Candy bars mushroom into too many flavors

When I was a kid, a candy bar was as big as a loaf of bread and cost only pennies. I’m exaggerating, but only a bit.

In the metal rack at the country store near my house, my favorite bar was something called Big Time.

Big Time lived up to its billing, being noticeably larger than its competition. If memory serves, it was made of peanuts, caramel and nougat, all wrapped up in milk chocolate.

I’m not saying it was the best bar, you understand. The coconutty Zagnut was more interesting, as were the crunchy Butterfinger and sticky Baby Ruth.

Truth be told, just about anything was better than Big Time, but to a boy with only 5 cents in his pocket, size really did matter, and a nickel was all any of the bars cost.

Although Big Time was the king, all candy was larger then, it seems. I remember spending summer afternoons propped back against the hickory tree in our yard, reading a book and eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that lasted for chapters. Now I can gulp one down in a bite.

The thing is, every bar was different then. Oh, there were plain and almond Hershey Bars, and the similar yet different Mounds and Almond Joy, but that was pretty much it.

Have you looked at a candy rack lately? Making a selection is like differentiating from among the Duggar family’s children: They all look pretty much the same and only part of their name is different.

You can still find Snick­ers, but there are also Snickers with peanuts and Snickers with almonds. They come in all sorts of sizes, from bars to bites. There’s even ice cream called Snickers.

Much the same can be said for Twix bars (Twixes? Twixi?). Milky Way comes in all sorts of colors of chocolate. And you’d need a calculator to list all the kinds of M&M’s on the candy aisle.

Not long ago, if a new candy bar debuted, it had a name all to itself. When the Whatchamacallit arrived in the 1970s, it had the same ingredients as many other bars, but there was only one Whatchamacallit.

Nowadays, the companies introduce new versions and slap old, familiar names on them. That’s probably why they do it – familiarity. We buy what we know, so why not give us more flavors of old favorites? I suppose that is the very definition of “comfort food.”

This proliferation of varieties is all over the store. There are more kinds of Oreos than you can shake a glass of milk at. Cheez-Its are sold in flavors and colors and shapes. Coca-Cola’s varieties fill the soft-drink shelves. But it’s the candy aisle where the name game is so noticeable.

I’m not really complaining. Despite all our obesity and diabetes and tooth decay, I’m glad we have lots of bars to choose from.

I even wish they still sold Big Time – although, considering its size, that nickel candy bar might set me back at least $10 today.

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