We here at Eating Our Words take serious food journalism, well, seriously. That's why, when I found a bag of Claeys Natural Herbal Candies: Horehound Old Fashioned Hard Candies, I felt it my professional duty to investigate and report.
Horehound is a bushy, herbaceous plant that grows wild in Europe. Long prized for its medicinal properties, it's considered a particularly effective treatment for coughing and congestion. It also has a long history in confection, although this likely began in a Mary Poppins-esque attempt to make the medicine go down.
This particular batch of Horehound candy (Soothing to the Throat) was found by happenstance. My wife had forced me into a 99¢ store, and I was wandering the aisles as she spent a sum of money totally incongruous with the purported concept of the establishment. Among the knock-off Doritos and stale name-brand candies, I spotted this sweet little idiosyncrasy. I popped it in the basket alongside the Komet cleanser and scratchy, single-ply toilet paper, and brought it home for a taste-test.
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The brownish-black, lozenge-shaped hard candy didn't exactly inspire confidence that this was to be a delightful experience. Neither did the "Natural Herbal Candies" bit on the label. Truth be told, I was expecting something reminiscent of the British confections described in the infamous "wine jellies" scene in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow ("Just a touch of menthol too," Mrs. Quoad popping one into her mouth. "Delicious.").
The experience was far more innocuous. After an initial and mild dose of pure sugar from the lozenge's coating, the candy tasted like a cross between root beer and theoretical cherries, with hints of chocolate flitting around in the background. As I sucked on it, I began to detect a creeping bitterness, which actually made the candy almost reminiscent of various Italian Amari, or bitter digestif liqueurs (think Campari or Fernet Branca). All in all though, it's actually a very mild flavor, especially considering the ominous expectations raised by the candy's self-described "herbal" nature.
While Horehound candies almost certainly won't make it into regular rotation in my candy dish, they might prove an occasional purchase. You know, for those occasions when only a mildly sweet, vaguely medicinal, slightly peculiar candy will suffice. You have those moments too, right?