RAY SUAREZ, HOST:
Holidays are a busy time, especially if you like baking. And it's around the holidays that many bakers pay extra attention to how pretty their bakes look. The new secret ingredient to make this happen - gourmet sprinkles. NPR's Adhiti Bandlamudi reports.
ADHITI BANDLAMUDI, BYLINE: Regular sprinkles - you know, the ones coated in wax and lacking in flavor - can be found at the grocery store for a dollar or two. Gourmet sprinkles go for up to $20 a bottle. That's 8 ounces of tiny sugar rods coated in gold and silver. Throw in some rice paper cutouts of unicorns - Christmas trees, too. This is the sound of a crunchy, metallic sugar pearl also included in the mix.
ELIZABETH BUTTS: Chew it with your back teeth 'cause they're hard.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPRINKLE CRUNCHING)
BUTTS: They're very hard. I like the way they taste, though, personally (laughter).
BANDLAMUDI: Elizabeth Butts started a gourmet sprinkle company called Sprinkle Pop from her kitchen in Katy, Texas, earlier this year. She's a cake decorator and was looking for sprinkles with very specific shades of blue, black and green for a baby shower cake. But she couldn't find what she wanted, so she decided to make them herself.
BUTTS: And so I went and bought the raw ingredients that I needed to do it myself. And kind of like - even before I got the sprinkles home, it was like the idea was already in my head that I wanted to sell sprinkles.
BANDLAMUDI: But before officially opening her business, she decided to check out the competition. Wilton, one of the biggest baking supply companies in the world, makes fine of standard sprinkles but nothing like what Sprinkle Pop offers to the market.
BUTTS: It was obvious to me that if I was going to do it, it was a great time to get in. But I think with anyone who's starting a new venture, it's like you know the demand is there. But you're not quite sure how big the demand is. I mean...
BANDLAMUDI: So who's buying her product. Butts says her biggest customer is a baking supply store in Australia. Most of her customers are cake decorators. She faces competition from two other companies, Sweetapolita and Fancy Sprinkles. Take a quick look on Instagram or Pinterest and you'll find grilled cheese sandwiches with sprinkles cooked into the cheese, balls of cheesecake encrusted with sprinkles, pancakes with sprinkles tossed in the batter.
AMBER SPIEGEL: It just gives it a little bit of extra sparkle and pizzazz that you sometimes can't get with just icing alone.
BANDLAMUDI: That's Amber Spiegel. She owns a cookie decorating company called Sweet Ambs Cookie Art, based in Kingston, N.Y., and has over a million followers on Instagram. Spiegel posts YouTube videos showing her making intricately decorated sugar cookies with icing and sprinkles. She has a total of almost 80 million views.
SPIEGEL: The people that are eating them are just, like, blown away. And they always say, oh, it's too pretty to eat. But, you know, they taste good, so they eat them (laughter).
BANDLAMUDI: She relies on gourmet sprinkles for some of her designs.
SPIEGEL: I just think that people love shiny and pretty, sparkly things. Like, maybe we're kind of like cats or birds in that way - that we're just attracted to that type of thing.
BANDLAMUDI: Spiegel says, as a baker, she's willing to spend money on fancy gourmet sprinkles. It's not cheap, but it's a quick and easy way to make a cookie sparkle.
Adhiti Bandlamudi, NPR News.
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