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Red Hots Spice Up Everyday Cooking

As a young girl, my favorite room in the house was always the kitchen. Warm and filled with the pungent aroma of bubbling sauces, there was no place I'd rather be. When the rest of the neighborhood kids were outside riding their Big Wheels in the driveway, I was inside, hovering beside my mother as she put together our Sunday supper.

I'd watch intently as she mashed homemade apple butter through a sieve and into a stockpot, stopping every so often to scrape down the sides to extract every drop of tart, apple flavor.

When it was time to add our secret seasoning to the apple mixture, I'd crawl up onto a rickety stool, push aside the can of cacao powder, the multiple bottles of vanilla extract and the jar of cinnamon sticks, and pull out a box of cinnamon imperial candies, otherwise known as Red Hots.

Before I could grab a handful for myself, my mother poured the entire box of candies into the mixture, and a flotilla of tiny red dots would be bouncing in a sea of pale apple puree. Then slowly, one by one, the minuscule sweets would sink into the pulp.

A bag of sweet and spicy Red Hots can add some serious pizazz to virtually any food that benefits from a dash of cinnamon.

Originally used to decorate cookies, cakes and gingerbread houses, Red Hots now can be found on ingredient lists for a variety of dishes, particularly those involving apples.

Red Hots melt easily into any hot liquid or sauce, turning it a light pink and leaving a slightly sweet burn on the tongue. Toss a few into your next pot of hot chocolate, tea or mulled cider, and your average beverage will take on an above-average zing.

Inject new life into dill pickles by boiling their pickling liquid with a cup of Red Hots and a couple of cinnamon sticks. A small handful of these spicy candies gives a boost of heat to a classic red gelatin salad, which turns an even deeper ruby color.

And Red Hots were made for apples: Their addition means applesauce picks up a smidgen of pink coloring and tangy spice, as do baked apples, apple jelly and apple dumplings.

Red Hots candies were created by the Ferrara Pan Candy Co. in the early 1930s using the panned candy method. This process involves creating candy from a hard center unit (such as grains of sugar or nuts) and then transferring them to revolving pans where they are tossed with added flavors, colors and other ingredients until they reach the desired size. From there, the candy is "polished" with a vegetable wax, providing its shine.

Red Hots rank up there with Atomic Fireballs and Hot Tamales in their ability to sting your tongue just enough to make resisting a second piece impossible. As a young girl, I spent very few afternoons at the movies that didn't end with empty boxes of Red Hots and pink-tinged fingertips. Even today, I keep a second stash of the candy hidden away to satisfy sugar cravings.

Their power as a candy is matched by their power as a spice. So experiment. Reinvent a simple bowl of popcorn by adding a few candies to the melted butter or make candied apples by dipping Granny Smiths into a Red Hots-infused glaze. Red Hots deserve their own place on the spice rack.

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Kendra Bailey Morris