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Jelly Bean Day Fact: Jelly Beans Are Made With Insect Secretions

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by James Hunt

Happy National Jelly Bean Day! If you've ever wondered what the ingredient is that makes jelly beans so hard and shiny, you may wish you never asked the question at all. So let's not beat around the bush: Jelly beans are shiny because they're coated in shellac, which is a resin that's secreted by the female lac bug (laccifer lacca) after it drinks the sap of trees.

Native to the forests of Thailand and India, the lac bug deposits shellac onto the twigs and branches of trees, which is then harvested and processed into flakes. After being dissolved in ethanol, the liquid shellac can be sprayed on everything from food products to fingernails to hardwood floors to create a shiny appearance on the exterior.

These days, many of the historical uses of shellac—it was once used as electrical insulation and to make records before the 1950s—have actually been replaced by vinyl-based resins. As a natural resin, shellac remains popular for use in food. It's even used as a replacement for natural apple wax, which is removed during cleaning.

Unfortunately, if you're a vegetarian or vegan, this might be bad news, as shellac is an animal byproduct. Shellac is also an ingredient in confectioner's glaze and some other edible glazes, and may be listed as an additive using the number E904. So if your plan is to avoid shellac entirely, it may prove difficult, but it's not impossible. As long as you can resist the taste of jelly beans. Happy Jelly Bean Day?!

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Hate Red M&M's? You Need a Candy Color-Sorting Machine
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You don’t have to be a demanding rock star to live a life without brown M&M's or purple Skittles—all you need is some engineering know-how and a little bit of free time.

Mechanical engineering student Willem Pennings created a machine that can take small pieces of candy—like M&M's, Skittles, Reese’s Pieces, etc.—and sort them by color into individual piles. All Pennings needs to do is pour the candy into the top funnel; from there, the machine separates the candy—around two pieces per second—and dispenses all of it into smaller bowls at the bottom designated for each variety.

The color identification is performed with an RGB sensor that takes “optical measurements” of candy pieces of equal dimensions. There are limitations, though, as Pennings revealed in a Reddit Q&A: “I wouldn't be able to use this machine for peanut M&M's, since the sizes vary so much.”

The entire building process lasted from May through December 2016, and included the actual conceptualization, 3D printing (which was outsourced), and construction. The entire project was detailed on Pennings’s website and Reddit's DIY page.

With all of the motors, circuitry, and hardware that went into it, Pennings’s machine is likely too ambitious of a task for the average candy aficionado. So until a machine like this hits the open market, you're probably stuck buying bags of single-colored M&M’s in bulk online or sorting all of the candy out yourself the old fashioned way.

To see Pennings’s machine in action, check out the video below:

[h/t Refinery 29]

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See How Candy Canes Are Made
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According to legend, a 17th-century German choirmaster bent sugar sticks into shepherd’s crooks and gave them to children acting in his Nativity pageant as a treat for good behavior. Lo and behold, the world’s first candy canes were born.

Over the years, manufacturers have perfected their own methods of making the holiday treat. In the below video from Lofty Pursuits, a Tallahassee, Florida-based purveyor of hard candies, you can watch how the expert team of candy-makers turn seemingly everyday ingredients like sugar, water, and corn syrup into a sticky mixture. Gradually, the pliable concoction is folded, stretched, rolled, cut, and bent into candy canes—a mesmerizing visual process for anyone who’s ever sucked on one of the sugary confections and suspected it came from somewhere other than Santa’s workshop.

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