Circus Peanuts – Worst Candy Ever?

Most longtime readers know that old, nearly forgotten confections have a friend in me. After all, I have waxed eloquently on Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews and have spent even more time with a longtime favorite of mine – French Burnt Peanuts (which I have examined here, here and also here.) But as much as I would love another high-calorie dive into the delicious world of “old man candy”, I feel compelled to turn a different direction today. In which I will delve into a contender for the title of Worst. Candy. Ever.

OK, I will admit that the title of Worst. Candy. Ever. is a singularly high (or low, if you prefer) (dis)honor, so perhaps more thought needs to go into those concoctions which could be in the running. What does not need more thought is that Circus Peanuts belong high on that list.

Maybe there are some of you lucky enough to not know what Circus Peanuts are. Actually, I think this would include all of us – does anyone really know what Circus Peanuts are? Are they marshmallow? Xanthum gum and corn sweetener? Cardboard and recycled gym shoes? Let’s have a look so that we can get a better understanding. Know thy enemy is some wisdom we will not disregard here.

A little research reveals that nobody actually knows where Circus Peanuts come from. There are a few of us who are convinced that they come from the depths of Hell, but there is no mention of them by scripture, Dante or by the Catholic Church (which is in the business of exorcisms, so it should know). Therefore, we need to move along to a theory with more proof. Well, I guess there aren’t any. So maybe we should just go with some company that needed a use for sawdust, glue and some other by-products of furniture manufacturing and leave theology out of it.

Really, how did someone decide to make a candy that was the color of an orange, the shape of a peanut and the flavor of a banana? Opium was once legal to consume in the U.S., so perhaps this was a factor. Banana can be a perfectly fine flavor (if difficult to reproduce well in cheap candy) but what could it possibly have to do with a peanut? Especially an orange peanut. Shouldn’t something associated with a circus taste more like popcorn or cotton candy? Make them tan, give them a peanut butter flavor and we could have an entirely different blog post on our hands.

Skipping over their murky beginnings in the cauldron of some Salem witches in the mid 18th century, It is generally agreed that they began as a seasonal kind of “penny candy” that was sold in 5 and 10 cent stores. The advent of cellophane packaging in the 1940’s allowed Big Candy to manufacture and sell them year around. Lucky us – do you feel the need to prove that not everything about capitalism is progress? Forget about things like income inequality and go with the Circus Peanuts. Even the most ardent free-market conservative will have nothing to say in reply.

It turns out that the things are actually quite tricky to make. They are mostly sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, pectin and some other stuff, which results in – well, you know. They are highly sensitive to temperature and humidity and confectioners have to be quite careful to keep them from getting a hard crust or from collapsing in on themselves. Then they get put in little bags and sent to – who actually knows where they all go?

Do they sit around in stores until they go stale enough that the stores pitch the 96% of them that go unsold? Or are they actually purchased and consumed by people who won’t admit to buying and eating them? Sort of like the people who bought Duran Duran records in the 80s while never admitting it to their friends or family? If I were to slink silently through my office on a Sunday, would I come upon stashes of Circus Peanuts in the bottom desk drawers of some co-workers? Oh, the shame of it.

Or maybe they are actually just recycled over and over – in the way fruitcakes are reputed to be. Although here, I suppose it would be necessary to set up recycling centers so that the things could be repackaged. Is there any way to tell the difference between a Circus Peanut packaged in 2021 and one from, say, 1958?

And what about that name? They have nothing to do with a circus and nothing to do with peanuts. Peanuts are certainly associated with the circus, which is probably why there are (or at least were) actual peanuts sold under a Circus brand. If all of the Circus Peanuts in the world were like these, the world would be a better place.

One little bit of trivia I came up with is a story that Lucky Charms cereal was the result after some guy cut up Circus Peanuts and put them in his Cheerios. I knew I never liked Lucky Charms that much, and now I know why. And there – how do the rest of you like your Lucky Charms NOW? Maybe they’re not so magically delicious after all?

Really, I am not that hard to please. I am all in for obsolete candies like those gummy, sugar coated Orange Slices that everyone’s grandma used to keep on hand. Lemon drops? Cinnamon discs? Necco wafers? Heck, I’ll polish off a bag of horehound drops like nobody’s business. But lines must be drawn sometimes, and it is at Circus Peanuts that one will be drawn here.

And finally, lest you think that a candy rant has had some kind of theraputic effect on me, you could not be further from the truth. I am, in actuality, a bit traumatized right now. Just the thought of the stiff foam texture and the horrid imitation banana flavor have me feeling a bit unsettled. I think maybe what I need is a big bag of French Burnt Peanuts. You know, the ones that practice truth in advertising and actually give you peanuts in the bag which contains the word on the label. Yes, that and perhaps a nap. Ranting about old man candy is hard work.

Photo Credits:

Opening photo – via Wikipedia, in the public domain.

All other photos are of commercial packaging or publicly displayed advertising.

34 thoughts on “Circus Peanuts – Worst Candy Ever?

  1. I tried one of these once…and I spit it out. They are indeed nasty.

    Perhaps there is a subset of the population who eats these things while listening to Duran Duran?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t begin to stomach these revolting concoctions. I like to think that something horrible happens from the second they leave the factory in a truck or van that the taste-testers at Spangler are unaware of.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha – I can see it now: “Egads Jones – I tried some of these from a store and nearly died! They taste nothing like the fabulous treats we get to sample here in the factory! We must get to work to find the cause of this mystery.”

      And this is all your fault, you know. Until you felt the need to bring up Circus Peanuts in your blog about the courthouse in Williams County, Ohio, I had not thought about Circus Peanuts in a decade or more. And my life was much better for it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. These things were vile. I tried them once or twice, possibly not even finishing the bag. For summer snacks, my buddies and I would get Mr. Freezes and frozen Lolas to consume. Sometimes Fudgsicles too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had wondered if after blasting this out across the interwebs we might find someone out there who actually likes these. But none have dared identify themselves. But then if someone like me who loves things like Scrapple can’t stand them, then who?

