The untold truth of Peeps

According to the Peeps website, "The wonderful combination of sweet colored sugar and fluffy marshmallow creates an unforgettable taste experience." Ain't that the truth? For some of us, that might mean running to the nearest garbage can and then sticking our heads under the faucet to wash that unforgettable taste experience out of our mouths. But whether you love 'em or hate 'em, by all indications, Peeps marshmallow candies are here to stay. After all, they have been around since 1953, and keep popping up each year like clockwork. And after more than half a century, this divisive Easter candy has got to have its fair share of fun facts and interesting history. 

Do you have any idea how long it took to make the first Peeps chicks? Spoiler alert: It was a really long time. And do you have any idea what's really in these neon pink, blue, and yellow treats? Or why vegans can't eat them? Perhaps most importantly, do you know about the odd side effect that comes with eating too many Peeps Oreos? You're going to love this one…

Let's dive into the untold truth of Peeps. 

The first Peeps took an insanely long time to make

Today, Peeps chicks are produced at a breakneck speed of six minutes each. If six minutes for one marshmallow doesn't sound all that impressive, it's because you don't know how long the process used to take.

In 1953, Just Born, the candy company who made Peeps a household name, was looking to acquire the Rodda Candy Company, mostly because of its jelly bean technology. But on a tour of that factory, the Born family noticed something that piqued their interest that had nothing to do with jelly beans. Just Born vice president Matt Pye told USA Today, "… while the family was touring the Rodda Candy Company, in the back part of the factory were these women with pastry tubes squirting these marshmallow chicks by hand." But this was no quick process — it took 27 hours from start to finish to make these marshmallow chicks, thanks to the very lengthy cooling time required before the candy could be packaged. 

Once Just Born acquired the company, they immediately set about automating the Peeps-making process, which included a faster dry time, and have managed to shave 21 minutes off the operation. Now that you have all the facts, six minutes seems party darn fast, doesn't it?

What's really in them?

The Peeps website lists the candy's ingredients as: sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, and less than 0.5 percent of the following ingredients: potassium sorbate, natural flavors, carnauba wax, and — depending on which color Peeps — red #3, yellow #5, or blue #1. So you're really looking mostly at sugar, sugar, and gelatin, with a few incidentals — but are any of these incidentals cause for concern? You be the judge.

Potassium sorbate is an FDA-approved preservative, and it keeps those squishy marshmallows squishy longer. Honestly, Peeps without this preservative probably wouldn't be great.

Food dyes, though also approved for use by the FDA, have long been controversial, and studies have shown some links between them and hyperactivity in children, cancer, and allergic reactions. Overall though, food dye has not been proven to be dangerous to most people. According to the Just Born website, the company uses only certified colors, which "are highly regulated for purity…" if that gives you any peace of mind. 

How about these mysterious "natural flavors"? Dawn Undurraga, R.D., an expert at the Environmental Working Group told Women's Health that this doesn't necessarily refer to "real" flavors. "Whether they are natural or artificial flavors doesn't matter; we consider them the same," she said. "It's often a secret mixture of chemicals that manipulate the taste of food. There are problems with lack of disclosure from companies about what's really in them…" Did you really think Peeps wouldn't contain some chemicals?

Next up, carnauba wax…

Is there really car wax in Peeps?

You may have heard a rumor that carnauba wax, an ingredient in some candy, is the very same ingredient used in car wax — and it is, indeed. However, it's probably not as bad as it sounds. 

Not only is carnauba wax approved by the FDA for human consumption, but according to Snopes, the amount used in candy is so minuscule that it simply cannot be likened to taking down a spoonful of Turtle Wax. And because of its high melting point, it's actually not even absorbed by our bodies. Which leads us to one slightly creepy point…

Carnauba wax is typically used to give candy a sheen or a hard shiny surface, and in Peeps it's what makes those brown eyes so shiny. When a pair of Emory scientists put the candy through a barrage of tests to determine its indestructibility, they stumbled onto something disconcerting about those eyes. After taking an hour-long bath in Phenol, a protein-dissolving solvent, the marshmallow was all but gone. The only thing that remained? A pair of wax eyes, bobbing in the Phenol, intact. The same eyes that will travel through your digestive system, intact. If that's not nightmare fuel, we don't know what is.

Thanks to this ingredient, vegans can't eat them

Peeps contain gelatin — that shouldn't be news to anyone who has ever eaten a marshmallow. Thanks to the kind of gelatin Just Born uses though, vegans and vegetarians will want to steer clear of the Easter treat.

