What are Circus Peanuts?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Circus peanuts are a type of marshmallow candy. Contrary to the name, these candies have nothing to do with circuses, and little to do with peanuts. Many people are aware of this candy, and bringing them up in discussion is bound to result in a spirited debate, as some people adore them, while others are not so fond. Most candy stores and large markets carry circus peanuts, thanks to the number of companies that makes them.

Two young boys
Two young boys

Classically, circus peanuts are molded into the shape of peanuts, which explains the name, but they are banana flavored, and do not actually contain any peanuts. Just to add to the confusion, the candy is typically dyed orange, although it is also possible to find them in white, pink, and yellow upon occasion. The bizarre look and contradictory flavor may explain some of the reason why many consumers have difficulties with this candy.

This particular type of candy is extremely old. Circus peanuts were developed during the 1800s, and are in fact one of the oldest candies to remain continually on the market. Originally, they were only released during the spring, due to concerns about the candy's stability during other seasons. In the 1940s, plastic packaging and refined manufacturing techniques allowed companies to start offering them to their fans year-round.

The texture of circus peanuts varies, depending on how fresh they are. Extremely fresh ones will feel sort of like marshmallows in the mouth, with a chewy note. The longer the candy allowed to age, the more foamy it will get, with extremely stale pieces resembling styrofoam. Some people prefer the texture and flavor of stale circus peanuts, and they will leave a bag open for several days before eating the candy to allow it to age to the right texture.

This candy typically comes in large bags, and people sometimes see pieces lurking in candy samplers and office candy bowls. There are a number of companies that produce it, and all use more or less the same recipe. Nearly all brands include gelatin, so the candy is not safe for vegans and vegetarians.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Cageybird- I happen to like circus peanuts, but I can see why others might not. I get a package about once or twice a year, mostly the traditional orange circus peanuts. I have never seen white or pink circus peanuts myself, but I'm sure they could be ordered through a nostalgic candy company somewhere.

I don't age mine, like the article mentioned, but I do like to have a glass of cold milk around when I eat them. I think they're a nice alternative to sour candy or chocolate sometimes.


I'm definitely in the camp that doesn't like circus peanuts. To me, circus peanuts never taste fresh, which I suppose is part of the charm for people who actually like them. I'll see circus peanuts in the candy section of a store and immediately think "old people's candy". I'll get nostalgic for most candy from my youth, but not circus peanuts. I never thought they had much of a banana flavor, either. They just tasted like sugar and shoe leather to me. They're the beef jerky of the candy world.

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