The History Of Marshmallow Peeps

Sugary, bright, and happy marshmallow Peeps are a classic springtime treat. Each year, they flock to stores where customers purchase them in mass to adorn Easter baskets, use them in recipes, and garnish drinks. Unfortunately, after this brief spell of popularity, they fade into the ether throughout most of the year. And while you probably have an opinion of these squishy treats, you may not know that they also have a rather fascinating history.

In fact, Peeps can trace their origins back to the earliest days of sugar sculpting for kings and queens. It's certainly hard to imagine now, but there was a time before Peeps were synonymous with the Easter holiday. In the earliest days of squishy Peeps, they were made by hand and required a great deal of patience. The process dramatically sped up with the introduction of mechanization, making this favorite holiday treat more widely accessible.

All in all, Peeps are known for being the sugary snack often found in Easter baskets. However, these classic Peeps have become much more than basket decor. The bright yellow chicks have evolved into bunnies and even Christmas trees. Beyond that, Peeps now come in many exciting new flavors and even make appearances on social media.

Sugary sculptures have a long history

Looking at these miniature, sugary sculptures, it might be hard to imagine creating one without a bunch of machinery and modern-day technology. However, the tradition of sugar sculptures has quite a lengthy history, well before modern-day technology.

In fact, to impress their kings and queens, artists would utilize the apothecary's essential tool of sugar paste to build structures. Sugar paste is basically white sugar mixed with gum to bind it together. It made for excellent molding and worked similarly to something like clay. When Henry III of France made his way through France for his coronation, he celebrated with a banquet where sugar sculptures from Jacopo Sansovino decorated the space. Sugar sculptures also found their way into wedding celebrations. At the marriage celebration of Maria de Medici and Henry IV, elegant, edible sculptures made of sugar was a central statement piece. Henry could not be present for the ceremony, but to honor him, artist Pietro Tacca crafted large, even life-size sugar displays of Henry on horseback to adorn the celebration.

Rodda Candy Company first produced them

Pennsylvania has been home to some rather hard hitters when it comes to candy production. Aside from Hersey, it also housed the Rodda Candy Company. Though the company has since been purchased, it is believed to have been the first Peeps creator. In addition to Peeps, this company also had a foothold in the early market of chocolate bunnies.

A candy catalog from 1925 lists a Peeps-like item. While they may have originally been a specialty item made for only the most loyal customers, Peeps of the era were more decorative than food. Unfortunately, the Peeps of the early 20th century were quite challenging to make. So when the company sold in 1953, the purchasing company, Just Born, had plenty of space to revolutionize the production process to make this small sugary sculpture into a product that future generations would fall in love with.

Just Born revolutionized Peeps' production

When founder Sam Born immigrated to the United States in 1910 from France, it would have been impossible to predict just how significant of the change he would have in the world of candy. In addition to establishing the Just Born company, he also created a machine for putting the sticks in lollipops, making chocolate sprinkles easier, and even creating a hard chocolate coating for desserts like Eskimo pies. However, born's real legacy in the Peep world began after his company purchased the Rodda Candy Company.

At the time of purchase, the Rodda Canada Company took 27 hours to produce Peeps. The process was very manual and involved a lot of time and effort. Perhaps as many confectioners as 80 would need to work together to take a fresh marshmallow, egg whites, and sugar and squeeze it through a small fluted tip. Then, rather than cooking, the original Peeps actually air-dried. Bob Born, Sam Born's son, invented the machine that would take that laborious process and significantly simplify it down to six minutes. In the process, Peeps lost their wings, but what they lost in wings, they gained in production speed. For his invention, Bob was known as the "Father of Peeps."

Bunnies arrived in the 1980s

Of course, baby chicks aren't the only springtime animal ideally suited for Easter. Bunnies are also a common theme in children's baskets. So, in the 1980s, Peeps introduced a new variety of marshmallow treats: bunnies. Now, you can get many different shapes of Peeps to suit holidays centered around candy.

During the Christmas season, you can find gingerbread, a Christmas tree, a snowman, and stocking-shaped Peeps. Not to mention, there are also several flavors particular to the holiday season. For example, you can get peppermint Peeps as well as chocolate-covered peppermint Peeps. While not all specialty shapes are different flavors, some are. The gingerbread Peeps, for example, come gingerbread flavored. When it comes to Halloween, you can choose from several spooky shapes like sugar skulls, ghosts, pumpkins, and even Frankenstein's monster. Easter, however, has the most variety when it comes to different flavors. There are simple ones like cotton candy, but then there are much more creative ones like Dr Pepper-flavored chickies and even kettle corn.

