There's plenty to mock about the leaders of the dude-food movement—Fieri, Zimmern, the Epic Meal Timers—and their bag-tag army of regular doofs united by pork-themed t-shirts and their exaggerated disdain for small plates and Whole Foods. But we're not here to make fun of their indoor sunglasses or their spicy bourboñero-glazed goatees. We're here to protest their implied contempt for M&M's.
M&M's are, of course, fantastic. You and I know this, but the benighted hordes of exxxtreme grub CRUSHERS tend to overlook any food that is not the size of your freakin' head, bro! It's a shame these poor bastards are too busy stuffing pulled pork in their pizza crusts and balled socks in their underpants to realize that some of the very best gluttonin' under the sun can be accomplished with itty-bitty foods.
Serving sizes are never delineated by the handful, so microfoods make it much easier for the subconscious to relax a bit, quit counting, and get feasting. The science is too complicated to explain and also something I just invented, so instead let's just consider the anecdotal evidence. How many slices of pizza do you eat in one sitting? Two or three, four if no one's looking? But you'd happily eat a sleeping bag's worth of pizza rolls in full view of your mom, your cardiologist, and Michelle Obama, because no one really keeps track of small food. That's why three sliders is an appetizer and one hamburger is an entrée, and it's one of the many reasons why M&M's are among the very best candies a dollar can buy.
Though they've thankfully refrained from launching a Screamin' Cheesnado M&M, Mars, Inc., isn't immune to the pressures of the gastro-gonzos, which is perhaps why there are now more than a dozen versions of the classic candy-coated chocolate button. I couldn't get a hold of the Coconut flavor or the new and blasphemous M&M's candy bar; undaunted, I ate, analyzed, and ranked the 13 varieties that came my way.
13. Birthday Cake
This one's an admirable engineering feat, for these do indeed taste like birthday cake. Really shitty grocery-store birthday cake you get when your boss gives the intern $40 to get a cake and he turns it into 32 beer dollars and a clearance-rack supermarket cake with somebody else's name misspelled on it, then pretends he forgot your name and sheepishly says, "Shoot, I thought you were Garry, I'm so new and nervous, please don't beat me," and you have no choice but to let it slide. It tastes like gross cardboard-canned vanilla frosting, plus chocolate.
I like pretzels in the wild, but was disappointed to learn they have no place in an M&M: They provide a very tiny hit of salt, but otherwise all they do is shatter pleasantly enough beneath a too-thin layer of chocolate. There's not enough chocolate to provide a zone of contrasting texture between the candy shell and the pretzel, so this one's greatest attribute is crunchiness. They should scratch that itch by ditching the pretzel and bringing back the retired Crispy.
11. Milk Chocolate Snack Mix
Yeah, they make a couple kinds of snack mix now. This one has roasted peanuts, chocolate-chip cookies, pretzels, and Milk Chocolate M&M's. The cookies are like tiny, shitty versions of Cookie Crisp, with so much cheap sugar they hurt my tongue. There's a surprisingly high ratio of peanuts to other things, though, which seems generous until you remember you don't buy candy for the nutrition stats.
10. Milk Chocolate (aka Plain)
Do my fellow punctuation dicks realize that the M&M's apostrophe is in fact properly deployed? The candy is named after Forrest Mars and Bruce Murrie; Mars invented them after he saw Spanish Civil War soldiers eating chocolate pellets protected by tempered chocolate shells. Murrie's old man ran Hershey, so he was kissed in for 20 percent of the company as long as he could keep the chocolate coming.
The mint completely overpowers the chocolate. This tastes less like an M&M than it does something your shithead friend keeps in the glove box in a vain attempt to ward off DUIs. I like mint, so I like this M&M, but I predict this will be the most divisive flavor.
8. Peanut Snack Mix
Roasted almonds, pretzels, peanut M&M's, shortbread cookies. The cookies are despicable, but the almonds are plentiful (if curiously small), and the barely salted pretzels are crunchy, possibly fake-buttered, and admirably scarce.
7. Mega Milk Chocolate
This is the flagship of the new "Mega" line, which boasts of having three times more chocolate than a basic plain M&M. It's nearly an inch in diameter, and the extra chocolate makes it better.
This was a surprise—I was sure almond would finish in the top three. These are earthier than expected, and the nut flavor doesn't come through as demonstrably almond-y, though it does provide a welcome savory counterpart to the super-sweet milk chocolate.
5. Dark Chocolate
This is very good chocolate, considering that, strictly speaking, it's not very good chocolate, you know what I'm saying? It has a dark-fruity edge that tastes a bit like cherry wine made by a guy who apprenticed at Boone's Farm before striking out on his own to make a slightly better version.
4. Peanut Butter
When I reviewed fast-food chain burritos a couple weeks ago, tons of point-missing motherfuckers piped up to yell about how no one should eat that mass-produced garbage, and we should instead all go to the authentic Mexican taco stand tucked away over in the fruit-storage district out by the airport. Those people can get bent, but I agree with the people who say no one should eat Peanut Butter M&M's in a world that still has Reese's Pieces. The PB M&M's are good, but anyplace that carries them also has the slightly but definitively superior Reese's. The main difference is that Reese's has smoother peanut butter*; the M&M nut paste is a little bit gritty. Attention, Mars: You want to beat Reese's? Put chunky peanut butter in your M&M's, and thank me sooner and then again later.
*The Reese's filling is actually more of a penuche than a true peanut butter, but it's better by any name.
These are great, with the distinctive flavor the almonds lacked. I wonder if M&M's can afford premium peanuts, but can only make the pricing work if they use scratch-and-dent almonds?
2. Dark Chocolate Peanut
Better chocolate, same peanut.
1. Mega Peanut
The extra chocolate helps balance things out. The nut in a regulation-sized Peanut M&M crowds out the chocolate, but when the middle layer is Megafied, it provides a nice contrast—both in terms of flavor and texture—between the candy shell and the peanut.
I was tempted to scramble the results a little to hide my obvious (and previously undiscovered) pro-peanut bias, but facts are facts, and the inarguable truth is that the four best M&M's flavors feature peanuts or butter thereof. Now smear your arguments below.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter@WillGordonAgain.
Art by Sam Woolley.
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