Hard-candy shell. Soft jelly centre. Jelly beans are a candy-coated treat for all ages
A hard-candy shell. A soft jelly centre. Jelly beans are a classic candy popular with all ages. With a never-ending list of flavours, it’s no wonder the US has a National Jelly Bean Day (April 22, if you’re curious).
While the jelly bean’s origin is unknown, the unconfirmed creator is one William Schrafft, a Boston confectioner. Schrafft urged people to send jelly beans to Union soldiers during the American Civil War in 1861.
According to The Century in Food: America’s Fads and Favorites, the first official (and confirmed) record of jelly beans is in the July 5, 1905 issue of Chicago Daily News, which included an advertisement for bulk jelly beans sold for nine cents per pound.
Whenever or however the confection came to be on the radar of Americans, the fact is that, by 1905, the word “jelly bean” was common enough to be added to the Webster’s dictionary.
Jelly beans were found in glass “penny candy” jars at many general stores by the beginning of 1930; they were sold by weight (they were the first candy sold this way) and carted home in paper bags by excited children (one assumes). Later that same year, they became known as an Easter treat — the ovate shape made them popular for Easter baskets. Even today, you can find jelly beans in plastic eggs or displayed in shredded tissue paper, like tiny eggs in a nest, at Easter time.
Oddly enough, jelly beans even entered politics. President Ronald Reagan loved them, munching on them to help him curb his pipe-smoking habit. The Jelly Belly company created the blueberry Jelly Belly for the president, sending him two and a half tons in red, white and blue for his 1981 presidential inauguration. (Unfortunately, his favourite flavour was liquorice.)
Experts and confectioners alike theorize that the jelly bean is a combination of the Jordan almonds’ hard candy shell and the soft chewy insides of Turkish delight. Both candies have been around since the 17th or 18th century. Someone, perhaps William Schrafft himself, decided to combine the two to make the jelly bean.
Which really leaves the question — why the bean? Why not make circles or squares? One theory is that in the 1800s, the American diet consisted of mostly beans and other vegetables. Making that distinctive shape meant that consumers could add a bit of sweet to their vegetable-based diet.
It takes anywhere from seven to 21 days to make a jelly bean. They’re basically sugar (surprise, surprise), corn syrup and starch (or pectin). Also used in tiny amounts are lecithin (an emulsifying agent to keep the beans’ texture consistent); anti-foaming agents; an edible wax (usually beeswax; to keep from sticking or dissolving); salt; and confectioner’s glaze. Colour and flavour additives are added, also in relatively small proportions.
Big brands like Jelly Belly and the Jelly Bean Factory have experimented over the years to produce a much wider variety of colours and flavours. You can find everything. Try out buttered popcorn, toasted marshmallow, maple syrup, Dr Pepper, chocolate pudding or even bacon.
So head out to your candy store and buy yourself some jelly beans from the penny candy section. It’ll be fun! Know what I mean, jelly bean?