Friday, November 2, 2012

Tasting Notes: Sharkies vs. Worms

For some reason, I find myself thinking about candy this week. While the kids have been chomping away on Rockets, mini-chocolate bars, and Tootsie Rolls, I have turned my attention to cyclists’ candy.  I’m talking about the latest energy snack sensation: chews, those semi-solid gummy-bear-like confections marketed to athletes who want easily digestible, portable carbs. These days, almost all the big players in the energy snack market produce some version of this product: Stinger’s Energy Chews, CliF’s Shot Bloks, Powerbar’s Gel Blasts, just to name some of the big boys.

Now, I have to admit that, in general, I’m not much of a candy man, and on the rare occasions when I do eat the stuff, I tend to favor the hard varieties (Jolly Ranchers are a fave) over soft. One of the few situations where I have been known to dip into the jar, however, is on a long bike ride. I’ve found that consuming soft candy is an efficient way to deliver some quick carbs, and, generally, eating candy is just more fun than slurping  gel packs. But until a couple of days ago, I had never actually tried any of these fancy energy Wookies. Instead, I sourced my “energy chews” the old-fashioned way: in the candy section of the corner store.

But given the season, I figured it was a perfect time to give the new chews a boo. With a little poking around, I discovered that one of the most popular energy chews on the market is Sharkies Organic Sports Chews. According to the package, these are “great tasting snacks” that provide “clean fuel for active lifestyles.” It seems they have become a staple for many athletes, especially long distance runners and cyclists. One online reviewer described Sharkies as “gummy bears for athletes”—which only made me wonder, why don’t “athletes” just eat actual gummy bears (or perhaps gummy worms, which are easier to wrangle), especially if the g-worms were cheaper? Thus came the idea for a tasting experiment in which jellied critters would duke it out: Sharkies vs. Gummy Worms.

I picked up a pack of Sharkies (45g) at MEC for $1.80, and then walked across the street to Carol’s Sweets and bought a bulk bag of Grade-A gummy worms (130g) for $3 (manufactured by Albanese, of Merrillville, Indiana, the candy shop gal assured me). The Albanese website (impressively, I thought) even had nutritional information (!) for each candy product, enabling me to compare stats with the Sharkies package.

So, aside from taste and cost, what is the difference between these expensive energy-chew products (EECP) and regular gummy ones you get at the 7-Eleven? Well, the EECPs generally claim to contain fewer of the supposedly less desirable ingredients often found in these things (gluten, artificial dyes, gelatin, high fructose corn syrup) and more of the supposedly desirable ones (organic or non-refined sugar, vitamin C, electrolytes, and in some cases, caffeine).

 I adjusted the data on the gummy spec sheet so that I was using comparable sample sizes, and here’s what I discovered. In a 45 g sample, both contain roughly the same amount of carbs (36g). Sharkies have more sodium (110 mg to 12 mg), and some potassium (30 mg to none in the wörmen), while the worms contain some protein, as worms should (2.7g, courtesy of the animal gelatin, I’m guessing), which isn’t found in the veggie-friendly Sharkies. Both have tiny amounts of iron and Carnauba wax (yum!). Worms also have less than a mg of calcium. But the worms do contain a dye with the ominous name “Red No. 40.” Sharkies boast “naturally sourced ingredients,”whatever that means. 

All of this is to say that there’s not a lot of difference between them when it comes to nutritional value. They’re going to give you the same amount of energy. If you care about organic or vegetarian ingredients, then Sharkies have an advantage. Others might like the idea of having a bit of protein with their carbs, in which case, the worms win.

But for many, this battle will ultimately be won or lost in taste-bud territory. Given my lack of experience in candy snarfing,  I felt I needed some expert assistance to pull off this experiment.  So I invited the Musette’s resident candy connoisseur, Victoria Day, to partake in the taste test. Victoria comes with some serious candy cred. She’s a life-long heavy user, equally addicted to both the soft and hard.  Her resume indicates particular familiarity with Skittles, black licorice, Jolly Rancher, and assorted Jelly Belly products.  She’s definitely got the buds for the job.

The first thing Victoria noticed was the difference in texture. The G-Worms are stretchy, with a curiously rubbery resilience; they kind of spring back when you bite them (and perhaps for this reason the bits don’t stick in your teeth the way you might expect). I suspect that, in a pinch, you could fashion a functional tire patch out of one of these little dudes. The Sharkies, meanwhile, are firmer, not as springy as the Worms, and the sharky bits do tend to get into the nooks and crannies of your Chicklets. “They have a mouth-feel more like a fruit chew than a candy,” Vic noted, as she picked at her molars.

As for taste, the Gummy Worms are definitely sweeter, in the way you’d expect candy to be. The Sharkies are sweet too, in their way, but they “taste more like food than candy,” Vic observed. This could be a good or a bad thing, depending on what you’re looking for. The Worms are more of a treat, but you could only eat so many before barfing. The Sharkies may not make your mouth dance in the same way, but they are something you could eat a whole lot of without getting tired of them.

So, in the end, there’s no definitive winner. Vic and I liked them both and any preference might just depend on what you’re in the mood for. True, Sharkies cost almost twice as much as G-Worms, but for some “athletes,” especially vegetarians and organic fiends, the squish-fish may be worth the premium. Shame you can’t get them at the corner store.


  1. Sharkies! They're gluten-free, too, for all you peoples who are allergic to gluten. AND they're shaped like sharks. Rawrrr!

  2. True, I meant to mention that. I realize the stuff is a problem for some people, but "gluten" sure is a fun word to say. Gluten. I try to work it into at least one conversation each day.

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