11 Flavorful Facts About Jelly Belly

Jelly beans aren’t necessarily new candies—they're made from a combination of pre-Biblical and 17th century candy techniques. But the Jelly Belly rebranded the sugary treat to something much sweeter, and much higher-end, than your typical flavored gummy.


Jelly Belly jelly beans are a 20th century sweet, but they are tied to a much older candy company: the Goelitz Candy Company. Confectioner Gustav Goelitz began creating and selling candies in 1869, just a couple of years after moving to the U.S. from Germany. By 1894, Goelitz had passed the company on to his sons, and they soon released Chicken Feed buttercream candies—the popular treat we now call candy corn. But, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the company would create its iconic jelly beans, and those candies wouldn’t feature the Jelly Belly name until 1980.


Before Jelly Belly was officially on the scene, the Herman Goelitz Candy Company (which had undergone a name change) released its Mini Jelly Beans in bags of generic flavors. In 1965, the small beans were the first of their kind to have flavored centers, a distinguishing point for Goelitz beans at a time when other jelly beans had flavored shells but bland insides. By 1975, the Goelitz Mini Jelly Beans were available in eight specific flavors, including root beer, cream soda, green apple and grape.


In 1976, David Klein, who was a nut distributor at the time, thought that gourmet jelly beans featuring strong, unique flavors that weren’t commonly available would be worth the extra money to consumers. So Klein created new, exotic flavors and hired the Herman Goelitz Candy Company to create the recipes and a first batch. The overwhelming response to Jelly Belly beans launched Klein’s career—he became the the candy's spokesman and mascot. It won him a lot of publicity—enough that the Goelitz company offered to buy him out. In 1980, Klein sold the Jelly Belly trademark to the candy factory for a whopping $4.8 million, and Klein says he instantly regretted selling off his most-famous creation. The Herman Goelitz Candy Company didn't file to change its name to the Jelly Belly Candy Company until 2001.


President Ronald Reagan gifted President-elect Bill Clinton a jar of his favorite Jelly Bellys in 1992. Getty

Ronald Reagan was an early advocate of the brand, having been a fan of Goelitz's Mini Jelly Beans since the late '60s, back when he was Governor of California. (He'd used the candy as a smoking cessation tool—and it worked!) For Reagan’s presidential inauguration in 1981, 3.5 tons of Jelly Belly beans were shipped to Washington D.C., including a newly created blueberry flavor to round out the patriotic color scheme with very cherry and coconut. During his presidency, Reagan’s office and the other federal buildings he passed his bags out to consumed an estimated 300,000 jelly beans per month. At one point, specialty jelly bean holders were installed in Air Force One to keep any of the president's precious snacks from spilling during turbulence.


In an incredibly fitting tribute, the Reagan Library in southern California features one large portrait of the former president in front of an American flag, made out of approximately 10,000 Jelly Bellys. The Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, California also has a large double portrait featuring both Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan. And there are others, including one featuring his famous cowboy hat, another of Reagan in front of a globe, and a separate flag portrait designed from a different angle.


So, what makes a jelly bean gourmet? According to Jelly Belly, it’s the flavoring. While Jelly Belly beans come in 50 original flavors along with specialty beans, new additions are a constant work in progress. The number one rule to new flavors is that they have to be “instantly recognizable”—because what’s worse than not knowing a candy flavor? To make new jelly beans taste like their real-life inspiration, food scientists spend hours researching and taste testing ingredients to narrow in on a specific flavor. Foods that don’t pass the instant test, like Grandma’s Pumpkin Pie, are sent back to the lab for additional tweaking. And sometimes, flops are used as novelty flavors (like barf).


After taking a tour at Jelly Belly’s California or Wisconsin factories, you can balance out a sugar rush at the Jelly Belly Café. Carbs might replace sugar, but the kidney bean shape remains in the form of pizza and hamburgers. If you’re feeling inspired to replicate jelly bean-shaped buns or crusts, beware: Jelly Belly owns the design trademark for pizza, burger buns. and meat patties. In late 2015, the confectioner filed paperwork to trademark the kidney bean shape for jelly beans, too.



Unusual flavors, like canned dog food and stinky socks, are surprisingly authentic Jelly Belly flavors. In 2007, the candy manufacturer released the first packages of their BeanBoozled challenge, where classic flavors (like coconut and buttered popcorn) sit alongside their not-so-great look-a-likes (like baby wipes and rotten egg) in the same container. Unsuspecting snackers might be fooled, but mindful eaters are essentially playing a game of taste bud roulette. Is that green speckled bean Juicy Pear, or Booger? For the brave, Jelly Belly is releasing its fourth edition of BeanBoozled this spring.


Jelly Belly beans became the first jelly beans in outer space in 1983 when a package was secretly stowed aboard the Challenger on President Reagan’s orders, accompanying first female astronaut Sally Ride into space. Playing with (and eating) jelly beans in space hasn’t stopped since—astronauts on the International Space Station took videos of floating beans in 2007.


In 2014, Jelly Belly launched a Draft Beer bean that brewed up tension among parents and candy enthusiasts. The alcohol-free flavor was under development for nearly three years but caused a stir soon after its release because of Jelly Belly’s kid-friendly reputation, despite the company’s assurance that alcohol-inspired flavors were only marketed to adults. Not everyone thought the new flavor was a bad idea—according to Jelly Belly, beer-flavored jelly beans had been a common request for years. And, the beer-flavored beans aren’t the company’s only cocktail flavor; margarita, strawberry daiquiri, and pina colada jelly beans are also available for buzz-free snacking.



It might seem unusual to market sugar and sweets to athletes, but Jelly Belly has its own line of candy for the physically active. Sports Beans are dubbed “Energizing Jelly Beans,” meant for athletes to power up on the go. While some varieties are packed with vitamins and electrolytes, another line called Extreme Sport Beans includes caffeine for a small energy boost. Jelly Belly even sponsors a pro cycling team to represent its sugary sports bites. Perhaps that kind of innovation is what keeps Jelly Belly from becoming stale.

Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

Ho, No: Christmas Trees Will Be Expensive and Scarce This Year

The annual tradition of picking out the healthiest, densest, biggest tree that you can tie to your car’s roof and stuff in your living room won’t be quite the same this year. According to The New York Times, Christmas trees will be scarce in some parts of the country and markedly more expensive overall.

The reason? Not Krampus, Belsnickel, or Scrooge, but something even more miserly: the American economy. The current situation has roots in 2008, when families were buying fewer trees due to the recession. Because more trees stayed in the ground, tree farms planted fewer seeds that year. And since firs grow in cycles of 8 to 10 years, we’re now arriving at a point where that diminished supply is beginning to impact the tree industry.

New York Times reporter Tiffany Hsu reports that 2017’s healthier holiday spending habits are set to drive up the price of trees as consumers vie for the choicest cuts on the market. In 2008, trees were just under $40 on average. Now, they’re $75 or more.

This doesn’t mean you can’t get a nice tree at a decent price—just that some farms will run out of prime selections more quickly and you might have to settle for something a little less impressive than in years past. Tree industry experts also caution that the shortages could last through 2025.

[h/t New York Times]


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