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Origins of the Jelly Bean

Updated on May 26, 2012
Strawberry Cheesecake Flavored Jelly Beans
Strawberry Cheesecake Flavored Jelly Beans

There are many types of beans, ranging from the pinto to the black bean. But beware there is an imposter amongst their ranks. It’s the jelly bean. If you’re one whose thumb isn’t green and doesn’t know beans about beans, here is what those in the know on the subject have to say.

Americans have had a love affair with jelly beans ever since their inception, but their exact origin can be only an educated guess. These days it would hardly be Easter without them. The inference being they are basically shaped like little eggs, symbolic of fertility and renewal brought in spring.

But, they didn’t become associated with the holiday until the early 1930s. Easter is second in holiday candy sales only to Halloween, with a large bulk of that being jelly beans. The basic ingredients are sugars, corn syrup and starch, but mainly sugar.

Here’s something for the trivia buff. During President Ronald Reagan's administration more than three tons of jelly beans were consumed at political events in 1981, perhaps owing to his fondness for them.

Demand for jelly beans dwindled at the turn of the century but surged again during World War 11 due to the chocolate shortage brought on by most of it being sent overseas to combat troops. However, most historians generally agree jelly candies of one kind or another have been around for thousands of years.

It’s thought the great ancestor of the jelly bean was a confectionary known as Turkish Delight, a Middle Eastern candy made of soft jelly and sprinkled with confectioner's sugar. It’s a flavored sweetmeat or candy, made from starch and sugar. They're filled with dry fruits, honey or nuts and has a sticky texture and often bound with Arabic gum. Turkish Delights came in cubes and are still popular today.

And there are several legends surrounding this exotic creation. One tells about a certain Sultan who ordered his chefs to prepare a unique dessert in order to woo his sweet heart. Thus, Turkish Delight became a royal delicacy.

Another legend, says confectioner Bekir Effendi came to Istanbul in 1776 and set up a sweet shop. He was an ingenious confectioner who wrapped his Turkish Delights in lace handkerchiefs. He became an immediate success as customers besieged his little shop to purchase the delicacy. Couples even exchanged them as tokens of love. Effendi`s sweets were soft and tender compared to other hard and brittle candies of the day and became the Sultan’s favorite. The royal acceptance elevated its status.

The first jelly beans were created by an American candy maker. Unfortunately, his name has since been lost in time. William Schrafft, a Boston confectioner, is credited with being the first known entrepreneur to market the product in 1861. When the Civil War erupted he suggested sending his jelly beans to the fighting soldiers.

The first recorded advertisement for jelly beans was seen in the Chicago Daily News July 5, 1905. Bulk jelly beans were being sold for nine cents a pound and were initially sold in general stores as penny candy displayed in glass jars. Here’s some more trivia. There are about 26 regular jelly beans in an ounce and have approximately 100 calories, mostly obtained from carbohydrates.

A "Jelly Bean" of the early 1900s

Between the years of 1910 and early 1920s, the name "Jelly Bean" was a slang word. It represented a young, sharply dressed man who tried to appear wealthy to attract women…but wasn’t. Both regular and gourmet jelly beans take anywhere from 6 to 21 days to prepare. The gourmet variety is usually smaller and softer than the regular and have flavors injected into the center gel as well as being coated on the exterior.

Jelly beans came in a variety of colors and flavors, but were usually restricted to fruit flavors. Today, they come in assortments, some even tagged as Gourmet. The selections are limited to the manufacturer's imagination and the products marketability.

It was in the mid 1970s when these gourmet jelly beans first materialized. They were produced by the Herman Goelitz Candy Co., Inc., now known as the Jelly Belly Candy Company. Following suit the top jelly bean makers began creating more unusual flavors like Watermelon, Pear, Tutti Fruiti blueberry cappuccino, strawberry cheesecake and pomegranate. Some even have vitamin C added. In comparison, the regulars only have flavoring in the shell.

Today, Jelly Belly is the world's topmost producer of gourmet jelly beans.

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    • JY3502 profile image
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      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Gee, I didn't think the subject would illicit such great comments.

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Really interesting. I love Easter, and I also love jelly beans, for a while. I associate them exclusively with Easter baskets. I didn't realize they were invented so recently, and in America. Thanks for another interesting hub.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I love historical information, especially when it comes to candy. Voted awesome!

    • profile image

      kelleyward 5 years ago

      Wow my kids love Jelly Belly beans and they are gluten free! Thanks for sharing this hub! Take care, Kelley

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is a fantastic hub! I never would have imagined that it would take 6-21 days to prepare. Super awesome! Voted up and sharing!!