Monday, December 19, 2005
One of the best things about candy is that the manufacture of it is as delightful as the shopping and tasting part. It’s not at all like the whole “where does meat come from” thing, knowing how the candy is made actually makes me appreciate it more. I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago and set some time aside to head out to Fairfield to visit the Jelly Belly factory.
The location is rather ordinary, right off the highway in an industrial park that holds a few other confectionary concerns and an olive oil place, too. As unassuming and corporate as the outside looks, as we all know about jelly beans, it’s the inside that matters.
Jelly Belly has an exceptional free tour for anyone who makes the forty minute trip from San Francisco, but I was lucky enough to get a personal tour from Tomi Holt, the publicist for Jelly Belly.
Or first stop was actually the tasting bar at the factory store. This is actually the best reason for the drive. You can try EVERYTHING they make here. They have all of their candies available for tasting, every jelly bean, every JBz, all of the licorice, the fruit jellies and even the gummis and sugar free assortments. If you’ve ever been curious about anything that they make, this is the place to try it. I had a few JBz and some of the new mint trio Jelly Bellies before we donned our hairnets.
I got the star treatment with full access to the factory floor (regular visitors are restricted to balcony area that still gives an impressive view of all aspects of the process and of course the smells). Jelly Belly built the factory in 1986, but what’s really fascinating is that the Goelitz, owner of Jelly Belly, has been making candy since 1869 and has been in business since 1896. Goelitz is best known for their excellent candy corn, which is made by many companies, but Goelitz is often credited as the first one to make they layered orange, yellow and white version which has certainly become the standard.
The Jelly Belly factory is a huge facility that produces hundreds of different kinds of candy (most of them jelly beans) but they also do panned nuts (Jordan almonds), chocolates (JBz, Chocolate Malt Balls, Dutch Mints), gummi bears, licorice (pastels & bridge mix) and jellies (raspberries, fruit jellies & peach jells). Just about all of their candies are panned. Panning is a process where a candy center is created and then tossed into a huge pan that looks like a cement mixer. Syrups, flavors, colors and/or chocolate are added to coat the candy center, layer upon layer, until the candy is just right and can be polished up and packaged.
First, just about all Jelly Belly candies start as a sugar/corn syrup and corn starch mixture that’s boiled to the appropriate temperature and mixed with whatever flavors the recipe requires. Many recipes contain real flavor ingredients - so blueberry Jelly Bellies have blueberry puree in there. The biggest difference between Jelly Belly jelly beans and most others is that they flavor the center. An ordinary jelly bean is just a plain sugar jelly. A Jelly Belly will have a specific flavored center and then an additionally flavored shell.
On the day I was there, they were making jelly beans. Lots and lots of jelly beans. We started in the kitchen which is a hot room with several large machines side by side. Okay, it doesn’t look much like my kitchen, but it did smell like pina colada. It was here that Tomi showed me the secret to most the jelly candies that we all know and love. Corn Starch Trays. Each bean is molded by depositing the hot candy soup into a tray made from plain old powdered corn starch.
Picture a deep cookie pan filled with corn starch, then it goes through a conveyer where a mold of the centers is pressed into the corn starch (1,260 per tray). The starch is just stiff enough to hold the form and a little further down the line the depositor squirts the little center in there. While I was there watching one of the candy makers was there watching the consistency of the jelly to assure the quality. The starch trays are unloaded from the conveyer onto open racks where they set up for a day in the climate controlled room.
Next the trays are then dumped out—each tray is turned over where the corn starch falls apart and the centers are sifted to remove the corn starch that clings to it. The corn starch is sifted and reused for new trays. Then they go onto a conveyer where they get a quick steaming to get them a little sticky and they are “sanded” with sugar. For some candies like a fruit pectin, this would be the end of the line. But the Jelly Belly is just getting started. Tomi pulled some of these out for us to try (they were still warm from the steaming)—they were orange. Instead of the zesty tart flavor, these were must mellow and sweet with a nice boost of orange essence. I knew it was going to be interesting to see how a Jelly Belly is built.
The Jelly Bellies get loaded intro trays where they cool, set and wait for their next coat. As most of the centers can look the same, each tray is marked with codes and dates. Different centers get different treatment as some get more rest or less rest before and after their engrossing. Each tray weighs 25 pounds when filled with the Jelly Belly centers. At their appointed time the centers are sent to the engrossing pans. 10 trays of 25 pounds of centers are dumped into one of the pans. Then a master confectioner mixes up the elixir that becomes the candy shell. It’s a tricky process that involves a bit of art as they tumble the centers and pour in pitchers of the mixtures and sometimes use air blowers to speed the process.
