What Are Circus Peanuts? And Why Do They Taste Like That?

We live in a golden age of candy. There are entire stores full of all manner of Wonka-ish delight, but even in your average grocery store there are aisles and aisles of chocolatey confections and gummy treats for you to enjoy.  Whether your pleasure be peanut butter, nougat, coconut, butterscotch, caramel, or anything in between, you can find it.

But have you ever been to a place with an old timey candy selection? Perhaps in a seaside town or maybe a country store? Peruse the aisles of such a place and you will discover that we didn’t always have an abundance of delicious candies. Sure, there’s a novelty factor to Zagnut bars and those weird candy pills on the sheets of paper, but are you telling me you wouldn’t trade any of these for a Three Musketeers bar?

Of all the odd, ancient, “penny” candies—I’m talking your NECCO wafers, Mary Janes, Charleston Chews, Bit-O-Honeys, root beer barrels, flying saucers, and so forth—there is perhaps none more infamous than the circus peanut.

What is a circus peanut? 

Essentially, it’s a marshmallow-like treat pressed into a peanut snape. Contrary to their name, they are not made of peanuts, nor do they taste like them at all. They were created in the 1800s and were one of the first penny candies, along with bottle caps, candy corn, licorice, and Hershey Kisses. 

What flavor are circus peanuts? 

They are usually banana flavored for some ungodly reason, but it’s not fresh banana. Circus peanuts taste like that classic artificial banana taste, but somehow dialed up even higher. They’re very sugary with a billowy, marshmallow consistency. Plus, they’re almost always bright orange, which is confusing because that is not the color of bananas. 

Spangler Candy Company, the largest producer of circus peanuts, also produces the candies in vanilla, lemon, and cherry flavors. They are white, yellow, and red, respectively. So, perhaps the banana circus peanuts are orange because yellow was already taken by lemon. 

What is in circus peanuts? 

Basically gelatin and sugar, like most marshmallowy products. But to get more specific about what circus peanuts are made of, the ingredients list consists of sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, pectin, soy protein, food coloring, and artificial (extremely artificial) flavor. 

Now that you know everything there is to know about circus peanuts, you must answer the most unanswerable question of all: Who actually likes these things? My grandmother would occasionally buy them for me, but even as a child I would gravitate towards almost any other candy. In 2018, circus peanuts were named the worst Halloween candy. And yet, they persist. Are you one of the select few who can’t get enough circus peanuts? What is it about this olden times treat that hits the spot for you? Let us know!

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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  • Haha, its me. I like this candy, its not a favorite but I get it sometimes. Interesting, I never thought about the flavor before now. It was just “circus peanut flavor”. I don’t know, maybe its like licorice. Either you love it or hate it. Its something about the texture. Soft but not in the same way that normal marshmallows are.

  • I love them. Any chance I get I will buy them!

  • Absolutely my all time favorite candy from when I was a child! I actually thought they stopped making them but found them at Tractor Supply in Oklahoma! Now I find them at Walmart and other major grocery stores! Happy to have my childhood candy back! Yes, they are that good!