The year is 1873. The place: Racine, Wisconsin. The players are James and William Horlick, two brothers—formerly of London—who have made their way to the U.S. in search of fame, fortune and a way to turn their pharmacological training into a marketable nutritional supplement for infants and invalids. Their big idea: “Malted Milk,” a powder made from a mixture of malted barley, wheat flour and evaporated whole milk. By 1887 they had patented the powder, but while the golden bevies of infants and invalids did not at once descend en masse, demanding malted-milk by the barrelful, they were pleased to accept the patronage of Admiral Richard E. Byrd and other Antarctic explorers, who found in malted milk a source of food which was non-perishable, lightweight, nutritious and delicious. In fact, Byrd was so grateful for malted-milk that he named an Antarctic mountain range after the Horlicks on one of his subsequent voyages. Word of the remarkable product spread, and malted milk was soon a hit consumer beverage mix, even lending its name to the drug stores that mixed it with soda and ice-cream, becoming popularly known as “malt shops.”
By 1939, malted milk made the leap from the drug-store to the candy shop when Overland Candy Company introduced the first chocolate covered malted-milk balls. This forerunner of the modern “Whopper” was known as the “Giant” and became a common fixture as an unwrapped, penny candy. When Overland merged with the Chicago Biscuit Company, Leaf Gum, and Leaf Machinery in 1947, malted milk balls were re-introduced as “whoppers” eventually becoming synonymous with the iconic milk-carton shaped box of today. While owned by Hershey since 1996, the whopper formula has remained true to its roots.
So what are they like? Well, there’s nothing quite like them. The chocolate coating is creamy, rich milk chocolate—delicious, but unremarkable in the candy world. The real heart of the whopper is its malted-milk interior. Crispy, not oversweet, (but vaguely honeyed) and soluble at the touch of the tongue—the inside of the whopper is like some divine hybrid of wafer and nougat. Combined with the smooth chocolate coating, the whopper is an extremely rare (and satisfying) gustatory and tactile experience— kind of the gourmet corner-store candy par excellence.
They might not save you from sub-zero temperatures, put you to sleep (as some rumors concerning malted milk suggest), or build you up quite like the Horlick brothers first intended, but whoppers will never let you down.