It takes four coats over about two hours to make the shell and they keep dozens of these panning machines going at any time. So, have you been wondering how much of a Jelly Belly is shell? I asked one of the confectioners there as he was turning off the rumbling, tumbling machines and he said that they put in ten trays of centers, which weigh 25 pounds each. And when they’re done, they get about 375 pounds of beans out—that’s right, one third of the weight of a Jelly Belly is its shell. What’s more, that confectioner added more than 125 pounds of syrups and flavors to the engrossing beans—you’d have to account for evaporation, which is part of the shell making process. It’s a grueling job, if you ask me. There they are, all day pouring and managing these tumbling pans. There are fifty different standard Jelly Belly flavors alone, so the list of possible combinations is huge. It’s a really interesting process. While we were on the floor one row of pans was making Sizzling Cinnamon and the other was working on Tangerine. The smell of the cinnamon was pretty overwhelming. I’m just glad they weren’t making their newest flavor, Roasted Garlic.
You may have noticed that some Jelly Bellies have mottled colors. Those are added at the very end with special coloring agents that don’t integrate into the whole shell.
The beans are then tumbled again in another pan to polish them up with a confectioner’s glaze. It’s kind of like a rock tumbler.
Then the trays go back to the warehouse to wait. The beans’ flavors integrate while they cure and then when they’re ready to go they get loaded back onto a conveyer where they are sorted into a tray that places them in a huge printer that gives them their white ‘brand’ of Jelly Belly. All Jelly Bellies get printed in white, even the white ones. It’s this extra step that you can use to make sure that the bulk beans that you’re buying out of a bin at a candy shop are real Jelly Bellies.
Once the beans are branded, they’re boxed. The beans are stored in the cardboard boxes until they’re called for, for whatever mix they’re making. They un-box the beans onto a huge conveyer that sends them to a tumbler that mixes them together. The tumbler we got close to was making a combo that looked like sour lime and orange—kind of like peas and carrots. It’s mesmerizing to see them tumbling in mesh drums that must be four feet high with little holes in it that keep the air moving and the rejected small jelly beans will fall through. The noise is incredible, you wouldn’t think that so many jelly beans just rustling around could be so loud, but most of the crew on the floor in this area of the factory wears ear protection.
All along the way are the factory personnel assuring the quality of the beans, but there are mechanical methods as well. If a bean makes it all the way through the process to be a “complete” bean but is rejected for size or shape, they’re called a “Belly Flop.” Belly Flops can be purchased in one place, the Jelly Belly factory. When I was there they were selling them in various mixes for half the price of real Jelly Bellies.
At the end of the factory part Tomi and I went back to the lobby where she took me through the wall of history that detailed the rise of the company, the family history and of course the Ronald Regan memorabilia (he was a huge fan of the confections since they started and could be credited for bringing them to national attention in the early eighties).
Of course at the end of that Tomi and I adjourned to the factory store again and spent more time with Barbara at the tasting bar where she continued to feed us whatever we wanted to taste. I even gave some of the Bertie Botts(tm) flavors a try and rather liked the grass, black pepper and soap flavors. But what impressed me most after tasting such a wide range of the products they offered, no matter whether they were to my liking or not, the quality is excellent. The amount of flavor they pack into such small bits of candy is amazing and obviously is what sets Jelly Bellies apart from other jelly beans. The strange thing is that when I went on the tour I was pretty much neutral on Jelly Belly. They’re good, I never argued with the quality, but now that I’ve seen them made and tasted the full range of flavors, I’m hooked on some of their other products. See my full review for an exhaustive list of some of the things I’ve tried in the past few weeks.
They run the tours six days a week, but the factory doesn’t operate on Saturdays, so try to make it on a weekday for the full experience. Check their website or call ahead for hours. They also have a cafe on site (and a room you can rent for parties).
Also, if you’re in the Midwest you can tour their Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin warehouse too, which also has a full store and tasting bar.
(All inside the factory photos courtesy of Jelly Belly.)
Name: Jelly Belly Classic Candies - Jelly Belly jelly beans, Fruit Pectin, Jordan Almonds, JBz, Cinnamon Bears, Dutch Mints, Licorice & Berry Mix
At the beginning of December I took a trip to San Francisco and had to stop at the Jelly Belly factory (see that article with pics here). I was lucky enough to have a guided tour of the facility by none other than the publicist for the company, Tomi Holt. At the end of my factory tour she wanted me to try more of the Jelly Belly line than just the jelly beans. She picked out a few items including this box called Classic Candies which includes samples of many of the candy in Jelly Belly’s line (see my review of their Malted Milk Balls). A lot of it was surprising to me, I didn’t know they made pectin fruits or gummis and if you’re looking for some new tastes without buying a full package this is a good option.
