15 of America's Favorite Regional Sweets
There are still places where a trip to the candy store doesn't mean a Snickers or a Twix, but a souvenir worth writing home about—because you're likely to eat it before it gets there. Just in time for Valentine's Day, here are 15 of America's most storied treats.
The old adage about being happier than a kid in a candy store holds true, both at home and on the road. For Pittsburgh's Jon H. Prince, it's a Goldenberg's Peanut Chew that brings him back to childhood. And he knows candy: He's president of McKeesport Candy Company, where you can find 2,800 different types of confections (including many listed below). "Sweets are a unique window into social history," says Prince. In the Pacific Northwest, that history comes in a variation on the Turkish Delight made with apples and apricots from the local harvest. In Wisconsin, it's a candy so beloved that protests were staged when the factory closed. And in the south, it's all about the pralines, as it has been for 300 years. As a bonus for travelers, there's no sweeter way to sample local ingredients (macadamia nuts in Hawaii, maple syrup in Vermont, and um, salt water in New Jersey) than via local sweets. So ready your insulin pump for a tour of 15 treats worth crossing state lines.
Idaho: Idaho Spud
Of the 13 billion pounds of Idaho potatoes grown annually, none are as sweet as these spuds: coconut-flecked dark chocolate surrounding a springy cocoa-flavored marshmallow center. No actual potato here! But like the venerable veg, they're nothing if not versatile. Melt 'em down for fondue or ice cream topping, whip them Bavarian style into a pie, or pop 'em in the freezer for a ice-cream-like treat—or, you know, straight out of the package just like folks in the Gem State have been doing since 1918.
Get it: The confection was invented by Boise's Idaho Candy Company, which offers tours of the factory and has a shop onsite. idahospud.com; $4.99 for a pack of six.
Hawaii: Chocolate-Covered Macadamia Nuts
Honolulu's Ellen Dye Candies was the first to market the chocolate-dipped nuts back in 1927. The “Godiva of the Pacific” sold the company to Mamoru Takitani 33 years later. Under the new tiki banner Hawaiian Host, Takitani perfected the recipe and created a brand as iconic today as the crunchy milk chocolatey spheres are addictive. Descendents of the Dye family got back in the game in 2010 with varieties that include a touch of chili pepper, ginger, and sea salt all hand-dipped in haute chocolate made from locally grown and roasted cacao.
Get it: Order online from Waimea Chocolate Company (waimeachocolatecompany.com; from $8 for a six-piece box). Or find more mass-market brands—Hawaiian Host, Mauna Loa—anywhere and everywhere on the islands (around $6 for 14 pieces).
It's a story too sweet to be true. Legend has it that back in 1932 Los Angeles, See's Candies chef Louis “Gordy” Hooper wooed Bobbi in the packing department with a surprise gift of soft vanilla caramel and chocolate poured over toasted pecans, inspired by her pet turtles. It took off, and so did the lovebirds, forming their own company up in Oakland and delivering orders on a beat-up Harley Davidson (allegedly a gift/blessing from Mary See herself). The candies have survived, but alas, the meet-cute doesn't have legs.
Get it: Turtles went mass market and are sold in drug stores nationwide. For a more local version, See's sells the treats under the name pecan buds at the company's numerous old-timey, black-and-white stores on the West Coast. sees.com; $20.40 for a one-pound box.
New Mexico: Bizcochito
Biscochitos in the north, biscochos in the south—or simply “that cookie grandma makes”—bizcochitos (with a “z”) were christened as America's first official state cookie in 1989. Anise and cinnamon combine with a touch of wine or brandy in these Latin-inflected shortbread crumblies, first introduced by Spaniards to then-Mexico in the 16th century and now a staple at Christmas celebrations as well as quinceañeras and weddings (the traditional diamond shape represents purity). The secret to the flaky melt-in-your-mouthness? Love. And lard.
Get it: Golden Crown Panaderia sells classic bizcochitos in their Albuquerque shop and online (goldencrown.biz; $4 a dozen in store; $16.95 a pound online) Osito's Biscochitos spices things up with a raspberry/habanero version (biscochitos.net; $39.99 for a 92-count tin).
SEE THE SWEETS!
Budget Travel Real Deals
- From $909
- From $449
- From $849
- From $99
- From $179
- From $1,285
- From $1,155
- From $1,075
- From $728