The exact origins of the jelly bean are lost in time, and only a part of its history is known. 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 an offspring of 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 the last 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, while master confectioners apply their true art in adding the ingredients to create just the right shell.
Somehow the two processes made their 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. It wasn’t until the 1930s, however, that jelly beans became a part of Easter traditions. Because of their egg-like shape, jelly beans became associated with the Easter Bunny, who is believed to deliver eggs as a symbol of new life during the spring season.
How are jelly beans made?
Since 1976, there have been two types of jelly beans—gourmet and traditional. Both take between six-to-10 days to make but slight differences in recipes give each its unique taste. 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 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. Each tray has an impression the size and shape of the center of a jellybean. Mix is squirted onto 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 is where the jelly bean comes to life. 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. Colors and flavors are added to get the distinct look and taste of the bean. 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: