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What is a Nonpareil?

By Cathy Rogers
Updated May 16, 2024
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Nonpareil is a term that refers to a tiny decorative topping, made of sugar dots or pellets, that is often sprinkled over baked goods. The term is also used to describe a particular type of chocolate candy that is disc or button shaped and then covered with white sugar beads or colored pellets. For most who remember the candy from childhood, it is most likely made of dark chocolate and topped with tiny white sugar beads.

Although nonpareils were likely made through painstaking processes in years past, an American company began manufacturing something similar to a nonpareil in the early 1920's. The Blumenthal Brothers Chocolate & Cocoa Company of Philadelphia created a candy identified as the Bob White®, a rather large chocolate disc sprinkled with white sugar pellets. Later the company pared down the size of the candy and named them Sno-Caps®. The same company was the original maker of Goobers®, peanuts coated with chocolate. Now similar to chocolate chips with sugar sprinkles, the Sno-Caps® are made by the Nestle Company.

Nonpareils are commonly used to dress up many sweet foods, including cakes, cookies, candy and muffins. Often a staple in decorating a gingerbread house, the candy works quite well for roof shingles. To make traditional nonpareil candy, most recipes require few ingredients: bittersweet chocolate, a little vegetable shortening and either white or colored sugar beads for decoration. The difficult part in making the candy is to assure the chocolate is at precisely the correct temperature so it can be spooned or piped in button-type circles on a baking sheet or other surface to cool.

In the dessert world, many types of decorative candies exist. Jimmies, sprinkles and hundreds-and-thousands all refer to tiny sugar decorations that are added to various baked items to bring color, embellishment and texture. The chocolate version of another decorative confection, a drageé, is similar in size to a nonpareil but with a metallic coating in silver, gold, pearl, copper or bronze. Nonpareils are widely available for order online; even holiday colored versions exist.

Nonpareil translates from French into “without equal.” Those who enjoy the confection vary in their opinions about why it is named such. Some say it’s because no two are the same; others say it’s because there is nothing better. In cooking and food terms, nonpareil also refers to small pickled capers from the region of Provence in France and almonds from Northern California that are considered to be good luck.

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Discussion Comments
By faithstewart — On Jan 31, 2011

I usually eat them on their own. Some movie theaters and candy stores still sell the larger ones. The smaller ones are great to use in desserts as a decoration. However, do not let the chocolate chip like appearance of nonpareil chocolate fool you. They would lose something if they were mixed into a dessert. I am not sure they would work the same as a chocolate chip, and you would lose the decorative appeal.

By helene55 — On Jan 28, 2011

I love to use nonpareils in desserts when I can, and when I see things in the store that use them they are hard to resist. I think it's the way they look so bright a multi-colored as well as being sugary, another big deal for me when it comes to tasty and pretty food.

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