We will likely never know the exact origin of the jelly bean, but most experts believe the jelly center is a descendant of a Mideastern confection known as Turkish Delight that dates back to Biblical times.
The shell coating is developed from 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 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.
After the process made its way to America, jelly beans quickly earned a place among the many glass jars of “penny candy” in general stores where they were sold by weight and taken home in paper bags. In the 1930s, jelly beans became associated with Easter traditions because their egg-like shape is reminiscent of the belief that the Easter Bunny delivers eggs as a sign of new life in spring.
How are jelly beans made?
Since 1976, the two types of jelly bean are gourmet and traditional. Each takes between six and ten days to make but slight differences in recipes result in slightly different tastes. Gourmet jelly beans tend to be softer and smaller than traditional jelly beans. Also, gourmet jelly beans are flavored in both the shell and the middle. Traditional jelly beans typically contain flavor only in the shell.
The manufacturing process starts with the center of the jelly bean. Sugar, corn syrup and other ingredients are cooked in large boilers and then piped to the starch casting area. During this time, machines coat trays with a layer of cornstarch. Mix is put into the bean-shaped cutouts in the trays and dried overnight. Then, the cornstarch layer is removed and the middles are put through a moisture steam bath and sprayed with sugar. They are set aside for 24 to 48 hours.
The panning process gives jelly beans their colorful coating. The centers are placed in a rotating drum called an “engrossing pan.” While the center is rotating, sugar is added gradually to build the shell, and colors and flavors are added. Confectioner’s glaze is added to give the beans a shiny look. After the beans are “polished” (a process that can take two to four days), they are ready to be shipped.
Fun facts about jelly beans:
- In the 1930s, Easter became the most popular time for jelly bean consumption.
- National Jelly Bean Day is April 22.
- It can take anywhere from 7 to 21 days to make a jelly bean.