While Circus Peanuts are not as popular as they were during the day of the famous "penny candies," many Americans — especially older generations — are familiar with the sweet banana-flavored treat. Here is everything you need to know about the bite-sized snack with a love-it-or-hate-it reputation.
What are circus peanuts?
While this shouldn't come as a shock, circus peanuts are not real peanuts. Rather, they are a peanut-shaped marshmallow candy with a soft and spongy texture. The most popular modern variety is orange in color and comes in an artificial banana flavor.
What ingredients go into them?
They are made from a mixture of sugar, pork gelatin, corn syrup, food coloring, soy protein, artificial flavors, and pectin (a gelling agent extracted from citrus fruits).
How are they made today?
The mixture of ingredients is squirted into molds made of starch — the starch extracts the excess moisture and helps to create the peanut shape. The candy is then crystalized in a temperature-controlled room for 24 hours before its packaged for distribution. In Andrew Zimmern's Field Guide to Exceptionally Weird, Wild, & Wonderful Foods Zimmern writes:
According to sources from Spangler, one of the only companies still making Circus Peanuts, this candy is one of the most difficult to make. They need the perfect conditions to have the correct consistency — too much moisture creates a thin, crusty deposit; too little and the peanut will cave inward.
When were they invented?
Created in the 1800s, Circus Peanuts are one of the original "penny candies" and remained popular through the 1960s. Penny candies — dubbed so because of their 1-cent price tag — were individually wrapped hard or chewy candies that were sold by the piece at soda fountain, candy, and 5- and 10-cent variety stores. While the first known penny candy was the Tootsie Roll introduced in 1896, other popular varieties included Sweethearts, Hershey Kisses, Bottle Caps, Candy Corn, and Jawbreakers.
Who created them?
The inventor of this artificially-charged candy has not been pinpointed. In Food Bites: The Science of the Foods We Eat, authors Richard and AnnaKate Hartel write:
The history of Circus Peanuts is clouded, as with most foods, but perhaps for Circus Peanuts it's because nobody wants to admit that they're responsible for developing this much-maligned product. What type of person would come up with the idea of an orange peanut-shaped marshmallow candy with an indeterminate flavor?
When are they traditionally served?
Once a seasonal item available only during the spring, the invention of polyethylene film in the 1940s allowed them to be packaged so that they could be sold year round.
Why are they banana-flavored?
While the reasoning behind making the candy in banana flavor is shrouded in mystery, Zimmern tackles the topic in Andrew Zimmern's Field Guide to Exceptionally Weird, Wild, & Wonderful Foods:
Rumor has it, the weird choice to make them banana flavored stuck after a freak banana oil accident.
Are they responsible for the creation of Lucky Charms?
According to the General Mills blog, Lucky Charms were created in 1963 by General Mills employee John Holahan after he chopped of pieces of Circus Peanuts into a bowl of Cheerios and fell in love with the flavor combo. Today, those small marshmallow bits are called "marbits" and are what makes the cereal so "magically delicious."
Where can I buy them today?
Many manufacturers produce the chewy snack. Top Circus Peanut makers include:
Brach's Confections (19111 Dallas Parkway, Dallas, TX)
Melster Candies (4017 Whitney St., Janesville, WI)
They can also be purchased online at:
Video: Watch what happens when Circus Peanuts are microwaved