A well-rounded candy

From biblical treat to athletic supplement, jelly beans have rich history

From biblical treat to athletic supplement, jelly beans have rich history

April 04, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Jelly beans have progressed beyond their Easter-basket status, or is that regressed?

They now come in several flavors, including vomit, earwax and booger.

There are even Sport Beans - a bit of sports drink meets jelly bean - recently crafted by the Jelly Belly Co., the same company President Ronald Reagan helped popularize during his jelly-bean-loving presidency.

But unlike the fruit-flavored beans Reagan loved so much, the sports-formulated jelly beans are infused with electrolytes and other supplements that are intended to provide athletes with the nutrients they need while they perform, according to the Sports Beans Web site at

Who knew that such a humble candy - one with biblical roots - would come this far?

"It's a classic," said John Leows, owner of Candy Kitchen, which has shops in Waynesboro, Pa., and Frederick, Md. "I think jelly beans will always be around."


The business has been around for more than a century and produces jelly beans and other jelly candies, as well as selling Jelly Bellies.

"It's no longer (just) the Easter basket decorating staple," Leows said.

Unlike other confections, jelly beans are a ubiquitous, largely unbranded candy, said Susan Fussell, spokeswoman for the National Confectioners Association.

According to the association, U.S. manufacturers produce more than 16 billion jelly beans annually for Easter. That's enough to fill a nine-story building.

Fussell said it takes seven to 10 days to make a single jelly bean. Manufacturers use a 400-year-old process known as panning in order to make jelly beans.

A simplified explanation: It's what you get when you place a small lump of sugar in a constantly rotating drum and continue adding sugar and other ingredients until the candy grows in size.

Boston Baked Beans candies and Lemon heads undergo a similar process, Fussell said.

Leows said his shop uses pectin to make the beans soft. Other manufacturers, such as Jelly Belly Co., use starch for a softer, chewier texture.

"Older-style jelly beans use sugar," Leows said. "So they have a grainier feel to them."

Culinary history

Spokespeople from Jelly Belly Candy Co. and Brachs Confections Inc. say the concept of the modern jelly bean was likely inspired by Middle Eastern confections known as Turkish delights, which date back to biblical times.

Most recipes for Turkish delights call for starch and sugar. The end result is a soft, sticky confection, usually resembling a pinkish cube.

The jelly bean also might have been influenced by a 17th-century French candy known as the Jordan almond, Fussell said.

To make them, the chef would employ panning methods, rocking almonds back and forth in a bowl filled with sugar and syrup until they were coated with a candy shell.

Several modern-day candies, including the jelly bean, come from centuries of experimenting with panning, Fussell said.

Jelly beans likely arrived in the U.S. via French, German and Italian immigrants, who carried over family recipes from their mother countries. Jelly beans were among the first penny candies sold at American general stores during the 19th century.

But they weren't linked to Easter traditions until the 1930s, thanks to the Easter traditions of German immigrants, Fussell said.

German immigrants introduced American society to the idea of the "Easter Hare," a rabbit that left eggs during Easter for children who were good.

As the Easter Hare evolved into the Easter Bunny, and as the likeness of the Easter Bunny was formed in chocolate and other candy, it was only a natural progression that egg-shaped candies, such as the jelly bean, became associated with Easter, Fussell said.

Leows said the candy was sold at his family's shop. The shop still sells the six basic flavors: grape, lime, pineapple, orange, cherry and lemon.

They also sell licorice, but Leows said they keep it in a separate bin. Licorice doesn't get much love.

"We used to keep them together, but people were telling us, 'We don't like licorice,'" Leows said.

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