Some Peeps pair well with wine and cocktails

When it comes to choosing an ingredient to pair with wine and beer, Peeps are ideal because they are simplistic in flavor — unless you choose to get some of the specialty flavored options, of course.

Since Peeps are rather on the squishy side, complimenting them with a wine that is bright and full of crisp, fruity notes works well. A chardonnay with apple and pear would be a nice complimentary pair. Chardonnay, being on the dryer side, will compliment the soft and squishy feel without adding much extra sweetness. We also think Peeps make adorable seasonal garnishes for drinks. We're big fans of a bourbon cocktail with egg white, Frangelico, bourbon, and amaretto shaken together. After pouring it into your martini or coupe glass, choose one of your favorite Peeps to garnish the top for a fun and seasonal touch. Of course, you could skip the pairing and go for a Peep-flavored beer. Brix City Brewing out of New Jersey offers "Get Peep'd." This brew is a New England triple IPA said to remind drinkers of the adorable Easter treat. If that doesn't sound delicious enough, it also has notes of vanilla frosting and even mimosas. This may be the perfect beer to serve at your Easter feast.

They are ripe for use in recipes

While some people enjoy these colorful birdies fresh out of the box, we love incorporating them into our festive desserts and treats. Since Peeps are basically brightly colored and sugared marshmallows, you can use them in most ways you may use normal, white marshmallows.

Consider, for example, switching out those regular marshmallows for Peeps in your next batch of rice crispy treats. You could even divide your mixture, layer them, and use different colors for a festive, tasty batch of sticky treats that will have everyone wanting to know your secret. For the adults in your life, you could also put your Peeps on top of your favorite blue Jello shot. And the next time you and your family make up some s'mores, don't be dull with those regular marshmallows, make those campfire treats extra special with colorful s'mores. Peeps are a great way to add color and fun to your Easter cooking. Plus, if you have leftover Peeps at the end of the season, recipes offer excellent opportunities to use them up.

Peeps have been the subject of experiments

In the late '90s, scientists at Emory University used Peeps in a series of experiments to test these sweet treats' durability, notes Emory University. Through these trials, researchers found that water, acetone, sodium hydroxide, and sulfuric acid did nothing to eat away a Peep's unreasonably soft exterior.

Today, professors at the university continue the tradition of demonstrating how ridiculously resilient a Peep actually is. Time and time again, they see that a Peep maintains its form in everything from stomach acid to acetone. In fact, as the experiments repeatedly show, only a few experiments like those involving fire, a microwave, a rocket, or a vacuum chamber did anything to the candy. If you've ever put a marshmallow in a microwave, you won't be surprised to learn that a Peep performs similarly. Even still, watching it blow up is a rather fun trick.

For a cool experiment with kids, you can put Peeps around the edge of a plate. Then, in the middle, add some water. Over time, the color from the Peeps will run into the water. You can also have your Peeps perform in something of a sparing battle by giving each of them toothpicks and placing them in a microwave. It'll be obvious who the winner is.

The Washington Post created a diorama contest

In 2007, The Washington Post created a contest where participants designed and built a diorama. And for 10 years, it was quite successful, until 2017 when the Post ended the contest, at least for a time.

Then, in 2021, the Post brought the contest back, but this time, the dioramas would be displayed on TikTok. Contestants will still submit their work in picture form, but they are also encouraged to show their work on the video-sharing platform. Taking advantage of this approachable medium and a general increase in the amount of indoor free time people had, the contest perfectly straddles the line between creative and playful. The entries get judged on several criteria, including theme, originality, craftsmanship, showmanship, and even edibility. This competition is full of whimsy and captures the lighthearted nature of the Peep. This, along with the unique flavors helps create an enjoyable brand that people love.

Yellow Peeps remain the most popular

In addition to several exciting flavors, Peeps also come in several colors, all in the original flavor. The blue, green, purple, pink, and yellow Peeps all taste the same, but the yellow Peep is actually the most popular option, notes Just Born. If you've never tried other flavors, we encourage you to give the other options of Cotton Candy, Hot Tamales, Party Cake, Sour Watermelon, Fruit Punch, Dr Pepper, Kettle Corn, Tropical Burst, or Sparkly Wild Berry a try. One of these odd flavors may very well surpass the classic yellow option.

