One fond memory I have from traveling with my family is going to the Jelly Belly factory, located just outside San Francisco. If you’ve never been, it’s worth a trip: You can learn all about the history of Jelly Belly, get some free samples, and see some murals made out of jelly beans. There’s also an extensive gift shop. We left with a Jelly Belly t-shirt and a huge bag of irregular jelly beans. This latter item sat on our counter for a while until my mom filled the glass bottom of a lamp with its contents. For a while, they were a colorful, quirky addition to the family room, until time or light or heat or something slowly leeched the color out of the beans, leaving them an amorphous, grayish mass. Science!
But despite having visited this factory, I don’t exactly recall how jelly beans come into existence. How are jelly beans made? What are they made from? Let’s unravel the mystery of these Easter candy essentials.
What are jelly beans made of?
The exact ingredients for a bag of Very Cherry Jelly Bellies are the following: “SUGAR, CORN SYRUP, MODIFIED FOOD STARCH, CHERRY JUICE FROM CONCENTRATE, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF THE FOLLOWING: CITRIC ACID, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, COLOR ADDED, RED 40, RED 40 LAKE, BEESWAX, CARNAUBA WAX, CONFECTIONER’S GLAZE.”
More broadly, jelly beans typically contain sugar, tapioca, corn syrup, starch, and some sort of flavoring.
How is a jelly bean made?
Liquid sugar is heated in a big ol’ kettle. After that, candymakers add glucose and starch, and it’s all mixed together. That liquid is poured into bean-shaped starch molds and left to dry for about 24 hours. Then, the beans are steamed and sugar coated, and combined with flavorings and colorings, including the controversial buttered popcorn flavor.
When were jelly beans invented?
The exact origins for the jelly bean aren’t known for certain, but according to National Geographic, jelly beans have probably been around since at least the mid 1800s. There’s an unconfirmed story that during the Civil War, a Boston candymaker named William Schrafft marketed jelly beans as a nice treat to send to Union troops.
If you’re curious about the name origin of jelly beans, it’s because they’re shaped like beans and essentially made of jelly.
Are jelly beans made from beetle poop?
The answer to this question is…sort of? Calling it beetle poop is a little oversimplified, but it’s not totally off the mark either. You see, as Mental Floss explains, jelly beans, among other candies, use confectioner’s glaze which contains shellac. Shellac is a byproduct of the lac bug. That means if you’re a vegan, jelly beans are probably off the menu. Otherwise, though, keep in mind that everyday items like honey and silk are also insect byproducts, so they shouldn’t be seen as inherently disgusting.
Other fun jelly bean facts!
Here’s what else I learned in my bean search:
Ronald Reagan was famously a big fan of jelly beans. So, too, was George Harrison, and in fact the Beatles were pelted with jelly beans by American fans in 1964.
Finally, jelly bean used to be slang in the 1920s for a stylish but vapid young man. I think we can all agree that it’s time to bring back ‘20s slang, you jelly beans, you.