Today is Maundy, or Holy, Thursday, a lead-in to Easter Sunday (commemorating the Last Supper), and marshmallow came up yesterday in my posting on abutilon, so it’s time for a posting on Peeps, a confection associated with Easter. An array of these marshmallow candies:
(The yellow chick was the original Peep.)
(My friend Chris Ambidge has long vocally detested Peeps; “No more fucking peeps” is his slogan. That means, of course, that people are always annoying him with Peepsiana.)
The Peeps story on Wikipedia:
Peeps are marshmallow candies, sold in the United States and Canada, that are shaped into chicks, bunnies, and other animals. There are also different shapes used for various holidays. Peeps are used primarily to fill Easter baskets, though recent advertising campaigns market the candy as “Peeps – Always in Season”, as Peeps has since expanded to include Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. They are made from marshmallow, corn syrup, gelatin, and carnauba wax.
Peeps are produced by Just Born, a candy manufacturer founded in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, by Russian immigrant Sam Born. In 1953, Just Born acquired the Rodda Candy Company and its marshmallow chick line, and replaced the painstaking process of hand-forming the chicks with mass production. The yellow chicks were the original form of the candy — hence their name — but then the company introduced other colors and, eventually, the myriad shapes in which they are now produced.
And there are Peeps dioramas. In fact, there are contests for them. From one of these contests, Let Them Eat Peeps:
And a darker number, this Peeps parody of Kill Bill (link from Tim McDaniel on the newsgroup soc.motss a few years ago):
Peeps are long-lived, but they do eventually get somewhat stale. From Wikipedia again:
Peeps are sometimes jokingly described as “indestructible”. In 1999, scientists at Emory University jokingly performed experiments on batches of Peeps to see how easily they could be dissolved, burned or otherwise disintegrated, using such agents as cigarette smoke, boiling water and liquid nitrogen. In addition to discussing whether Peeps migrate or evolve, they claimed that the eyes of the confectionery “wouldn’t dissolve in anything”. Furthermore, a similar joke website claims that Peeps are insoluble in acetone, water, diluted sulfuric acid, and sodium hydroxide (the web site also claims that the Peeps experimental subjects sign release forms). Concentrated sulfuric acid seems to have effects similar to the expected effects of sulfuric acid on sugar.
This debate was featured in an episode of the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle (“Traffic Jam”), in which Francis, insisting the “Quacks” (as they were called) would dissolve in his stomach rather than expand, takes up the dare to eat 100 of them, doing so, but getting very sick in the process.
There are a fair number of sites devoted to exploding or melting Peeps in a microwave.
Not only are we in the Easter season, we’re also in the middle of Passover (March 25 – April 2), so the question of whether Peeps are kosher for Passover comes up. The answer is definitely not, but at least one confectioner has leapt to the challenge:
I was really excited, in a silly way, to find out that Lieber’s Candy of Brooklyn makes kosher for Passover marshmallow bunnies and duckies – just like Peeps, only no gelatin! (I found the photo here–go give the kosher food detective some love!) I had this great idea to commission someone to make us an Easter basket with all kosher-for-Passover candy to photograph and feature on our site. In order to be kosher for Passover, candy can’t be made with corn syrup, and there are other kashrut rules about ingredients that apply to foods year-round that also apply on Passover. (link)
Presumably, they replaced not only the gelatin but also the corn syrup.
There is some controversy about gelatin (an animal product that might include pork in its sources) being treif, but it’s safer to just avoid it:
One of the main methods of avoiding nonkosher gelatin is to substitute gelatin-like materials in its place; substances with a similar chemical behaviour include food starch from tapioca, chemically modified pectins, and carrageenan combined with certain vegetable gums — guar gum, locust bean gum, xanthan gum, gum acacia, agar, and others. Although gelatin is used for several purposes by a wide variety of manufacturers, it has started to be replaced with these substitutes in a number of products, due to the use of gelatin also being a significant concern to vegans and vegetarians. (link)
As for corn syrup:
Corn products, along with legumes & rice, are considered kitniyot — foods that are similar enough to chametz grains [the five grains wheat, barley, spelt, rye, and oats, which yield leavened foods] that they are prohibited [during Passover]. Only Ashkenazic Jews (Eastern European descent) avoid kitniyot. Sephardic Jews are free to consume it. (link)
Other sugars can be used instead. I don’t know how close the result of these substitutions is to true Peeps, but then I don’t care for Peeps to start with.