The history of ... Jelly beans

Nicole Strittmater

Issue date: 4/5/07 Section: Showcase

The United States makes more than 16 billion of these fruity confections every year for the Easter season, according to the National Confectioners Association's Web site. This is enough to completely fill a nine-story office building.

So what are these fruity treats?

The jelly bean!

When jelly bean-lover freshman Mary Beth Bautch heard this statistic after she had guessed a mere 2 million jelly beans, she was shocked.

"Oh my gosh! ... Holy cow!" she said with a laugh.

But if you think jelly beans were just concocted to commercialize Easter, then you are entirely mistaken.

While the exact origin of the jelly bean is unknown, it seems to be historically correct that it dates all the way back to Biblical times, said Jon Prince, owner of the CandyFavorites company, one of the largest distributors of jelly beans in North America.

It is said to descend from the Middle Eastern candy called Turkish delight, which has a hard shell and a chewy middle, according to CandyFavorites' Web site.

But for Prince, another time comes to mind when he thinks about the origin of the jelly bean: the Civil War.

The late 1800s is when the earliest recorded advertisement was made by the William Schraft company to promote jelly beans, he said.

This company sent jelly beans to soldiers because they could fit in the soldiers' pockets, were somewhat non-perishable and were energy boosters, Prince said.

But jelly beans are predominantly associated with Easter. This association didn't come about until the 1930s, Prince said.

Since the egg shape represents fertility and birth, they became associated with Easter, he said. The Easter Bunny is believed to deliver them as a sign of spring and rebirth.

The manufacturing process of a jelly bean is no simple task.

In fact, it takes six to ten days to make a single jelly bean, according to the NCA Web site.

The process begins with the center. Sugar, corn syrup and other ingredients are cooked in large boilers and then piped to corn-starched trays, each with impressions the size of jelly beans.

This mix is put into the trays and dried overnight, according to the Web site. Then, this layer is removed and the middles are taken to a moisture steam bath and sprayed with sugar. They are then allowed to sit for 24 to 48 hours.

Then comes the panning process, and this is "where the jelly bean comes to life," according to the NCA Web site.

The centers are put into a rotating drum, called an "engrossing pan." While the centers rotate, sugar is gradually added to make the shell.

Then, the different colors and flavors are added to get the distinct look and taste of the bean, according to the NCA Web site, and "confectioner's glaze" is added to polish them. This process can take two to four days.

After this, the jelly beans are shipped to stores where consumers like Bautch can enjoy them all year round.

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