Which Sprinkles Are the Best Sprinkles?

Food Lists Sprinkles
Which Sprinkles Are the Best Sprinkles?

Sprinkles are joy personified. From funfetti icing to the unicorn latte, they seem to scream “this food a special treat!” There are those grinchy sourpusses who argue that sprinkles don’t bring much in the flavor department and are just useless added sugar. While it’s true that most sprinkles contain sugar, additives, and little else, I would argue strenuously against their uselessness. In addition to the fact that our visual perception of a food impacts how it tastes, sprinkles can bring an extra oomph of texture.

Determined to optimize my sprinkle consumption (and perhaps yours), I set out to taste as many kinds of sprinkles as I could get my hands on. I visited my neighborhood grocery store, ordered several varieties online, and then hit the N.Y. Cake baking supply store in Manhattan. That place is, by the way, a superlative orgy of decorative food oddities. It’s the kind of place where one can buy food decorating pens, a Barbie torso cake topper, and something called “disco dust” (which, sadly, is not considered an edible substance by the FDA).

I tested each kind of sprinkle by itself and then on top of a basic frosted sugar cookie. Here are my findings.

1. Nonpareils
These tiny balls of sugar and starch date back to at least the 18th century. They’re called “hundreds-and-thousands” in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, which is charming but not as fancy and French as “nonpareils.” They carry a faint aftertaste of food coloring when eaten alone. On cookies, they add a lovely little crunch. Not the most exciting sprinkle, but a cute classic.

2. Decorettes
2_Decorettes_MJB.jpgPhoto by Molly Jean Bennett
These are pretty weird and waxy by themselves, but atop cookies, donuts, or a cone of vanilla soft serve on the first warm day of the year (swoon) they are a true delight. Firm but not hard, they add an extra textural element and are, for me at least, suffused with nostalgic pleasure. I grew up simply calling these “sprinkles,” not “decorettes,” as the N.Y. Cake store labels them. In some parts of the northeast U.S. they’re known as “jimmies,” though the etymology and exact meaning of this word is murky, according to Snopes and the Boston Globe.

3. Confetti Sprinkles
3_Confetti_MJB.jpgPhoto by Molly Jean Bennett
I picked out the classic rainbow disks, but trust me, I had other options. The N.Y. Cake store also carries confetti hearts, shamrocks, ducks, geometric shapes and pumpkins. They’re the perfect topping for every seasonal variation of those achingly sweet, soft frosted grocery store bakery cookies. By themselves, confetti sprinkles have a slight snap and pretty much just taste like sugar. No surprises there.

4. Sanding Sugar
4_SandingSugar_MJB.jpgPhoto by Molly Jean Bennett
Sanding sugar adds that lovely glittery glisten and just a bit of satisfying grit. Interestingly, the term “sanding sugar” has an earlier meaning. It “was originally what nasty grocers did to save money—by literally putting sand in the sugar barrel,” writes historian David Walbert on his blog The New Agrarian.

5. Sugar Pearls
5_Pearls_MJB.jpgPhoto by Molly Jean Bennett
Also known (thrillingly) as dragées, these pearls come in many colors and are oh so elegant. They’re a menace on the teeth, though. These sugar pearls felt like fishing weights in my mouth, and biting into one was about as pleasant. Not worth imperiling a cookie eater, in my opinion.

6. Metallic Silver Hearts
6_Hearts_MJB.jpgPhoto by Molly Jean Bennett
These delicate hearts looked like fluttery fish scales and are perhaps the prettiest of the bunch. They’re also the only sprinkle I spit into the trash. I thought these would dissolve on my tongue but instead they stuck to the roof of my mouth like a gummy chemical poison. Given that the first ingredient is not even sugar but hydroxypropyl methylcellulose, this should not have been surprising. Technically they are edible but I don’t buy it. The verdict: NOT FOOD AT ALL.

7. Dark Chocolate Gourmet Sprinkles
7_Chocolate_MJB.jpgPhoto by Molly Jean Bennett
Of all the sprinkles I tried, these were by far the tastiest on their own. They’re only slightly waxy and very chocolatey—delicious enough to pour straight from the bag into my mouth like the sprinkle-guzzling barbarian I am. They are so fine that they didn’t add much texturally on top of the cookie, but made up for it with flavor. It’s worth noting that these were the only vegan sprinkles I sampled for this experiment. With the exception of the hagelslag, every other variety contains confectioners glaze, which may not sound like an animal product, but is in fact derived from a resin secreted by the lac insect. Eating bug stuff doesn’t really bother me, but if that’s not your thing, the Ticings brand sprinkles I tried are a good option. Or, if you have loads of time and patience on hand, you can go nuts making your own.

8. Hagelslag
8_Hagelslag_MJB.jpgPhoto by Molly Jean Bennett
I’ve been itching to try hagelslag ever since I became aware of its existence. Sprinkles for breakfast, for goodness sake! This Dutch treat is eaten on buttered bread or toast. I couldn’t find it in any stores locally, so I ordered a variety pack of De Ruijter brand hagelslag online. The fruit flavored ones were chalky and reminiscent of Lucky Charms marshmallows. Much like the decorettes and dark chocolate sprinkles, the dark and milk chocolate hagelslag were waxy when eaten alone but added a nice pop of flavor and texture on top of cookies. Next I tried them in their intended context, as a toast topping. I used sourdough bread rather than the traditional white, which I hope wasn’t a gauche move. In any case, it was delicious. The hagelslag melted slightly and commingled with the butter. Magnificence. Sprinkles for breakfast is a good way to live.

Molly Jean Bennett is a writer and multimedia producer based in New York City. Her essays, poems, and strongly worded letters have appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Atlas Obscura, VICE, and elsewhere.

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