If you are among the people who like to eat Peeps rather than make crafts with them, there's a good chance you already know this to be true: Like a fine wine, Peeps are better with age. Fans of the chick-shaped treats have long extolled the virtues of cracking open the bag and letting them get stale before savoring them. Or maybe you discovered this by accident - unless you're part of a big Peeps-loving family, it's hard for one person to eat their way through a whole container of sugar-dusted marshmallows before they start to crisp up.
But there's a lot of variability in stale Peeps. There's a difference between a scotch that has been aged three years, and one that has been in a barrel for 10 years. You can taste it when a piece of meat has been aged 15 days vs. 45. So when it comes to Peeps, how stale is the right amount of stale? How do varying degrees of staleness affect the Peeps texture and flavor?
I performed an experiment to get to the bottom it all. I bought several packs of Peeps and opened them on alternating days in the week leading up to Easter. I wasn't just making them stale - as I joked to colleagues, I was dry-aging them. Our office conditions - an HVAC system that circulates frigid and annoyingly arid air, and overhead florescent lighting - seemed ideal for helping the neon yellow marshmallows achieve their culinary apex. Some people make their Peeps stale by cutting small holes in the plastic wrapping, but I took out each sleeve of marshmallow and fully exposed them to air. Then, I convened a focus group of colleagues who enjoy Peeps for a tasting, working our way from the oldest to the freshest.
Peeps of a six-day vintage, the oldest in the taste test, are stiff to the touch. If you make an imprint in one with your thumb, it doesn't puff back out. The sugary exterior is more crackly, and it takes a lot more chewing to get it to dissolve in your mouth. "It's like gum that eventually melts in your mouth," one taster observed. Six-day peeps are "denser" and "stickier," and another taster said they had to "eat them carefully" because she worried about how it would stick to her teeth. Six days, the group collectively decided, is too crispy, and too old.
Peeps of a three-day vintage are similarly crackly, but if you push a finger into one, it will slowly spring back to its original shape, like a Memory Foam mattress. They're only slightly softer than the six-day Peeps - not on the exterior, but in the middle. They seemed "more marshmallowy," one taster said, and the panel observed no taste difference. Still, they seemed too stale, the group thought. They would be suitable if one was trawling the office for leftover candy over the weekend, one taster observed, but more as a last resort - it still wasn't a desirable texture for candy.
Peeps that have been dry-aged for one day are still soft on the inside, with a pleasing contrast of a slightly dry exterior. Tasted in conjunction with fresh-out-of-the-bag Peeps, our panel unanimously agreed: One-day Peeps are the best. "I never appreciated how soft Peeps are until now," one taster said, marveling at the cloudlike texture of the new Peeps. Though fresh Peeps have their own appeal - "a lover's caress" is how one taster described their pillowy texture - they were too soft. They had "less substance," a taster said. A little bit of age can make them more complex and full-bodied, with notes of caramelized sugar and a strong bouquet on the nose.
One day of aging is "the sweet spot," another taster said, and everyone agreed. Just as wine can "die" when it ages too long, so too can Peeps. So crack open a bag and let them breathe - but not for too long.
This article was written by Maura Judkis, a reporter for The Washington Post.