EVERY YEAR, Americans spend millions on Easter candy, from chocolate rabbits to marshmallow eggs.
This year alone, we'll consume 90 million chocolate bunnies and munch on 16 billion jelly beans, according to industry statistics.
But hard times will impact even the Easter Bunny, as the National Retail Federation reports that people will spend less on candy this year than last - an average of $16.55 vs. $18.12 a person.
When the time comes to fill a basket with sugary treats, how will you choose the best among the colorfully wrapped candies crowding local supermarket and drug store shelves?
To help you maximize your hard-earned dollars and create the tastiest Easter baskets, we twisted Daily News staffers' arms till they reluctantly agreed to sample an assortment of Easter treats to determine which candy's worth buying.
Along with the discovery that reporters will eat anything - even something they don't like - if it's free and/or chocolate, we also learned that paying more doesn't necessarily get you better-tasting candy.
Here is our delicious, extremely unscientific analysis of bunnies (hollow and solid), beans and belly-busting chocolate eggs. It was a tough job, but for readers, we'd do just about anything.
Hollow milk-chocolate bunnies
1. Russell Stover, 6 ounces, $4.99
2. Merlin's, 12 ounces, $5.99
3. Parsnip Pete, 7 ounces, $4.99
The verdict: Tasters were "happily surprised" at the Russell Stover rabbit. Though it cost almost double the money for its size compared to Merlin's, it had the most chocolately, rich taste. Parsnip Pete was so inedible, it may as well have been made of parsnips. Merlin's came in an unenthusiastic second, with just a handful of tasters enjoying it.
Solid milk-chocolate bunnies
1. Lindt, 3.5 ounces, $3.79
2. Dove, 6 ounces, $4.99
3. Palmer, 7 ounces, 99 cents
4. Hershey's, 6 ounces, $3.99
5. Russell Stover, 3 ounces, $1.99
The verdict: Palmer's bunny was unexpectedly good, tasters said. For under a buck, it stood up well against Lindt and Dove. Lindt, however, was the favorite, earning "yums" and declarations that it had the milkiest chocolate taste. Dove was a close second - "a chocoholic's choice," one tester said.
Foil-covered milk-chocolate mini eggs
1. Dove, 9.5 ounces, $4.39
2. Hershey, 8 ounces, $2.99
3. Lindt, 3.5 ounces, $2.99
4. Nestle's Crunch, 9.2 ounces, $3.49
5. Palmer, 28 ounces, $4.99
The verdict: Dove, hands down. Tasters called it "luscious" and "milk-chocolaty delicious." Hershey took second place, and the pricier Lindt earned few votes. Our tradition-minded testers liked the Nestle's Crunch taste but said it just wasn't right for an Easter egg.
1. Zitner's, 2 dozen eggs, $4.49-$4.99
2. Russell Stover, 1 dozen eggs, $3.99
3. Melster, 1 dozen eggs, $1.50
The verdict: Zitner's won for its creaminess and because, unlike the others, it did not have a "chemical taste." Melster was dissed for bad consistency. Other tasters went a step further, calling Melster and Russell Stover "foul."
1. Gimbal's, 14 ounces, $3.79
2. Teenie Beanie Jelly Beans, 8 ounces, $2.99
3. Confectionery Lane, 9 ounces, 99 cents
The verdict: It was almost a tie between Teenie Beanie and Gimbal's. Tasters took this so seriously, they tasted and re-tasted. Some changed their answers more than once. But in the end, Gimbal's won, thanks to its "intensity of flavors." Confectionary Lane's taste, on the other hand, was tagged as "artificial."
Dark chocolate-coated coconut eggs
1. Zitner's, 4 ounces, $1.49
1. Mary Sue, 4 ounces, $2.19
The verdict: This test almost caused a brawl and was resolved in a tie for first. Some said Mary Sue had a more authentic coconut flavor with real coconut consistency, while others cited Zitner's better-tasting, darker chocolate.
Cadbury vs. Butter Krak
1. Butter Krak, 9 eggs for $4.19
2. Cadbury, 4 eggs for $2.49
The verdict: This was nowhere near an even fight. Zitner's Butter Krak (made at the candy company's North Philly factory) won hands down for its creaminess, while Cadbury got a resounding thumbs down for its "awful cream" filling.
Since the two are pretty evenly priced per egg, tasters said they'd happily shell out a couple bucks extra to get more Butter Kraks in the package. *
E-mail April Lisante at