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The Weird Ingredients in Halloween Candy (and Which Ones to Avoid)

Turn over any candy bar wrapper, and the ingredient list may be more frightening than the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Learn what’s lurking in those candy aisle classics and if they’re a cause for concern.
What's REALLY in Halloween Candy?

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These days, there’s more to a candy bar than simply chocolate. With a laundry list of ingredients, it’s hard to know which ones aren’t the best to ingest, and why they’re there even in our candy bars in the first place. So we’ve peeled back the wrapper to uncover which ingredients are harmless, and which should go straight from the trick-or-treat bag to the trash.

What Is This In My Candy Bar?!

From the weirdly named additives to surprising ingredients and ominous oils, here are some ingredients in candy that will freak us out even when Halloween is over:


  • Tertiary butyl hydroquinone. This impossible-to-pronounce preservative prevents candy from going rancid and enhances storage life. Better yet, both the FDA and European Food Safety Authority say TBHQ is safe for humans. (And thank goodness, since it’s in America’s favorite Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup.)
  • Polyglycerol polyricinoleate. PGPR is a chemical that blends the ingredients in candy bars to make chocolate super smooth. It’s safe for humans to consume and is found in Kit Kat Bars and Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars [1].
  • Soy lecithin. This additive is a substance extracted from soybeans that emulsifies the cocoa and cocoa butter in candy, keeping the ingredients from separating. Although soy can be a dangerfood when eaten in large quantities, (messing with hormone balance and testosterone levels) studies show small amounts of soy lecithin in our candy (like Almond Joy’s and M&M’s!) are a-OK [2] [3].


  • Artificial flavors. Adding some flava flav to foods can make them taste more appetizing (Butterfingers, anyone?). The studies of artificial flavors (not to be confused with artificial coloring!) are few and far between, but the Center For Science in the Public Interest says artificial flavoring is probably safe.  
  • Milk fat. We’re talkin’ more than just whole milk, here. Milk fat is the main component of cream, and is composed of triglycerides, a type of fat that may thicken the artery walls and increase cardiovascular risk [4]. The bad news is that milk fat is found in most chocolate candies, including Snickers and Milky Way bars, so look for bars lower in saturated fat.
  • Salt. Yep, it’s not just in the savory stuff. Salt is often added to candy bars to offset all the sugar and corn syrup. And we definitely don’t need any more of the salt: Most Americans consume more sodium than recommended (2,300 mg) which can raise blood pressure and contribute to heart disease.


  • Artificial coloring. Sorry M&M’s and candy corn, it looks like you’re doing more harm than good. Although artificial coloring may make candy more appealing, it has been linked to behavioral problems, asthma, and even cancer when consumed in large quanities [5] [6] [7]. Another (not so fun) fact? After Halloween in 1950, food dye Orange #1 was banned from candy (for good!) after many kids got sick.
  • High fructose corn syrup. Sugar and spice may not be so nice. The consumption of HFCS, a sweetener derived from (you guessed it!) corn, may sometimes lead to kidney damage and liver disease in high doses [8] [9]. Hold off on those king-size Twix and Milky Ways (and most other candy bars, in fact)!
  • Hydrogenated palm kernel oil. If you thought milk fat was bad, check out this oil creeping in our candy. More than 80 percent of palm kernel oil’s fat is the saturated kind (which can up LDL cholesterol) but is often used in foods because it’s cheaper than alternatives [10].

Have a Healthier Halloween

Don’t fret! These sneaky ingredients don’t have to take all the fun (and flavor) from Halloween. Check out these tips for a healthier Halloween, no creepy ingredients included.

  • Choose better. Okay, there’s no denying a least a few pieces of candy on Halloween. So while we’re at it, let’s pick some better options, like dark chocolate Raisinetes, mini Hershey Special Dark bars, or a Twizzler or two. Or try low fat popcorn and pretzels for some crunch!
  • Make your own. Ditch the wrapper and make candy from scratch. Try some classics like Snickers, Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups, or these vegan Kit Kats.  That way, you’ll have control over everything that goes into the mix!
  • Sharing is caring. Stuck with a whole bag of Halloween treats? Make sure to spread the love! Bring the bag into the office or share with friends, and allow yourself a bite-sized treat when that sweet tooth kicks in.
  • Get creative. The stomach can be satisfied on Halloween without going down the candy aisle. Sip on some spiced cider, munch on a caramel apple, or dip some sliced fruit in a creamy pumpkin dip. Just remember to eat regularly and not skip meals!
  • Give it away. Donate the extra goods to people around the world. Organizations like Operation Shoe Box and Operation Gratitude are great places to start.
  • Celebrate outside. Halloween isn’t just about the sweets. Focus the fun on other traditions, like hayrides, apple picking, or walking through a haunted house. We promise you won’t miss those Almond Joy’s.

This article has been read and approved by Greatist Experts Catherine Ulbricht and Lindsey Joe.

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Works Cited +

  1. Overview of the preparation, use and biological studies on polyglycerol polyricinoleate (PGPR). Wilson, R., Van Schie, B.J., Howes, D. Environmental Safety Laboratory, Unilever Research, Sharnbrook, Bedford, UK. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 1998 Sep-Oct;36(9-10):711-8.
  2. Soy, phyto-oestrogens and male reproductive function: a review. Cederroth, CR, Auger, J., Zimmermann, C., et al. Department of Genetic Medicine and Development, University of Geneva Medical School, Switzerland. International Journal of Andrology, 2010 Apr;33(2):304-16
  3. Soybean-Derived Phosphatidylserine Improves Memory Function of the Elderly Japanese Subjects with Memory Complaints. Kato-Kataoka, A., Sakai, M., Ebina, R., et al. Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, 2010 November; 47(3): 246–255.
  4. Triglycerides and HDL Cholesterol. Bitzur R., Cohen, H., Kamari, Y., et al. Diabetes Care, 2009 November; 32(Supplement_2): S373–S377.
  5. DIET AND NUTRITION: The Artificial Food Dye Blues. Potera, C. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2010 October; 118(10): A428.
  6. Assessment of food chemical intolerance in adult asthmatic subjects. Hodge, L., Yan, K.Y., Loblay, R.L. Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Thorax, 1996 Aug;51(8):805-9.
  7. Do artificial food colors promote hyperactivity in children with hyperactive syndromes? A meta-analysis of double-blind placebo-controlled trials. Schab, D.W., Trinh, N.H.  Columbia University, Department of Psychiatry & The New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, New York. Journal of Developmental and Behavior Pediatrics, 2004 Dec;25(6):423-34.
  8. Sugary soda consumption and albuminuria: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2004. Shoham, D.A., Durazo-Arvizu, R., Kramer, H., et al. Department of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology, Stritch School of Medicine, Loyola University Chicago, Maywood, Illinois. PLoS One, 2008;3(10):e3431. Epub 2008 Oct 17.
  9. Fructose consumption as a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Ouyang, X., Cirillo, P., Sautin, Y., et al. Division of Nephrology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL. Journal of Hepatology, 2008 Jun;48(6):993-9. Epub 2008 Mar 10.
  10. Saturated fat-rich diet enhances selective uptake of LDL cholesteryl esters in the arterial wall. Seo, T., Qi, K., Chang, C., et al. Department of Pediatrics, Institute of Human Nutrition, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, New York. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2005 Aug;115(8):2214-22. Epub 2005 Jul 21.