Of course the box contains a good assortment of the most popular Jelly Belly flavors incuding Lemon, Sizzling Cinnamon, Cotton Candy, Licorice, Green Apple, Peach, Very Cherry, Buttered Popcorn, Blueberry and Juicy Pear. I have to admit that I’m not fond of all of them, but I appreciate the complexity of the flavors. The peach is a good example. While many “peach flavored” things get one or two notes of peach in there, somehow the Jelly Belly tastes like it has fuzz (I consider that an accomplishment). My favorites are Licorice, Sizzling Cinnamon and Lemon, but some others are growing on me like Cotton Candy and Blueberry. If you’ve never had a Jelly Belly, the first thing you should know is that they contain no gelatin. So if you’re a vegan, you can eat these! (Though the plant uses milk in some products and cannot guarantee that there aren’t traces.) They’re also Kosher.
The Raspberries and Blackberries were another pleasant surprise. I was expecting those German berries that I’ve had before that are nice, but a little sweet and a little chewy. These are tart and flavorful, with a complex combination of the sour, the crunchiness of the sprinkles that mimic berry seeds and then a good aromatic lingering aftertaste. This was much more pronounced in the blackberry, which was downright pungent.
I’m adding this little gem in here even though it wasn’t in the box. They’re called “Champagne Bubbles” and they’re very much like the Raspberries & Blackberries in that it’s a tart fruit jelly/gummi center with a crunchy shell of dots. The flavor here is a rather bubbly white grape juice that actually has a little sizzle. They’re not as aromatic as the berries but they’re easier to eat in large quantities that way. The sassy appearance makes them a good item to use for weddings and showers if you want a little change from Jordan Almonds.
I didn’t even know Jelly Belly made these! They’re gummi bears in a zesty cinnamon flavor. They’re sanded with sugar and not the same gummi we’re used to from Europe. They’re more of a jelly chew but they’re positively hot. I guess that’s why they call them Unbearably Hot Cinnamon Bears.
It’s odd that one of the things that started this Jelly Belly oddysey was an email I got from a former member of the marketing team at Jelly Belly. He complimented me on the blog and then suggested that I give JBz another try (pronounced Jay-Bees) since they’re reformulated them. I’m not really into trying things I didn’t like again, but I’ll have to admit that I wanted to like these and of course free samples never hurts. I’m going to guess, first of all, that the box I got at Bed, Bath and Beyond was probably a little old and perhaps suffered from sitting around with too many scented soaps. The JBz that I tried at the Factory and in this box were actually really good. The chocolate itself is still very sweet and lacks it’s own chocolate punch, but as a medium for delivering the other flavors, it’s very successful. I liked the capuccino and chocolate caramel ones best (but then again I got a lot of those in my assortment).
No company that does panning can call themselves that unless they make Jordan Almonds. I don’t know who thought up making an inpenetrable shell on a rather large nut, but there you have it. Perhaps you’re not supposed to bite them, but I can’t help it. The coating is smooth and crunchy and the almonds are large and top grade.
I reviewed the Jelly Belly Confections Licorice Bridge Mix some months ago and I was pleased by it, but not wowed. I have now found that my mix may have been a little stale (it was on sale), as this stuff was softer and more flavorful. At the time I gave them a harsh 6 out of 10. While I still like a little more licorice inside my pastels, these were very nice since they were soft and chewy. The colorful dots are just so joyfully pretty (I’ve since bought them at a Sweets Factory just because I liked the look of them) and the other black and white dots are nice and mild (think of licorice flavored candy corn).
Another fun thing that Jelly Belly makes is Dutch Mints. They’re a mint fondant-type center covered with a thin layer of chocolate and then given a candy shell. Instead of a high gloss, Dutch mints have a soft, matte finish that always makes them look so soothing. (It also seems to make them nearly impossible to photograph well.) The shell is cool to the tongue and kind of slick, then it releases a huge burst of mint. The chocolate is subtle, really barely noticeable, after all this is all about the mint. The centers are soft without being gooey.
Tomi and I also spend some time in the store while we were there since that’s the one place to see all the candies Jelly Belly makes, not just the ones being produced that week. One of the things she introduced me to were the Pectin Fruits. She pulled out a clear pineapple one for me to taste and can I just use the phrase “bursting with flavor?” It was seriously fruity and had many of the pineapple notes, not just the tart one, but those aromatics and that actual piney taste that a pineapple has. The only thing I was disappointed about was that there was no pineapple one in this box. I did get to try the raspberry and again I have to say that I am usually not a fan of raspberry flavored things, however this tastes like it’s got raspberries in it. The citrus ones are zesty and tart with a well-rounded flavor. The jelly is firm without being too sticky or crusty. I’ve always loved orange slices and spearmints leaves but since tasting these I may never go back. Even the lime was complex, with more than the “household cleaner” smell to it.
