Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Elephant No. 324: Jelly Beans

I didn't feel like drawing or making anything today, but when I was in a bulk food store, I came across a bin of mini-jelly beans. Because I'm naturally drawn to bright colours, I thought it would be interesting to see what kind of elephant I could make with the small candies.

Jelly beans, as the name implies, are small bean-shaped candies with a hard shell over a gummy centre. Jelly beans may have been inspired by Turkish delight, which consists of soft jelly, covered in icing sugar. During the seventeenth century, French confectioners developed a way of producing a hard sugar coating in a process known as "panning", and candymakers began experimenting with various ways of coating nuts and other sweets. 

The first actual mention of jelly beans occurs in 1861, when Boston candymaker William Schrafft urged people to send his jelly beans to soldiers fighting in the American Civil War. Over the next few decades, jelly beans gained in popularity, and by 1905 they were being advertised in the Chicago Daily News at nine cents a pound. Today, I paid about 80 times that. 

By the 1930s, jelly beans had somehow become closely associated with Easter, perhaps because of their egg-like shape. Since then, they have remained popular, not just at Easter, but year-round.

The main ingredients of jelly beans are sugar, corn syrup and starch, along with small amounts of emulsifiers, sugar glaze, beeswax, salt, colour and flavouring. Most jelly beans are sold in assortments, usually as a combination of fruit, spice or mint flavours. Many flavours are also associated with specific colours. The list below shows the standard and spiced flavours traditionally associated with each colour.

Red: Cherry/Cinnamon
Orange: Orange/Ginger

Yellow: Lemon/Sassafras
Green: Lime/Spearmint
Purple: Grape/Clove

Black: Licorice/Pepper
White: Lemonade/Mint
Pink: Strawberry/Wintergreen

Certain premium brands come in many different, and often exotic, flavours. In the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, a brand of jelly beans known as Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans takes this to an extreme with flavours such as earwax and dirt. While often sold as assortments, premium brands can also be purchased by individual flavour.

Jelly beans have even made their way into popular culture. For example, in the 1910s and early 1920s, a "Jellybean" or "Jelly-Bean" was a shallow young man who dressed stylishly, but had little else going for him. Novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a short story called "The Jelly-Bean" in 1920, and the song "Jelly Bean (He's a Curbstone Cutie)" written in 1920, became popular in the 1940s.

Sheet music for "Jelly Bean (He's a Curbstone Cutie)", 1920.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:JellyBean1920.jpg

"Jelly bean" is also a slang term in the semiconductor industry. A "jelly bean component" describes something that is easy to come by, useful in many applications, and without unusual characteristics—in other words, something you could almost grab out of a jar, like a jelly bean.

Jelly beans have even made it into Space. Former American President Ronald Reagan was so fond of jelly beans that he had stashes of them everywhere, including Air Force One, where they were displayed in a special turbulence-proof container. Jelly beans became so closely associated with the President that, in 1983, he asked that jelly beans be stowed on the Space Shuttle Challenger as a presidential surprise for the astronauts.

Jelly beans are made by first boiling the ingredients for the chewy centre. The jelly is then piped into trays to solidify. This process takes a few days, after which the panning process begins. Panning involves rolling the beans about in a large drum while sugar is gradually added to build up the hard outer shell. Colours and flavours are introduced towards the end of panning. The beans are then glazed to give them a shiny appearance, and are polished just before packaging. It apparently takes 6 to 21 days to make a jelly bean—plain or gourmet—which I found a bit surprising for a relatively humble candy.

Today, jelly beans are big business. In the United States alone, candymakers produce approximately 16 billion jelly beans in time for Easter each year.

For today's elephant, I bought three types of mini-jelly beans, mostly because I liked the pretty colours. I chose something called "Tropical Breeze Mixture", "American Classic Mixture" and "Raspberry". The latter is such a dark purple that it looks black—perhaps the dye lot was faulty. It doesn't taste like Raspberry, either.

I thought briefly about carefully arranging the jelly beans into an elephant shape by colour, then realized that I actually liked the lively effect of a multicoloured mixture of jelly beans.

My method was simple: corral the jelly beans into an elephant shape.

This was my first rough shape, which lacked the deep purple Raspberry flavour.

Next, I added the dark Raspberry jelly beans for the eye, as a bit of shadowing, and for a few outlines. Short of "painting" with jelly beans by colour, this was about the best I could do.

At this point, thinking I'd made my life too easy today, I did begin trying to arrange them by colour. Unfortunately, jelly beans are incredibly difficult to keep where you put them. They roll around, displace one another, leave big gaps, roll around, sit on top of one another, roll around some more, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. So I went back to my original corralling idea.

I tweaked the design a bit more, but this is pretty much as good as it got.

This was a very easy activity, but unless you have a flat surface, or a cake with gooey icing to keep your design in place, it's a very transitory work of, er, art.

I actually don't even like jelly beans all that much, so I'm not sure who's going to eat these. On the other hand, the deconstructed elephant does look rather pretty in a candy jar.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Inside the candy store, It's Sugar, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, there is a life-size elephant made entirely of jellybeans. Modelled on the famous Lucy, a roadside attraction in nearby Margate, New Jersey, the jellybean elephant is made of 1,050,493 candies.

Lucy the elephant, made of jellybeans at the It's Sugar store,
Caesar's Pier, Caesar's Casino, Atlantic City, New Jersey, 2010.
Photo: Joe Dawson
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/optimuminline/4752677571/

I'm not exactly sure how the elephant was made, as I couldn't find much of anything on Lucy the Jelly Bean Elephant. I suspect that, rather than being a solid mass of jelly beans, it probably consists of some sort of frame onto which more than a million jelly beans have been affixed.

When I was in Kentucky a couple of years ago, a friend and I happened upon a life-sized horse and foal made of solid chocolate, on display in a well-known chocolate shop. I must confess that it always seems a trifle odd to me to make large food-based objects. On the other hand, if you have a million jelly beans and lots of time, why not?

Lucy, the Elephant Building, Margate City, New Jersey
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucy_the_Elephant

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)


  1. Forty-two more likenesses to go Sheila! And just what are you going to do on day 43 and 44 and beyond? You will have so much more discretionary time. Or maybe you'll be on a book tour to speak about the year that was.

    1. Haha! As a fellow blogger, I know you get it, Barb! Probably the first thing I'll do is clean my house, and then try to purge my mind of seeing elephants everywhere.