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Candy Apple vs Caramel Apple – What’s the Difference and Which is Better?

It’s time for the debate, candy apple vs caramel apple, what’s the difference and which is better? Let’s learn their histories and attributes.

Like gingerbread cookies, candy and caramel apples are traditionally enjoyed during the holiday season each year.

Apples are a staple of fall, so you’re sure to see them around this time of year. They are featured heavily in foods, like apple pies, apple snacks and of course with coatings which make caramel and candy apples.

They are also featured in activities like apple picking and bobbing for apples. Bobbing for apples is a game based on old Celtic traditions of Samhain, a precursor of Halloween.

Apples also play a role in the history of the first jack o lantern, as described in the Irish myth called The Legend of Stingy Jack.

Four candy apples coated with chocolate and sprinkles with a text overlay reading "Candy apple vs caramel apple what's the difference and which is better?".

Both of the apple desserts we are learning about today are served in the fall, and they feature apples on a stick with some sort of sweet coating. However, you can see their differences when you look at how they were created, their unique flavor profiles, and even the time of year they are served.

There is actually a day devoted to celebrating caramel apples – October 31 is National Caramel Apple Day and some people even celebrate candy apples on the same day.

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Who invented the candy apple?

Did you know that candy apples have been around for over a hundred years? These tasty treats have not only a wonderful flavor, but they have a fascinating history as well!

Three candy apples with bows on them, on a plate paying homage to the man who invented the caramel apple.

William W. Kolb invented the candy apple in Newark, New Jersey in the winter of 1908. Kolb, a candy-maker, was experimenting with a batch of red cinnamon candy for Christmas when he accidentally invented the candy apple.

He originally coated the apples in the red cinnamon candy to use solely for display in his shop window, but the customers who passed by this shop had other ideas!

They thought these magnificent red apples would make delicious treats, and began buying the candy apples instead of the candies they had been meant to be advertising.

Fun facts about candy apples

William Kolb sold his first batch of candy apples for only 5 cents, which is the same as $1.41 today. That’s amazing, since you’d be hard pressed nowadays to find a single candy apple that only costs $1.41!

Traditional candy apples are cinnamon flavored, to resemble the apples created in 1908, though not all candy apples sold today have the flavor of cinnamon.

A woman dressed seasonally for winter, eating a candy apple.

Candy apples were never intended to be eaten! Kolb only wanted them to be display pieces in his candy shop window, not the tasty treats we know them as today.

This culinary treat coined the term “Candy Apple Red”. It can be used to describe anything from fast cars to painted nails!

Candy apples are best when made in the fall. Apple crops yield their loveliest apples during this time, and a fresh apple is the key to the tastiness of this treat.

Apples are also used in other fall treats. Be sure to check out my monster mouth apple snacks for another tasty idea.

Candy apples are also called toffee apples, and are traditionally served on the British holiday Guy Fawkes Day, also known as bonfire night.

While you can use any apple for candy apples, it is thought that Granny Smith apples work best. They provide a nice color contrast with the red candy coating.

This apple yields a greater depth of flavors than other apple types, because their tart and fresh bite contrasts nicely with the sweet and spiced coating.

Candy apple ingredients

Candy apples have relatively few ingredients: apples (preferably of the Granny Smith variety), candy apple sticks, and of course the candy coating.

A dessert made of simple candy apple ingredients.

The candy apple coating is typically made up of sugar, water, corn syrup, cinnamon and red food coloring.

Sometimes you’ll see candy apples with a topping, like peanuts or sprinkles, but that’s usually more characteristic of caramel apples. Most candy apples don’t have toppings.

Who invented the caramel apple?

While the candy apple was invented in 1908, the caramel apple wasn’t invented until 1950. Better late than never, I say!

A person coating a caramel apple with cornflakes paying homage to the man who invented caramel apples.

An employee of the Kraft foods company named Dan Walker invented the caramel apple when he was experimenting with holiday candy.

However instead of experimenting with Christmas candy (as was the case with the candy apple), Walker was experimenting with leftover caramels from Halloween, and came up with the idea for the caramel apple.

He melted down some of the surplus of caramel candy from Halloween that the Kraft foods company had on hand, and dipped an apple in it. Thus, the caramel apple was born!

Caramel and apples are always a popular combination in the fall. You can combine them in lots of other ways. Check out my caramel apple bars, also made with left over Halloween candy!

In Chicago, Illinois in the 1960s, Vito Raimondi (with the help of his Uncle William Raimondi) invented and patented the first automatic caramel apple making machine. 

Fun facts about caramel apples

There’s a National Candy Apple Day that falls annually in October! It’s a great excuse to go out and get one of these sweet treats.

Three caramel apples with a peanut topping on a plate.

There are two parties who claim to have invented the caramel apple; Affy Tapple (in 1948) and Dan Walker (1950). While there is some dispute, Dan Walker is widely regarded as the creator of the caramel apple.

As with candy apples, these treats are best when made and eaten in the fall. There’s no better time to find a good caramel apple, than when the apple orchards are producing their best fruit!

Before the automatic caramel apple making machine was invented in 1960, all caramel apples had to be made by hand. That’s ten years of handmade treats!

Unlike candy apples, caramel apples are known for their toppings! Nuts are probably the most common topping, but there are many different creative caramel apple toppings used today.

Like their cousin, the candy apple, these caramel apples usually are more successful when Granny Smith apples are used as a base. The sweetness of the caramel and toppings go perfectly with the crisp and tart Granny Smith apple.

Caramel apple ingredients

The ingredients for caramel apples start with the same basic ingredients as candy apples: apples, a caramel apple stick, and the sweet coating.

An apple being dipped into caramel, turning caramel apple ingredients into the finished dessert.

However from there, they vary substantially. While candy apples have a candy coating, caramel apples have (you guessed it!) a caramel coating.

This caramel coating can be made in two different ways. The easiest way is by taking caramels and melting them down. The more challenging, but also rewarding, alternative method is to make your own caramel. 

The caramel used to coat caramel apples is made from heavy cream, corn syrup, brown sugar, butter, salt and vanilla.

Caramel apples frequently are dipped in a topping. Nuts are a very common topping, but the sky is the limit with these treats!

Candy apple vs caramel apple – Which is better?

There is a heated debate among dessert lovers and it all boils down to candy apple vs caramel apple, and which is better.

Two candy apples and a caramel apple coated in chocolate and peanut toppings, sitting on brown paper against a rustic wooden backdrop.

I find that most people have a strong preference one way or another. I love both equally, but I’m probably not in the majority with that opinion.

If you’re asking the question in regards to a Christmas treat, the more historically appropriate choice would be candy apples, since they were designed specifically for Christmas.

However, if you’re asking in regards to Halloween, the more historically appropriate treat would be caramel apples, since they were invented because of Halloween candy.

Both can be served at any time, it really just depends on preference. I recommend you try one of each variety, and decide for yourself!

Don’t forget to head to the comments section of this post and let us know which is your favorite and why – candy apples or caramel apples!

Pin this candy apple vs caramel apple guide for later

Would you save this caramel apple vs candy apple guide for later? Just pin this image to one of your cooking boards on Pinterest and you’ll be able to refer back to this article with ease!

Two candy apples with black polkadot bows on them, on a slate serving board with a text overlay reading "candy apples vs caramel apples what's the difference and which is better?".

Looking for something to drink with your candy apples and caramel apples? Try a glass of warm apple cider. It’s perfect for fall, too!

Jess author photoAbout the author

Since graduating from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Jess has been living and working in Los Angeles, CA. She is a freelance writer, specializing in content related to fashion, food and drink and film industry topics.  Find out more about Jess here.

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