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Nonpareils: The Cookie Decoration With No Equal

Nonpareils (pronounced nahn-puh-RELLZ) are miniscule candies used as a Christmas cookie decoration or to add color and texture to cupcakes, cakes, ice cream, yogurt, and other desserts.

Nonpareils cookie decorations with The Cookie Elf

There are plenty of cookie decorations to go around these days, so it’s natural to use their names interchangeably: sprinkles, Jimmies, confetti, sugar shapes, sugar sequins, sugar beads, sugar pearls, sugar pellets, sanding sugar, and yes – non-pareils  …

Surprise: all these decorations actually have some differences between them!

How are nonpareils unique? They are really, really, really small. 

The name comes from French, meaning “with no peer” or “with no equal.”

You’ve seen them in all kinds of colors. But originally, these mini-decos were opaque white. And we likely got them from the field of medicine.

Is it really such a stretch to think that cookies and cookie decorations are good for you?

But I digress.

They're Among the Earliest Confection Decorations

No one knows the exact origin of these micro-dots, but candy historians (yes, there are such people) place their beginnings in the medicinal use of sugar among early pharmacists, physicians, and apothecaries.

Medieval records show us that herbs, seeds, and other remedies were coated with sugar or sweeteners to make them easier to ingest. 

This process of sugar panning – adding a sugar coating shell – also extended into the world of confections, and one we know well today in sugar coated fruits, nuts, spices, chocolate, and other candies. (Think M & Ms.) Chemists to cooks became able to manipulate sugar in micro-infinitesimal detail.

As for nonpareils, their use has been recorded as far back as the mid-18th century in American recipes for frosted wedding cake and in France, where chefs used their own version of the miniscule candies in ornate, decorative centerpiece confections made with marzipan and spun sugar.

The ones you use today to decorate cookies are made from sugar and starch. They are available in all kinds of colors and color combinations. And they are not to be confused with …

A Chocolate Candy of the Same Name

If you do a search on the internet or in confectionary cookbooks, you’ll find dozens of luscious recipes for Nonpariel Candies, which are discs of chocolate coated with their micro-ball twins. Commercially they are sold as Sno-Caps by Nestle or in Australia, as Freckles.

Fun Cookie Trivia About Nonpareils

  • In the US, an oblong, softer version of the popular cookie decorations, called “sprinkles” or “Jimmies,” became popular in the mid-20th century.
  • In the UK and its territories, they are called "hundreds-and-thousands."
  • In Australia and New Zealand, they are sprinkled on buttered bread and served as “Fairy Bread” at children’s birthday parties.


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