One of the worst things about getting older is realising just how often you find yourself muttering the phrase “things were better back in my day” under your breathe. Well, that and joint pain. I'm only 25 and I'm already averaging around three to four "back in my days" a day. I'm not even anywhere near an age you’d classify as “old” and I still find myself getting irrationally angry at the concept of TikTokers and pining for the simplicity of my childhood on a regular basis. It shouldn't surprise you to learn that some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around the sweets I used to eat.
I might not be able to physically prove it without the aid of a Delorean – and I might well be blinkered by nostalgia – but I firmly believe that chocolate was tastier back when I was in my primary-school-and-Pokémon years. It was probably a lot tastier back when you were a nipper, too. Unless, of course, you are currently a child. In which case: please stop reading this. Go outside and kick a ball or something.
Aside from having well-lubricated knees, one of the things that I miss the most from those good old days (i.e. that honeymoon period of chocolate craftsmanship before Kraft bought Cadbury and Hershey-fied all their bars) is that confectionary brands didn’t have to rely on gimmicks and out-there flavours to disguise the flavour of their chocolate. It was all about the quality of the cocoa used, and maybe the occasional fruit or nut.
Nowadays, it’s difficult to find a single chocolate bar on the shelves that hasn’t had a police baton of Oreos or a fat wad of cookie dough thrown into it. Rumour has it that the reason you see all those mad flavours around today is because those fillings are cheaper to produce than the actual chocolate. Yes, along with finding out the tooth fairy doesn't exist, one of the more painful parts of growing up is realising that the peanut butter KitKat Chunky isn’t a chocolate bar that's been designed for your personal enjoyment but a cynical cost-cutting measure for the company that makes them.
Along with plain old chocolate, something else that it's increasingly difficult to find is unsalted caramel. Seriously. I’m not messing around. Take a look at the sugar aisle of your nearest supermarket and the good majority of caramel-flavoured products you’ll find will all be bougie salted caramel varieties rather than your regular run-of-the-mill caramel. Pop your fluffy slippers on and go have a look for yourself. I'll wait. There are salted caramel Twix; there are salted caramel Magnums; there are salted caramel M&Ms; there are salted caramel porridge pots, and there are even salted caramel-flavoured Weight Watchers tortes. That's right, we've officially hit peak salted caramel.
What was once the more avant-garde option, designed for candy dilettantes, has now become the default flavour and I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t become a little bit sick of seeing that savoury-meets-sweet combination being touted as some sort of gustatory revolution. It’s fine, of course, for a chocolate company to want to appear like they’re hot on all the latest culinary trends by releasing a chocolate bar that seems slightly more adult thanks to a sprinkling of Maldon. But, just like I miss the old Kanye, I miss the old caramel – unsalted caramel. I miss the sweet, stuck up in your teeth caramel that didn't feel as if it had a point to prove. It wasn’t broken, so why did we ever try to fix it?
It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment that salted caramel saturated the market but I personally blame gastro nerds like Heston Blumenthal for serving salted butter caramel alongside non-desserty desserts like carrot ice cream and pumpkin oil. That all sounds a bit much, doesn't it? And let's face it: if you were served a vegetable and salt-flavoured dessert on Come Dine With Me, you'd probably have some very harsh words for your host.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a “starter over dessert” kind of person and I’ll happily admit that there is a time and a place for salted caramel. After all, we’ve got a pretty sexy recipe for Salted Caramel Brownies on this very website. But that time is not “all the time” and that place should be not “everywhere”.
If you want a practical experiment you can try out at home simply pop your fluffy slippers back on, head back to the shop, and conduct an ad-hoc taste test using a few bars of Galaxy's finest. All it'll take is a couple of bites to realise that Galaxy's O.G. caramel bar is miles nicer than their newer salted caramel number. It's so much nicer that I’m not altogether sure why – aside from capitalising on a "hot" trend – that the latter even exists. It'd be like introducing a new version of Coca Cola that was just slightly saltier and worse than the original. Like, what's the fucking point?
You might think I'm getting worked up over nothing here but Salted Caramel Fudge Munchies have apparently just become a thing and if that’s not a sign of salted caramel jumping the shark, then I don’t know what is.
If you just so happen to be a product developer reading this then I want you to have a long, hard think the next time you even consider creating a salted caramel flavour of anything. Adding salt to caramel doesn’t make it any cooler, edgier, or tastier than it already is. It just makes it saltier. And I think we all know I'm salty enough as it is.