Ice cream, cake, and cookies taste best with a sprinkle of color and crunch. October is my birthday month. My favorite birthday treat is chocolate cake, vanilla frosting, and a generous helping of rainbow sprinkles. 

The primary qualification of sprinkles is that they adhere to a sugary treat, whether it is ice cream, icing, or cookie dough. They come in many colors and sizes, and let us not forget the chocolate flavored sprinkles.

Before sprinkles became popular additions to treats, pharmacists used them to administer medicine. In Bravetart: Iconic American Desserts, Stella Parks explains that in the early 19th Century, pharmacists used the sphere-shaped sprinkles, called nonpareils, to help the medicine to go down. The tiny beads helped folks at home safely take their medications, essentially adding less of the drug (such as opium) to a mouthful of nonpareils. 

Sprinkles, as we know them now, popped up in the world of confections by the 1920s. The Sunshine brand, part of the Loose-Wiles Biscuit Company of Kansas City, introduced “chocolate sprinkle cookies” in 1927. The Just Born Candy Company of New York City (which later moved to Bethlehem PA) developed rod-shaped candy bits of chocolate initially called “chocolate grains,” and later referred to as “jimmies.” In different pockets of the Northeast, sprinkles continued to be called jimmies, reportedly after a Just Born candy maker, not surprisingly named Jimmy Bartholomew. I am grateful that for whatever reasons, they decided not to name the little bits “barties” after his last name. Somehow that would sound less endearing. My favorite rainbow sprinkles became popular after World War II, in part because sugar was once again readily available. 

The ingredients for sprinkles are simple: they are mostly sugar and food coloring. For the rod-shaped sprinkles, the rainbow-colored variety is made from sugar, starch, food coloring and vegetable oil. The chocolate sprinkles combine cocoa, chocolate and sugar. The nonpareils are essentially sugar bits mixed in big drums until they are shiny. 

Sprinkles remain the most common name in the US, while “jimmies” is the second most popular name. Other names throughout the years included grains and mites as well as “toppetts, trimettes, shots, fancies, hundreds-and-thousands, and mice,”  according to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. I am glad we did not stick to using mice or mites as I doubt I would enjoy them as much on my birthday cake. 

What is your favorite treat with sprinkles? Do you call them sprinkles or jimmies or other name?

Further reading and references:

Bravetart: Iconic American Desserts, Stella Parks, W. W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 2017. 

The Oxford Companion To Sugar and Sweets, Edited by Darra Goldstein, Oxford Press University, New York, New York, 2015.

Food date: 2018.291


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