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8 Sweet, Surprising Facts About Jelly Beans Every Candy Lover Should Know

Updated: Feb. 28, 2023

In the world of candy, jelly beans might seem like bit players that take center stage every Easter. But the chewy treats have a juicy back story. Read here to find out.

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1. It takes 7 to 21 days to make a jelly bean

Yep, you read that right. Concocting jelly beans requires many steps. First, liquid sugar and flavors are heated and mixed with starch and glucose. This is poured into bean-shaped starch molds and left to dry overnight. The next day, the starch is removed and the beans go through a steam bath and get sprayed with sugar. Next, they undergo what candy makers call “panning.” They’re put into a machine with a rotating drum, and while they spin, colors and flavors are added. Finally, grains of sugar are poured in—this sugar creates the bean’s hard shell. As a finishing touch, hot syrup and wax are applied to give shine. After all this shaking and making, the beans are thoroughly dried before they are packaged and shipped.

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2. Although jelly beans were born in the America, their roots may lie far, far East—in Turkey

Jelly beans first appeared in the United States in the mid-to-late 19th century. Some historians believe they were inspired by Turkish delight—a chewy jelly and powdered sugar confection that was a popular treat from Turkey.

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3. Jelly bean was once used as slang for the kind of guy you don’t bring home to Mom and Dad

Back in the 1910s and 1920s, if you referred to a man as a jelly bean, you were calling him a dandy, a ladies man, or a gigolo. Ouch.

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4. Jelly beans were originally enjoyed as a Christmas time treat

It took until the 1930s before jelly beans’ resemblance to eggs was noticed, and then they became a fixture in Easter baskets. However, the Yuletide association continues—after Easter, Christmas is still the second most popular time of year to eat them.

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5. Ronald Reagan loved jelly beans so much he took them everywhere—the Oval Office, Air Force One, and even space

In 1966, Ronald Reagan, then running for governor of California, started snacking on jelly beans from the Herman Goelitz Candy Company in his efforts to quit pipe smoking. While he stopped smoking, he developed a serious jelly bean jones. The company sent him regular shipments while he served as governor from 1967 to 1974. In 1976, Goelitz introduced the Jelly Belly brand of beans—their selling point was that both shell and interior are flavored; with other kinds of jelly beans, only the shell is flavored—and Reagan became a fan. After he was elected president, he kept a jar on his desk and handed out the candy as gifts. His favorite flavor? Licorice. A special jelly-bean jar holder was even installed for him on the presidential jet, and Reagan even sent beans on the Challenger space shuttle in 1983 as a treat for astronauts.

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6. Reagan himself invented blueberry-flavored jelly beans

Well, he didn’t create them, but he did lead to their invention. For his January 1981 inauguration, the Goelitz company wanted to send Ronald Reagan red, white, and blue jelly beans to be enjoyed during the celebrations. While it already manufactured red (cherry) and white (coconut) candies, it made no blue beans, so it came up with blueberry. Three-and-a-half tons—or 40 million jelly beans—were consumed at the festivities. As president, Reagan had 720 bags containing 306,070 Jelly Belly beans delivered from Goelitz every month to Washington, D.C.

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iStock/Nick Garrad

7. While people around the world share a love for jelly beans, regional flavor preferences do exist

According to Jelly Belly, here are the favorite tastes across the globe. For North and South America: very cherry; Asia, lemon lime; Australia: bubble gum; Europe: tutti-fruitti, and the Middle East, berry blue. Within America, you can also find generational preferences. While adults and kids both love cherry, making it the No. 1 most popular flavor, their tastes diverge beyond that. Grown-ups go for buttered popcorn, coconut, juicy pear, licorice, and strawberry daiquiri; kids opt for berry blue, green apple, raspberry, sour apple, and watermelon.

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8. Today, jelly beans come in a vast variety of flavors ranging from beer to vomit

The Jelly Belly company alone churns out more than 100 flavors. Its newest are pancakes & maple syrup, champagne, ginger ale, and beer. The company also offers a BeanBoozled box with 20 flavors: 10 classic and 10 gross-tasting lookalikes. So, an orange-ish bean could be peach—or vomit. A green one might be juicy pear—or booger. Blech. Blech. If you don’t feel brave enough to try a box, you can find many, many YouTube videos in which participants challenge themselves to chew without gagging.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest