(NEXSTAR) – The word “octopus” is the singular form of octopuses, and the word “spaghetto” is the singular form of spaghetti.
It should stand to reason, then, that a single candy from a package of M&M’s is as an “M&M,” or at least something that sounds like “M&M,” right?
Well, yes and no.
While it’s technically not incorrect to call an individual M&M’s candy an “M&M,” the brand’s parent company — Mars, Incorporated — refers to each colorful bit of candy-coated chocolate as a “lentil.”
“Yes, individual M&M’s are referred to either as lentils or candies,” a spokesperson for Mars, Incorporated, recently confirmed to Nexstar.
Looking at the brand’s official website, it’s easy to see why many of the candy’s consumers or casual fans might be unaware they’ve been snacking on “lentils” this whole time. The word seems to appear in only a few news releases, product descriptions or listings for M&M’s-themed merchandise, such as the official M&M’s Lentil Coin Purse, or the M&M’s Drip Lentil Stud Tee.
“Lentils,” however, appears to be a common term for all sorts of similarly shaped chocolate candies, with distributors and confectioners across the globe embracing the term for the last century or so. A European brand of candy-coated chocolates called Lentilky, for example, was first produced in Moravia, in the now-Czech Republic, over 110 years ago, according to the Prague Morning. And the inspiration for M&M’s may have even come from a candy first marketed by Nestle as “Chocolate Lentils” in the 1930s, Mashed once reported, citing Nestle U.K. archivist Alex Hutchinson.
There’s also plenty of evidence to suggest that the makers of Skittles, made by the Wrigley Company (itself a subsidiary of Mars, Incorporated), refer to individual Skittles candies as “lentils,” according to data from the back end of the official Skittles website, as well as trademark applications available online.
The people behind the official Twitter account for Skittles, though, once appeared to refute this notion, stating that an individual Skittles candy “is called a Skittles,” despite a few confused users appearing to believe otherwise.
In any case, the term “lentil” appears to be widely accepted in the candy industry for all sorts of chocolatey, minty, or even fruity candies with lentil-like or lens-like shapes.
Consumers should probably be happy about that, too. Before “lentils” was the default term, French confectioners in the 18th and 19th centuries made a specific type of tiny chocolate candy that is believed to be a precursor to lentil-shaped candies to come — and it had an objectively worse name.
So, what were they called? According to candy historians cited by the BBC, these early candies were known as “crottes de lapin” — which literally translates to “rabbit droppings.”