acid, something else in the candy would’ve done him in.  Or maybe the gallons of water he drank to wash it all down.

Yep, that’s a real thing too (water intoxication).  Drink too much and you can succumb to an “imbalance of electrolytes” and die.  Then again, 99% of us avoid stupid dares or sustained exercise where you lose track of how much water you take in.  But then there’s the other 1%.  Stay away from those people.

Nine of ten of you don’t like black licorice (easy guess) so you’re not breathing a sigh of relief alongside me.  But you may not be innocent of other binge-worthy foods.  Take your pick: popcorn, potato chips, nuts, trail mix, or peanut butter (especially those little PB-filled pretzel-bite thingies – oooooo).  “You can’t eat just one”, am I right?  You probably can’t even put the container down.  And don’t get me started on Chinese food, where I seem to get hungrier the more I eat of it.

The good news is, you’re not heading for potassium deficiencies or cardiac arrest with these binge foods, but it’s fair to say they contribute to the downward spiral of unhealthy eating.  One day you wake up and find yourself sprawled atop a mountain of junk food asking, “how did I get here?”

Since we’re talking about killer (or diet-killing) foods, let me throw another one out there: coconuts.  Yes, you think coconut oil, milk, and extract are all the healthy rage these days, and you’d be… right.  But I’m talking about tropical islands and swaying palm trees.  There lies (er, hangs) the reason coconuts are called “the killer fruit”.

Urban legend perhaps, but they say falling coconuts kill several people every year.  At least ten cases have been documented since the early 2000s.  In Queensland, Australia they remove coconut palms from their beaches for this reason.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Coconuts kill.

Then there’s death by chocolate.  (Chocolate kills too, you ask?)  Okay, so maybe I’m referring to a sinful dessert instead, minimally described as “chocolate with chocolate on top of chocolate”.  The American pub “Bennigan’s” offers the undisputed king of Death by Chocolate: a chocolate crumb-crusted chocolate cake, paired with two scoops of (chocolate) ice cream, topped with two Twix bars and covered with chocolate sauce, accompanied by a side dish of heated chocolate topping.  Woof.  Maybe chocolate kills after all.

How about a smile, Oscar?

Here’s one more ingredient in my desk drawer licorice: anise oil.  Anise gives you the same flavor as licorice root extract but without the occasionally fatal side effects.  Maybe it’s a cheaper or easier-to-come-by substitute?  Unfortunately, anise oil can cause pulmonary edema (also never a good thing).  Maybe I need to reevaluate my licorice habit after all.

I’ll leave you with another Oscar Wilde quote: “Life is too important to be taken seriously”.  With all due respect to our Massachusetts licorice-aholic, I couldn’t agree more.  So I will continue to eat black licorice, and I will continue to enjoy black licorice.  In moderation, of course.

Some content sourced from the 10/13/2014 ShortList article, “20 Pieces of Wisdom From Oscar Wilde, the 9/25/2020 Ars Technica article, “Rare case of black licorice poisoning kills man in Massachusetts”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Candy-Crunching the Numbers

If you sift through your kids’ trick-or-treat bags today, you may be in for a surprise. When it comes to Halloween candy, we Americans are a fickle bunch. “Best” and “Worst” lists kick into high gear this time of year – with fierce debate – and the results are likely reflected in what gets handed out at the front door. Would you agree – Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are hands-down America’s most popular Halloween candy?  By the same analytics, would you agree Circus Peanuts are the worst?  Do you even know what Circus Peanuts are?

CandyStore.com recently assembled the candy list of lists – the current bests and worsts. Check out the details in their blog post here (and buy some candy while you’re at it).  CandyStore combed the Web for best/worst candy lists from a dozen publications, then mixed in the opinions of 40,000 of their own shoppers. How they sifted all that data into a single list is a worthy advertisement for Excel.  Here are the results:

BEST Halloween Candy
10. Hershey Bars
9. Skittles
8. Sour Patch Kids
7. Butterfinger
6. Nerds
5. M&M’s
4. Kit-Kat
3. Twix
2. Snickers
1. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

WORST Halloween Candy
10. Mary Jane
9. Good & Plenty
8. Licorice
7. Smarties
6. Tootsie Rolls
5. Peanut Butter Kisses
4. NECCO Wafers
3. Wax Coke Bottles
2. Candy Corn
1. Circus Peanuts

Some comments (er, opinions) about the BEST list.  I can’t argue with Reese’s in the #1 spot, since I adore peanut-butter-and-chocolate, and a Reese’s cup is a convenient size somewhere between “full-size” and “fun-size” for the trick-or-treat bag.  Reese’s also happen to have an orange wrapper, so no adjustment needed for Halloween. The top five on the BEST list are solid choices, though I wonder where Snickers has the edge over Milky Way, Mars, or Almond Joy.  Three of the remaining five reflect candies joining the party well after I was a kid.  To this day, I’ve never had a “Sour Patch Kid”.

The WORST list is a little more interesting.  I’m surprised some of these earned a spot (even on a “worst” list), considering they were popular way back in the 1960’s.  But Smarties, Wax Coke Bottles, and Candy Corn bring a smile to my face, as each of them screams “Halloween” to me.  They seem to appear in October, then disappear for the next eleven months.  Wax Coke Bottles were the thought-we-were-cool 2-in-1 candy.  Bite off the bottle top for the drink, then put the wax in your mouth for a chewing-gum sensation.  In hindsight, ewwwww.

Candy corn, no surprise, is a polarizing confection.  You either love the little kernels or you simply can’t stand them.  They’re essentially corn syrup + sugar doused with a little food coloring.  Jelly Bean Candy Company has been making candy corn for over a century and sells hundreds of thousands of pounds of kernels each year, most in October.  Yet candy corn almost snagged the top spot on the WORST list.  Go figure.

On the other hand, Circus Peanuts deserve the WORST trophy.  I’m old enough to remember enjoying a real bag of peanuts at the circus, so why go and “candi-fy” my memory?  CP’s are peanut-shaped orange marshmallows (orange I suppose, because brown would not be an appetizing look for marshmallows).  Remarkably, CP’s have been around as long as candy corn, and you can still find them on your supermarket shelves.  Careful – some of those bags may have been manufactured in the late 1800’s.

Here’s another angle on the BEST list.  CandyStore took their analysis one step further and figured out, based on purchases August through October, which candy is most popular by state.  The methodology is not quite as scientific but the results are amusing.  You’ll find most of the BEST list represented, but you’ll also find a few head-scratchers.  Kentucky’s “favorite candy” is Swedish Fish.  Montana and Oklahoma prefer Double Bubble Gum.  West Virginians prefer Blow Pops.  As for my own state of Colorado?  Twix.  I can live with that.

CandyStore may take pride in its BEST/WORST lists, but let’s all just agree to disagree, shall we?  IMHO, licorice (of any kind) belongs nowhere near a WORST list – and that includes Good & Plenty, while 3 Musketeers is embarrassingly absent from the BEST list.  Not a fan of chocolate-covered, fluffy, whipped nougat?  Pick one up sometime and reconsider.  3 Musketeers almost feels lighter-than-air, a clever ruse to offset the guilt as I add one to my shopping cart.

Some content sourced from the Wall Street Journal article,”Americans are Divided – About Candy Corn”.