Here’s a peek into the world of Peeps

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Marilyn is a peepsophile. “Peepsophile”: from the Greek peeps (chicken) + philos (love of). She loves Peeps, those gooey marshmallow chicks and bunnies that are so popular around Easter time.

She loves them as much as, or more than, I love peanut butter. But she’s not alone; there are peepaholics everywhere. I read somewhere that this past Easter Americans consumed an estimated 700 million of the marshmallow candies. That’s enough for every man, woman and child in the United States to eat at least one. Maybe that’s OK, though, because they’re low-fat; only trace amounts of fat in Peeps. Thirty-two calories of pure sugar per Peep!

I recently found a bunch of websites featuring everything from Peep erotica, dubbed “Peep Smut” (featuring, how shall I say this?, Peep-like candies in the shapes of, uh, let’s just say some human body parts. These, of course, are not produced by Just Born – the company that produces Peeps – and cannot legally be sold in the U.S. under the Peeps brand), to an inventive online movie called “Lord of the Peeps.”

I also found an article about an annual event in Sacramento – the “Peep Off,” a contest to see how many Peeps you can eat. In 2002, some guy who calls himself “Peepicide” won the prize, consuming 72 Peeps in 30 minutes. I wonder if he bit off all the heads first? You know, so they don’t suffer!

I read about another guy whose goal was to eat 1,500 Peeps this Easter. He’s obviously not on the Atkins diet! Imagine the sugar rush! I don’t know if he accomplished his goal.

Until a few years ago, Peeps appeared on the shelves only around Easter time every year, so fanatics had to really stock up if they wanted them at other times of the year (we almost always have some in our pantry – purchased the day after a holiday at severely cut prices!), but now there are Peeps for all seasons: strawberry creme hearts for Valentine’s Day; stars for summer; ghosts (vanilla creme), witches, cats, pumpkins (and the newest ones, cocoa-flavored bats) for Halloween; snowmen, trees and cookie-flavored cutouts for Christmas; and of course chicks, bunnies and eggs at Easter.

I went to the Just Born website and found these “fun facts” about Peeps: 1. Just Born now produces more than 1 billion individual marshmallow Peeps a year. 2. In 1953, it took 27 hours to create one marshmallow Peep. Today, it takes six minutes. (I don’t know if I believe that one! 27 hours? Come on!) 3. During their early years, marshmallow Peeps were squeezed one at a time out of a pastry tube and the eyes were painted on by hand. Now, technology can create 3,800 Peeps eyes per minute. 4. As many as 4.2 million marshmallow Peeps are made each day at Just Born’s Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, factory. 5. Yellow Peeps are the most popular, followed by pink, lavender, blue and white. 6. Each Peep has 32 calories (160 calories per five-chick serving) and zero fat grams.

The website also enumerates “Strange Things People Like To Do With Marshmallow Peeps.” No. 1 is eat them stale. (Marilyn is one of those; she pokes holes in the packages so the marshmallow “ripens.”) I don’t know if I believe these others: “microwave them, freeze them, roast them and use them as a pizza topping.” Pizza topping? Come on!

Just out of curiosity, I looked up some information about the origin and history of marshmallow candy. I found out that marshmallow candy dates back to ancient Egypt, where it was a honey-based candy flavored and thickened with the sap of the root of the marsh-mallow plant (althea officinalis). Marsh-mallow grows in salt marshes and on banks near large bodies of water. It is fairly common in the eastern United States. Until the mid 1800s, marshmallow candy was made using the sap of the marsh-mallow plant. Gelatin replaces the sap in most modern recipes.

What else do you want to know about Peeps? How about colors? Violet first appeared in the 1997 season. Blue was added for the 1998 season. In early 2003, Just Born announced three new colors ( or patterns). These are white with red and blue specks (Fourth of July), orange (Halloween), red (Valentine’s Day), and red and green (Christmas).

How do you pronounce marshmallow? Do you say “marsh-mal-oh” or “marsh-mell-oh”? My dictionary lists the “mellow” pronunciation first.

Well, I suppose that’s enough useless information for one day, right?

Roger VanHaren can be contacted at