A co-worker of mine keeps a bowl of jelly beans in her cubicle. I love and hate her for this. I can’t resist those little yummy sugar treats and find myself purposely routing myself by her cubicle to grab a few more. As I scooped up another handful en route to a meeting, I got to wondering about the history of the jelly bean and how many would find their way into Easter Baskets this year.
These yummy little treats were created in the 1800s, and are believed to have been inspired by Turkish delight candies, which were candy balls originally made with grape molasses and honey.
The shell coating is an offspring of a process called panning, first invented in 17th century France to make Jordan almonds. The panning process, while done primarily by machine today, has remained essentially the same for the last 300 years. The French began by rocking almonds in a bowl filled with sugar and syrup until the almonds were coated with a candy shell. Today, large rotating pans do the heavy work, while master confectioners apply their true art in adding the ingredients to create just the right shell.
Today’s jelly beans' basic ingredients are sugar, corn syrup and starch (Buddy the Elf’s major food groups). Small amounts of the emulsifying agent lecithin, anti-foaming agents and edible wax such as beeswax, salt and confectioner's glaze are also included. The ingredients that give each bean it’s flavor are also relatively small in proportion and vary depending on the flavor.
Historically, jelly beans have been recognized for their portability and long shelf life. According to the website candyfavorites.com, in the late 1800s an advertisement by the William Schraft Company suggested jelly beans be sent to soldiers fighting in the Civil War for those very reasons.
Later, jelly beans grew to be a popular penny candy. In the early 1900s the little sweets were bagged and sold based on weight and became an Easter tradition in the 1930s. In 1976 the Jelly Belly gourmet bean was born. Very cherry, green apple, grape, lemon and even cream soda, tangerine, root beer and licorice were the first jelly belly flavors. In the 1980s the Jelly Belly flavor of blueberry was inspired by the desire to have red, white and blue jelly beans served at the inaugural parties of jelly bean fan President Ronald Reagan. In 1983 the President saw to it that Jelly Bellies were sent into space as a surprise treat for the astronauts.
According to the National Confectioners Association, each year, U.S. manufacturers produce more than 16 billion jelly beans for Easter -- that's enough to completely fill a plastic Easter egg 89 feet high and 60 feet wide (about the height of a nine-story office building). Although not considered a “health food,” jelly beans each contain 4 calories. In my book, that justifies filing up my Easter basket with them - and another pass by the candy bowl in my co-worker's cube!