A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Does anybody actually like Circus Peanuts?

January 2, 1998

Dear Cecil:

I have never understood why Circus Peanuts (orange, gooey, diabetic coma-inducing, peanut-shaped candy) are still available. I have never known anyone who actually likes this candy and I have asked everyone I know. So, Cecil, can you give me a little information about who invented this candy treat, why they are colored orange, and any other interesting tidbits you could provide.

Cecil replies:

Cecil has mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it's not like we're trying to put second-tier candy makers out of business. On the other hand, if you've sampled much Brand X candy, you can see why this stuff is no threat to Snickers. Based on our informal survey, consumer reaction to Circus Peanuts falls into three categories:

(1) Fear and loathing. Sample comments: "Ewwwww! I tried one once. It was like eating a dead finger." "They taste like they're stale even when they're fresh." "Like orange-flavored Styrofoam." "I think they are the horror that is the circus, that flat tin taste of fear and clowns and little lost children amid the cotton candy stink and the piles of elephant doo-doo and the clamor of the midway and the tinny sound of the circus band endlessly wheezing its way through yet another soulless circus fanfare." You get the idea. My assistant Jane found that the few stray Circus Peanut molecules escaping from an unopened package made her gag.

(2) Grudging acceptance. Sample comments: "Yeah, I like them. When they get hard enough you can use them for building material." "It wouldn't be my first pick, but if there was a bowlful at grandma's, I'd take a couple." Cecil personally falls into this category. Having done this job 25 years, I can put up with anything.

(3) Don't like 'em, but have an older/younger relative who thinks they're great. Sample comment: "The only reason I would buy them is for my nieces and nephews. I could have them in the house without temptation."

No one we heard from would admit to a personal enthusiasm (as opposed to tolerance) for Circus Peanuts. Wait, I take that back. We did get this comment: "Circus Peanuts! Nature's perfect food!" But I wouldn't take that too seriously; the guy is obviously sick.

Despite a public response that can charitably be described as tepid, Circus Peanuts are available from several companies. In other words, people compete to sell them! So apparently what we've got here is a product that survives not because anybody is genuinely fond of it, but because less than 100 percent of the populace is totally repelled. Strange, but people have used the same principle to become president of the U.S.

Circus Peanuts are a traditional candy that's been around since the 19th century. Until the advent of polyethylene packaging in the 1940s they were sold in bulk at the penny-candy counter. For some reason they were considered a seasonal product, available chiefly in the spring. This might explain their somewhat dense consistency. If you're trying to sell a bulk candy that's going to be sitting in the bin for months, you want something with the shelf life of a brick.

What accounts for Circus Peanuts' unusual taste and appearance? Even the makers of the product can't explain it. Here's the sum total of what Spangler Candy, "a producer of superior Marshmallow Circus Peanuts," has to say on the subject: "Over the years the best-selling item has been orange in color, banana in flavor, and peanut in shape."

Peanut lovers

Dear Cecil:

I just read your column about Circus Peanuts. In all seriousness, I happen to like Circus Peanuts. I really do. I'm not kidding. Just thought you should know that there was someone in the world who actually likes the things.

Dear Cecil:

I wholeheartedly (and proudly) love Circus Peanuts! Can't keep them in the house. Can't say there is a rational reason why, but stale or fresh (not that you really can tell the difference), I can't get enough of them.

Dear Cecil:

I truly and honestly like Circus Peanuts. Circus peanuts are yummy. Mmmm, Circus Peanuts. Good, good, good. I seem to be the only person willing to admit my enjoyment of the orange banana things (I know not what they are nor do I care), thus I must defend them when they are under such an attack as was waged in your column. I do not eat them very often, but since reading your column I have developed a craving. Mmmm.

Hand me a plate with a Godiva chocolate, a Dove bar, and a half dozen Circus Peanuts to choose from and I'll take the third.

Cecil replies:

I'll be damned.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. If Marv Albert gets his kicks dressing in women's underwear, what's so weird about liking Circus Peanuts?

Don't get me wrong. As I said before, I'm not one of those people who gag at the mere thought of Circus Peanuts. I've eaten them without throwing up. But to say that you are genuinely fond of this candy … I dunno. I think it bespeaks a serious mental disturbance.

Granted, it's a mental disturbance that's widely shared. We got letters from dozens of people proclaiming their love, or at least their serious like, of Circus Peanuts. Many of them seem to realize this is strange, even if they don't explicitly say so. Take Mary K. above. "Yummy. Mmmm. Good, good, good." Laying it on a little thick, wouldn't you say? Clearly Circus Peanuts are a way for her to flaunt her rebelliousness, like a drug habit or a scuzzy boyfriend. One can only hope she'll outgrow it.

Other people are more upfront. John Morrison writes: "Do gays coming out of the closet have this problem? Probably not. They're greeted with either unreasoning hatred or friendly acceptance. Us Circus Peanut lovers are met with blank-faced bewilderment, as if we had avowed a love of fingernail clippings. Yes! I'm the one who buys 'em, although thanks to the rather unhip image of Circus Peanuts they're hard to find. Worse yet, perhaps as a result of this incredible media pressure, new strains of CPs have come out: different colors, different flavors, same shape. The connoisseur will accept none of these modern abominations, of course. I might point out that, like chili, CPs gain something by being other than perfectly fresh. The slightly crusty outside of a properly aged Circus Peanut gives it a texture that is far superior to the mushiness of a fresh one."

JYDog: "Like heroin, they are subtly addictive. Then you gorge yourself, and that orange dye looks so much different when they come rumbling back up."

Dave Boersema: "Do I remember them??? How could I (or anyone) ever forget them? Much like the mashed potatoes at Kentucky Fried Chicken or some former girlfrends, there was an unexplainable attraction to them followed by a mystified sense of self-doubt bordering on self-loathing. (Why did I eat that? And, I know I'm going to do it again.) Did I like them? Yes and no. It was a love/hate kind of thing. At times I would want them and nothing else would satisfy. It was always the case upon first opening the bag that that strange aroma would hit and I would think, `Yes! Circus Peanuts! Who's your daddy?!' And the first gentle squeeze — and they had to be gently squeezed — was wonderful. But then, after eating two or three, I started getting that slightly nauseous feeling, though, of course, I would still eat another one or two, so that by the time I stopped I felt gross."

I close with this thought from Rob Atkinson: "Circus Peanuts are only the beginning of a long list of `Who buys this stuff?' items. At the top of my list at the local supermarket is kraut juice, in little five- or six-ounce cans, six to a pack. I never see anyone buying them, but someone must or they wouldn't stock them. Can you picture someone relaxing with a nice tall glass of kraut juice? Gross."

Kraut juice: When Circus Peanuts aren't enough

At the risk of dragging out an already idiotic discussion (Circus Peanuts suck, period), I just wanted to provide reader Rob Atkinson with some interesting information. A few years back, I worked in a grocery store as a night stocker. A fellow night stocker, we'll call him "Wayne," started a stupid morning ritual of trying some bizarre new product at the end of each shift. One morning, his choice was a fine can of kraut juice. We weren't sure if you were supposed to drink it by itself or what, but the packaging showed a mouthwatering WINE glass full of the green sludge.

Anyway, Wayne popped the cap open and took a big swig. He then began gagging and spitting out as much as he could. His first words after tasting the kraut juice were, "How can this be a marketable product!?!"

After calming down and quelling the desperate attempts of his stomach to return to sender, Wayne sat down, looked at the can, and then chugged the rest of it. After he nearly vomited once again we asked him why he did it. With a face nearly as green as the juice, he replied, "Well, I didn't want to waste it." — John Lamberth, Arlington, TX

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