Jelly beans are small fruit-flavored candies. Made from sugar, gelatine, coloring and flavoring, and gelatin, the egg-shaped candies are chewy on the inside, with a firm outer shell.
The earliest print reference to jelly beans is dated 1886; it was promoted as a Christmas treat. In those days, jelly beans were commonly sold in bulk from glass jars, or from vending machines that dispensed a handful for a penny. It wasn’t until the 1930s that jelly beans were sold as Easter candy—someone had noted their obvious resemblance to eggs. Today they’re sometimes identified as “jelly bird eggs” at Eastertime.
Jelly beans have long been made by major candy companies such as Brach’s and Just Born, but the candy was transformed in the 1970s by the Herman Goelitz Candy Company, founded by Gustav Goelitz in Belleville, Illinois, in 1869 as an ice cream and candy store. Goelitz purportedly invented candy corn around 1900, and in 1976 his successors began turning out gourmet “Jelly Belly” beans, made with natural flavors. The mini beans come in about fifty flavors, including pear, chocolate pudding, watermelon, root beer, and buttered popcorn, which is reportedly the most popular flavor. Although priced considerably higher than traditional jelly beans, Jelly Bellies were a huge success, and the firm was renamed the Jelly Belly Candy Company. Now located in Fairfield, California, the company also makes “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans” named after a product mentioned in the Harry Potter series of books by J. K. Rowling. The company also makes “sports beans,” which are intended to be eaten during exercise.
Jelly beans went into politics when Ronald Reagan became governor of California in 1966. He liked jelly beans and always had a large glass jar of them on his desk in Sacramento. When he became president, he carried on the tradition in the White House.
Richardson, Tim. Sweets: A History of Candy. New York: Bloomsbury, 2002.
© Oxford University Press, 2013