According to the company's website, "Gelatin is a protein rich gelling agent obtained by partial hydrolysis of collagen. It is derived from the skin, connective tissue, and bones of animals. … We use pork derived gelatin in our Peeps marshmallow to achieve a light, soft texture."

But with the advent of vegan- and vegetarian-friendly gelatins now available, why hasn't Just Born at least put out an alternative Peeps product for their plant-based fans? That's one of the frequently asked questions the company receives, but they explain, "We have done a great deal of research, analysis and testing using alternative sources of gelatin and have not been able to identify a consistent alternative that provides the same great eating experience that our current gelatin provides." Maybe next year?

How Peeps are born

Curious about how Peeps are made? Since the factory isn't open for public tours, we'll need a little help with this one.

Today got a look behind the scenes at the Peeps factory in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and followed the marshmallow chicks on their journey from start to finish. In just those few minutes, the ingredients get mixed together in huge drums, and it's then pumped with air — nobody wants a dense Peep, and this ensures a fluffy result. The mixture is then extruded onto conveyor belts in their familiar shapes before passing through a shower of colored sugar. After the sugar shower, a special laser passes above the candy, adding eyes in just the right spot, and then it's into the packages they go. 

The entire six-minute process is automated — a far cry from the days of piping chicks out by hand — and because it's so fast, Just Born is able to produce an average of 5.5 million Peeps a day. As you might have guessed, with numbers like that, the marshmallow treat has held the title of number one non-chocolate Easter candy for more than 20 years.

It would take this many Peeps to….

Have you ever laid in bed at night wondering how many Peeps it would take to span the Golden Gate Bridge? You're in luck. The good folks at USA Today determined just how many marshmallow chicks and bunnies it would take to measure up against some of the world's most famous landmarks, and the numbers will blow your mind. 

Wrap your head around this one: Houston's NRG Park (aka the Astrodome) can seat up to 70,000 fans in its 1 million square feet. But to fill that stadium with Peeps? It would take an astonishing 1.7 trillion (trillion!) chicks.

The Hoover Dam built out of marshmallow? Probably wouldn't be too effective, but it would take 1.3 billion Peeps to do it. 

Stack Peeps bunnies up on top of each other ears to tail, and it would take 1,464 to measure up to the Statue of Liberty, 8,300 to reach the top of Chicago's Willis Tower (aka the Sears Tower), and 2,664 to line up with the Washington Monument.

And that piece of Golden Gate Bridge trivia you've been waiting for… It would take more than 43,000 bunnies lined up side to side to complete the span.

Some actually prefer them stale

Believe it or not, fresh-from-the-package Peeps aren't for everyone — and no, we don't mean that in the obvious way.

There are more fans of stale Peeps out there than you might think, according to Just Born VP Matthew Pye, who told HuffPost, "Everyone thinks they're the only ones who like [them]," but confirmed that about 25 to 30 percent of consumers actually prefer Peeps — as he so eloquently puts it — "aged, like a fine wine." With those kinds of numbers, should we expect aged marshmallows to hit shelves soon?  Nope, says Pye. They can't afford to disappoint that 70 to 75 percent of customers who prefer them fresh. "If we were to produce a stale Peep, we couldn't satisfy what the people want," he explains. "We let the consumer do it themselves." Let's be honest, "making" stale Peeps at home is pretty easy.

Take this Instagrammer, for instance, who has perfected her aged Peeps process: "It's crunchy bunny season!!!!! I only buy Peeps at Easter. I prefer the bunny shape, and I like them CRUNCHY on the outside. I usually open the package, split them apart and let them sit for a couple of days. Peep Perfection!!!" Crunchy bunny season does have a certain ring to it, doesn't it?

They're a supremely polarizing candy

Nobody has lukewarm feelings about Peeps. You either salivate at the very thought of the sugar-coated marshmallows, or you're filled with instant rage. And those who fall into the latter camp let the world know it. 

It's like clockwork — the moment the seasons change, you'll see a certain meme start making the rounds: "How to eat Peeps? Throw them in the trash can." And there are plenty of Peeps-hating hashtags to choose from for your caption — #peepsmassacre, #deathtopeeps, #ihatepeeps — all dedicated to showcasing the many ways you can decapitate, mutilate, or otherwise maim those oh-so-adorable chicks and bunnies. From a simple death by kitchen knife, to a more elaborate death by dinosaur (complete with fake blood), Peeps-haters seem to get into it with more zeal than others do with your usual maligned snacks. When was the last time you saw someone get so worked up over circus peanuts or candy corn?

