Of all the mass-produced candies on the market, plain milk chocolate M&M’s have to be some of the worst. I’m qualified to make this call because, at a young age, I became an avid M&M’s consumer. Anxious as I was, I loved to pour a package of the brightly colored candies onto our wooden kitchen table, sorting through the colors so I could make sure I consumed them evenly: If there are five greens and only three reds, then I must finish the greens before I have another red. This was probably a red flag my parents should’ve paid more attention to, in retrospect, but I digress.
Milk chocolate M&M’s were ubiquitous in my childhood; maybe it was a ‘90s kid thing. Any event that involved candy, that rectangular brown pouch was there, housing the ultra-sugary chocolate I now recognize as being low quality. The glorified, misshapen chocolate chips encased in flavorless sugar jackets would crunch and crumble slightly before your teeth reached the softness of the chocolate itself. Sometimes, particularly at Christmas, for some reason, I would be delighted to pop open a plastic tube of mini M&M’s, which somehow tasted better than the regular-sized version.
But it was years before I finally tried an M&M that contained anything more than that lackluster milk chocolate. It was a peanut M&M, and I wasn’t particularly impressed. I’d never been fond of peanuts anyway, so to see a nut sticking out of the chocolate candy I’d just bitten in half was really a bummer. The chocolate improved the peanut, sure, but the peanut totally ruined the candy. The introduction of a somewhat healthy food into that pure, processed goodness felt like a culinary sin. Hence my suspicion around candy spinoffs. More often than not, it’s just a gimmick, and the extra ingredients actually serve to make the candy worse. I soon came to realize that even the plain M&M’s had very little to offer in the way of flavor, and my years-long M&M’s hiatus began.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I was so wary about trying pretzel M&M’s when they first hit store shelves. I was convinced Mars was making a mistake by releasing this Frankenstein of a snack into the world. How could they possibly turn two of the blandest, most boring snacks of all time into something even remotely appealing? But I was wrong. The first time I experienced the pure, unadulterated joy that is a pretzel M&M, I was shocked. The pretzel was perfectly salty and formed into a dense, hearty little ball. Just the right amount of chocolate encased said pretzel, providing a sweetness to complement the savory bite within. The most basic but supreme flavor combo was packaged inside this tiny, garish package, and I couldn’t get enough.
There is an art to properly eating a pretzel M&M. It all starts with the candy coating. Using your teeth, you gently break the coating, letting it chip off in layers like paint. Once these are crunched and consumed, it’s time to turn to the chocolate. If you truly want to obtain the maximum pleasure from your pretzel M&M, you should let the chocolate slowly melt in your mouth—this isn’t the time to rush. Once your tongue detects the saltiness of the pretzel, it’s time for the crunch. Then, the process starts anew with the next one.
In 2022, there are seemingly endless M&M flavors. Crunchy cookie, mint, crispy, caramel and almond M&M’s join the classics, like milk chocolate and peanut, to create an overwhelming landscape for candy lovers everywhere. But frankly, I don’t know why they decided to try anything else after the successful creation of pretzel M&M’s—this is the flavor that cracked the code.
Some people out there will try to tell you that the peanut butter or the dark chocolate or even—god forbid—the white chocolate are the best M&M’s varieties, but these people are mistaken. Sadly, the pretzel M&M has not received the fanfare and celebration it deserves, but that somehow makes me like them more. They are too often overlooked, the underdog, relegated to the back of the shelf while the bright yellow of the peanut M&M’s package is displayed front and center. But this understated classic is always there, waiting to be discovered by yet another M&M’s consumer who’s brave enough to try something new.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.