Have you ever wondered which came first, the marshmallow or the Peep? Well, we've got the answer. Follow along on our tour of the Just Born, Inc., candy plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and you'll know a lot more about those cute little chick and bunny peeps that show up in your Easter basket every year.
A mixture of marshmallow, sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, and a few other special ingredients are whipped into a marshmallowy goo that will become the shaped candy figures.
All sugar starts out white. Since yellow Peeps were being made the day we visited, yellow food coloring was added through that little arm outside the barrel. The barrel rotates like a cement mixer to color all the sugar.
Sugar is loaded into a spreader (the gray piece in the background) by hand. The spreader distributes the sugar all across the conveyor belt that the candy will ride during production.
Just Born, Inc., produces 1.2 billion marshmallow goodies each year for all occasions -- that's a heap of Peeps. Chicks and bunnies are the most popular shapes and are made year-round at the plant.
No photos are allowed of the machinery that actually pumps the marshmallow into the right shape. That's top secret. We can tell you that it's basically the same technology that was developed in the 1950s by the Just Born company.
Naked Peeps make their way along the conveyor belt (yes, they travel backward the whole way!) toward the wind tunnel. This is where air will whip the sugar around so that it sticks evenly to the warm, wet marshmallow.
The sugar-coated candies slide off a solid conveyor belt on to a grated one that lets extra sugar fall through. That sugar will be reused.
In 1953, Peeps were made by hand with a pastry tube. Making one Peep took about 27 hours. Today, Peeps can be made in just six minutes.
This machine gives the Peeps their peepers, which are actually tiny dots of an edible wax. The machine can pump out 3,800 eyes per minute.
The final stage of the conveyor takes the candies through a very cold area so they can firm up enough to easily frop off the conveyor belt and into boxes. As you can see, chicks stick together five at a time. When it comes to bunnies, it's four per box.
The next stop for the boxes of candy is a wrapping station. Boxes are sealed with plastic wrap, either individually, two at a time, or three at a time.
Peeps chicks come in five colors, listed here in order of popularity: yellow, pink, lavender, blue, and white.
Finally, the packaged chicks are placed in cardboard boxes for shipping. Peeps are sold in 30 countries around the world.
Just Born is named for Sam Born, who grew up in Russia and came to America in 1910. He started his business with a small candy shop in New York City. The company's headquarters has been in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, since 1932.