Peeps lovers, when it comes to expressing your allegiance to this polarizing candy, you might want to watch your back — those haters seem a little stabby, don't they?

How many can you fit in your mouth?

Maybe this isn't something you've ever wondered; maybe it is. The good news is, unless you really want to, you don't have to find out for yourself how many Peeps a human can fit inside their mouth at once — someone did it for you. 

World record website RecordSetter, which tracks some, shall we say… unique, achievements, has been tracking attempts at Most Peeps Fit In Open Mouth since 2012. The original record holder managed to cram 10 Peeps into his mouth, but that record has since been broken. In 2017, Kelsey McDonald shoved a whopping 14 marshmallow chicks into her mouth. There are several points in the video where McDonald looks like she's questioning her life choices, and a few times she seems to gag a little — not too surprising considering how unbelievably stuffed her mouth is. But she manages to keep them all in, and unlock that coveted achievement nonetheless. 

Speaking of Peeps-eating records… In 2017, professional competitive eater Matt Stonie broke the world record at the World Peeps Eating Championship by taking down 255 of the marshmallow candies in just five minutes. Considering it might take some people five minutes to choke down one, that's an impressive feat.

What in the world is Peepza?

What do you get when you throw some Peeps onto an unsuspecting pizza? Peepza, otherwise know as the pizza absolutely nobody asked for ever. 

It seems like every Easter someone on the the internet "discovers" Peepza, but to properly lay the blame… er, give credit where credit is due, we have to go back to 2010, when Serious Eats columnist Adam Kuban debuted his springtime mashup (via Eater). The Peepza is exactly what it looks like: A plain cheese pizza, cooked almost completely, then topped with Peeps and cooked for another minute to get the marshmallows nice and melty. If we're to believe Kuban, "it actually doesn't taste as bad as you might think." "You know that whole salty-sweet dynamic that we all tend to love so much? Peepza has it in spades," he promised.

What's good for the goose isn't always good for the gander, though. In 2017, SBNation's Charlotte Wilder decided to hop on the Peepza bandwagon, and her review was decidedly less enthusiastic than Kuban's. "I took a bite of the Peepza, and let me tell you, this is the grossest s**t I've ever eaten. And I tried chocolate chip cookies made with cricket flour this week (don't ask)," she said. "It tasted exactly like you think it would: A Peep on top of pizza, which is disgusting."

Peeps Oreos came with a strange side effect

When limited edition Peeps Oreos, complete with neon pink marshmallow-flavored creme, hit the shelves the 2017, fans of the Easter candy were quick to gobble them up. But it didn't take long before an unsettling trend was noticed.

Turns out the bright pink creme had a surprising side effect: Bright pink poop. Those experiencing this phenomenon took to Twitter to air their dirty laundry, along with others who didn't have that particular issue, but experienced other side effects, like a stained pink tongue and Pepto-Bismol-hued spit. 

Can hot pink Oreos really have this effect on our bodies?

According to LiveScience they can, thanks to the red #3 food dye used in the creme, which gastroenterologist Dr. Ian Lustbader says doesn't get broken down in the body during digestion. While the colored poop indicates nothing serious health-wise, for someone to actually see this startling side effect, they'd have to eat a lot of cookies. "It's certainly going to take more than one or two," Lustbader explained. He further surmised that if you're eating enough of these cookies to turn your poop pink, you should probably be more worried about the sugar's and fat's effect on your health. Touché, doc.

The amazing expanding microwaved Peeps

What's better than chewy room temperature marshmallows? Warm, gooey marshmallows, of course. Just because you're chowing down on Peeps doesn't mean you can't fulfill your melty marshmallow dreams. 

If you've never microwaved Peeps, now is the time. Even if you don't want a melty marshmallow, you should consider microwaving a few Peeps, simply to witness their transformation. Consider it an important science experiment. In 30 seconds, you'll see those Peeps expand about four sizes right in front of your eyes. And then just like that, they're reduced to a puddle. So what gives?

According to Decoding Delicious, a marshmallow is made of "minuscule air bubbles surrounded by thin walls of gelatin and sugar syrup." When you microwave a marshmallow, the water molecules in the syrup turn to steam, and that steam fills the air bubbles causing a spectacular expansion. But here's where you need to be careful… If you're planning on digging into those super-heated Peeps, the center is likely to be molten. That's because the dehydrated sugar syrup that remains once the steam is gone gets very hot, and may even caramelize. Proceed with caution if you're eating your science experiment, but don't wait too long if you want ooey-gooey Peeps. The longer it sits, the more taffy-like it becomes.