Beyond marshmallowy snacks, Peeps are featured in different milk flavors and even a milkshake kit. On top of that, you can find pillows and other decor celebrating Peeps. Not only do these items make great basket stuffers, but they make cheerful decorations for your home. Given that these were some of the first Peeps out there, the yellow is iconic not just for its originality but also because it most closely resembles a little chick. So especially if you are using your Peeps for garnish or accent in Easter baskets, yellow is an ideal option, even if it isn't the most interesting flavor the brand offers.

These sugary chicks are the favorite Easter candy

Peeps are near a fundamentally American experience. In fact, a Wakefield Research survey shows that more than ⅔ of Americans will have had a Peep before they turn nine. What's more, these treats aren't just for Easter; for 57% of Americans, seeing Peeps in the grocery store is a sign that spring is on its way.

Being such a common symbol of spring and Easter, perhaps it is no surprise that these marshmallow treats have held the title of the number one non-chocolate treat for over two decades. However, even though the bunnies are just as cute, chicks are more popular than bunnies.

That said, no one loves Peeps more than those residents from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Here, each year, residents ring in the new year with a Peep drop and a two-day festival with activities, photo spots, and even cooking demos to celebrate the sugary treat.

An enormous number of Peeps are produced each year

When the process of making Peeps became more manageable and accessible, it enabled Just Born to produce a ridiculous number of Peeps each year. This production efficiency has helped propel Peeps into their place of prestige in the candy world. Every day, Just Born turns out roughly five and a half million Peeps, notes Just Born. By year's end, the total will be about two billion Peeps. And though we imagine most people don't eat more than a handful of Peeps each year, some take it to the next level. Competitive eater Matt Stonie, for example, has eaten 255 Peeps in five minutes, reports Major League Eating.

In 1953, when Just Born dramatically slashed production times, it did so with a machine called the "Depositor," and for 60 years, it performed masterfully. This efficient tool was replaced in 2014 with an even more effective piece of equipment as the new machine requires significantly less space than its predecessor.

Peeps are not vegan

Sometimes, trying to navigate your favorite foods as a vegan can feel like a minefield. And if you enjoy sugary treats, you may wonder if you can eat Peeps.

Quite simply, no, Peeps are not vegan. They have gelatin in them, and since gelatin comes from boiling down bones, cartilage, or even tendons, Peeps are not vegan. In the case of Peeps, this is a gelatin from pork. Just Born insists that, even though a fair amount of testing has been conducted, this specific gelatin is essential for great consistency and for creating the intended snacking experience.

Of course, if you want milk chocolate dipped Peeps, these will contain milk as part of the chocolate, so this aspect of them will not be vegan either. There have also been some varieties of Peep that have been filled with caramel, making those options non-vegan in that way, too.

They are a pop culture sensation

Peeps have also found their way into pop culture. As part of an episode of "South Park," a box of Peeps exploding in the microwave saves the boys from a ninja attack while they investigate the secret of the Easter bunny. In addition to "South Park," Peeps have also appeared on many morning shows like "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America." They have also been part of other favorites like "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," "Jeopardy," and "The Daily Show." As part of the Post's annual Easter contest, Peeps have also been more prominently featured on many social media platforms.

Several celebrities have also said they are fans of the marshmallowy treat. Miranda Cosgrove, for one, performed at a music festival in Bethlehem, and before the concert, she got to meet a Peeps mascot. Justin Bieber, Joe Jonas, and Dylan Lauren are also said to enjoy the Peeps.

You can create customized Peeps

When it comes to unique gifts in your Easter basket, look no further than customized Peeps. You get to select several options to make your favorite Peep a reality. Though the options are rather limited, the combinations, even between your limited choices, are many.

You begin by selecting the color of the chick: pink, yellow, or blue. Of course, they all taste the same; this is purely aesthetic. After choosing your color, pick a chocolate dip. These all taste different, and you can select dark, milk, or white chocolate. For this option, consider what it looks like as well as your tastes. Lastly, you get to choose a sweet dipping, and this is where all the fun is at. You have many options between colorful sprinkles, a golden color toasted coconut, chocolate chips, crunch-crunched pretzels, and even crushed cookies. Your order will come in two boxes containing six Peeps a piece. These customized Peeps are a sweet, thoughtful alternative to the classic box of yellow chicks.