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How and when did sprinkles become an ice cream topping?

4112 day(s) ago

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"Sprinkles" can be a lot of toppings, all with one thing in common: They are candies that decorate items by being added randomly to a sticky surface. The two major types of sprinkles were originally developed to be applied to frosting.

The first sprinkles were nonpareils. French for "without parallel," these small candies were developed by pastry chefs to cover pièce montée, decorative deserts akin to today's wedding cakes. These have been in use since the 1700s and are considered to be the predecessor of all other sprinkles. Today a nonpareil refers to small hard balls that come in a range of colors.

The sprinkles used on ice cream today are Jimmies. No one is sure where the name came from, but there are three major theories that pop up time to time:

It references Jim Crow,
It was the name of an an employee of Just Born candies,
It was the name of a boy who got chocolate shavings on this ice cream for his birthday.

However, there isn’t enough evidence to definitively say if any of these were the source of the name. What we do know is that the first mention of the candy is in a cake recipe dated to 1930, with the first commercial production of the chocolate candy being the Dutch hagelslag in 1936. Jimmies are mostly tied to chocolate sprinkles, but the name can be applied to other varieties. These small, pill shaped pieces are also called ants, hundreds-and-thousands, or just sprinkles.

How did these cake-oriented candies end up on ice cream? No one knows when sprinkles and ice cream first met, but until commercial ice cream production became practical in the 1920's ice cream was mostly made by the same chefs who dealt with pastries. It probably didn't take much for one of these bakers to realize ice cream had the same surface qualities as frosting, making them an ideal candidate for sprinkles. In other words, nonpareils have probably been in use for a long time, while the invention of the Jimmy coincided with the the mass production of ice cream and the eventual boom in ice cream parlors, making it an easy match for the previous chefs’ methods.

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