      Mr. Freeze and frozen Lola – I wonder if Mrs. Freeze knows about her?

      Like

  4. Never heard of them, but I read this over breakfast and felt ill.

    Are they related to marshmallow banana candy? My wife loves those, and every year or so I eat one just to confirm they are gross. Such misplaced enthusiasm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am amazed that these don’t seem to be a thing in Canada. Maybe I should move there and be rid of them for good.

      I wonder about the relationship with marshmallow banana candy. But to look into this myself, I would have to try something you think is vile and take another sample of something I think is vile. That would be way more vile than I am prepared to experience.

      Like

  5. I don’t remember ever actually trying Circus Peanuts but I do like Lucky Charms so maybe the trick is to dunk them in milk. Or maybe Circus Peanuts should have bits of oats in them like the nuts in a Snickers. Or maybe I should just stop having ideas. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • You make me realize that there are no variations. How many riffs have we seen on the basic Oreo cookie? Maybe this would work for Circus Peanuts in the ways you suggest. Chocolate covered? With (actual) peanuts inside? Almost anything would have to help in my book.

      Like

  6. I can’t believe you identified FOUR separate manufacturers of these nightmarish “candies”, JP. Three of them should’ve realized they were making a big mistake. My only relief in reading this post was that I had no idea they tasted like bananas (which only adds to the nightmare for me). That means I probably never actually tasted one, thank goodness. What I DO remember is how individual, unwrapped Circus Peaanuts showed up in the bottom of my plastic pumpkin as I went through my Halloween haul as a kid. Circus Peanuts must be like margarine – who needs to wrap them when they’ll NEVER go bad? Finally, I buy the theory on the genesis of Lucky Charms and I also say perhaps Circus Peanuts inspired similarly sized/shaped styrofoam packing material. A good friend of mine used to refer to those as “Albino Cheetos”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I too am amazed that so many companies make them. And getting unwrapped CPs dropped into a Halloween pail would be awful.

      I love the Albino Cheetos description for packing peanuts. A little orange dye and a shot of banana flavor, maybe you have solved the mystery of their source? 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m sorry, but I disagree. My wife and I LOVE Circus Peanuts and will eat a whole bag together at one sitting. They do have to be fresh, so we squeeze the bag before we buy it. And you can’t save any for later, they have to be eaten as soon as they’re opened, but we LOVE them.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I think it’s creepy that Spangler makes a point of stating that their CPs are free of Major Allergens. To my warped way of thinking, that kind of implies the presence of some Minor ones. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • A great point. This makes me think that the worst thing of all would be for CPs to contain no actual peanuts, but to be made with peanut-processing equipment so that they are still off limits for those with peanut allergies.

      Like

  9. I think I tasted them once and that was it – never enough to buy them, or sigh wistfully “if I only had a Circus Peanut right now” … I found them sickening sweet. My parents never let me eat sticky or gooey candy when I was growing up and so I no doubt saw a Circus Peanut and decided I was going to have one, no matter who told me I couldn’t. As to Marshmallow Peeps, there are the haters of their texture but some people, that I have known, wait until the day after Easter and buy them up at half price, poke holes in the cellophane and happily chow down when they are stale. I didn’t know they used them for Lucky Charms … that was a very sweet cereal.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You’ve done a super selling job on this one, JP. I doubt if any of your readers will own up to their affinity for Circus Peanuts if they were so inclined.

    I am not, by the way. But Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews? Now we’re talking quintessence of candy.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I don’t think we have those in Canada now , but they look vaguely familiar from the 60’s when my brother used to get penny candy after his Saturday hockey games. You would point to what you wanted through the glass display case – ten items for ten cents? I never tasted one though, so I didn’t know they were banana flavored. Those sugar coated orange slices I do remember though! Not good either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My grandma used to keep the orange slices in a glass candy dish in her kitchen so I have a soft spot for them.

      Since writing this I have probably seen Circus Peanuts being sold in 4 or 5 of the places we went shopping in over the weekend. When did candy become a thing at hardware stores and home centers?

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Sent this entry around to a bunch of people that got a laugh out if it. Universally despised! A buddy told me his Dad loves these and “Porkies” pork rinds; I said: “My God, I hope not at the same time!”

    Noticed my “high end” grocery store has a wall of small bags of all the old candy, Brand Name “Essentials”. Only about a buck and a half a bag (which is probably more than you should eat anyway). Orange slices, burnt peanuts, the works. The Circus Peanuts are way down at the bottom of the wall, looking like they’ve never been touched!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Count me as a fan of pork rinds (though I have not bought them in a long time). Someone who likes pork rinds should have far too much good taste to like Circus Peanuts too. 🙂

      Like

  13. You are so wrong calling them the worst. There are far worst candies. If they are so disgusting why are sales up 10 peecent this year from last year which saw the biggest increase in sales in years. I can sit there and eat a bag no problem. And want to eat more. The history of them just make them that more interesting. You want someone to remember your product give it a name with a different flavor people will remember it. How can you forget the name of a candy that taste like banana and looks like an orange peanut. Worst candy ever has to be Haribo fruit salad

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you have a handle on sales figures, does this make you part of the Circus Peanuts industry? Has my little blog captured the attention of Big Circus Peanut so that PR reps are out there running interference for their product? I’m kidding of course, but I am happy to see that someone else will join Herb on the pro-Circus Peanut side of this debate. He was probably feeling pretty lonely.

      I am with you on the Haribo fruit salad. Candy fruit salad? What’s that about?

      Like

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