I didn’t photograph these, but you know what they look like: Candy Corn. After years of eating old, stale and waxy candy corn this was pretty good stuff. It’s sweet and slightly chewy. Not terribly complex but nice and all the little pieces were wonderfully consistent looking.
One of the newer products (also not in the box) is their Mint Trio. I’m glad Jelly Belly is finally putting out a contender for the pocket mint business. This sassy little trio has peppermint (Jelly Belly sadly discontinued the blue mint years ago), spearmint and wintergreen. I know that a lot of folks don’t like wintergreen but I’m a huge fan. All the beans have a huge boost of mint in them and will easily work as breath mints if you choose. They’re easy to share and I don’t know of many multi-mint breath mint options out there in one package. (Maybe those mint Skittles.) The only problem with them is that I haven’t seen them anywhere but the Jelly Belly store!
Last, I tried a few Bertie Botts while I was at the store. I’m not really into eating gross things, I generally want to like what I eat. But I did try a few that I actually liked and ended up buying a mix of. If you have the opportunity to just do a mix of the “tasty” Bertie Botts, I can recommend Grass (which is just a mellow, fresh flavor), Black Pepper (sweet and hot) and Soap (if you just think of it as a floral bouquet and not like soap it’s tasty).
Whew! That’s a lot of candy. Overall I give the Jelly Belly top marks for consistent quality, diverse flavors and innovation. They’re a little more expensive than most “sugar” candies out there, but I think you’re getting a lot for the money when you consider that you’re getting such consistency and flavor packed into those little beans. However, at those prices, unless you like all the flavors, go for a bulk pick-a-mix where you can get just the ones you like. I’m fond of their citrus flavors so when I was there I made my own mix which was Tangerine, Pink Grapefruit, Lemon, Lemon Drop, and Margarita. Not only are they zesty, saliva-gland-popping flavors, they go really well together. They even had a new flavor there that may not be in wide release yet called Pomegranate (the red one there). It was interesting, rather like a cross between raspberry and cranberry - good tartness but a lot of floral flavors to it. It didn’t taste like pomegranate to me, but it was certainly good.
Rating - 9 out of 10 for general Jelly Belly line of products
Friday, December 16, 2005
I went to a new candy shop last weekend. I was on a quest for Ribbon Candy which seemed oddly difficult to find. I found The Candy Baron in Santa Monica. A small chain of shops, they seemed a good alternative to the mall shop called Sweets Factory.
The Candy Baron’s main product is bulk candy. They have the usual selection of Jelly Belly candies as well as taffy, hard candies, gummis, candy buttons and licorice. Their prices weren’t bad, most stuff going for between $5.00 and $6.00 a pound. They also have harder to find nostalgia/regional items like Goetze’s Caramel Creams (bull’s eyes), rock candy, Mary Janes, Walnettos & Squirrel Nut Zippers. They also had a decent selection of international candy bars. Though they were priced at a mind-blowing $2 each, if you’ve really got a jones for a Coffee Crisp, that’d be the place to check out.
They’re just off the Promenade in Santa Monica on Santa Monica Blvd.
There are only five locations total (Santa Monica, Laguna Beach, Long Beach, San Francisco and Eugene, OR) but they do have a website where you can order and have it shipped to you.
I’m still on a quest for a good place to buy inexpensive bulk candies in Los Angeles. If anyone has any suggestions, I’m ready to go.
Name: Ribbon Candy
When I was a kid I used to buy ribbon candy for my mother for Christmas. It was pretty stuff but I never remembered it being very good. I think part of the problem is that most people put it in a dish or some sort of display for the holidays and it gets all sticky.
Ribbon Candy is simply hard candy flattened out into long ribbons and then folded up like little puffs and twists. They’re usually pretty colors and often flavored according to those colors. This box contains a mix of minty and fruity flavors. The box also has a beautiful photo of the candy on it. The stuff inside doesn’t look quite like that.
First, the ribbons are not uniform. The doubling of the candy strips to form the loops was rather inconsistent and the ribbons weren’t flat, so I’d set them out to photograph and they’d rock. Second, they were not glossy and luminous like the box. I know that they have been in the past. I know the stuff I used to get for my mother looked like it was spun glass. I don’t know if it’s because this is a bad batch or that it’s just not as good anymore, but mine looked milky and dull. Only one was broken, so I was pleased that the poor box wasn’t handled poorly.
The candy itself is kind of neat to eat. Messy, but pretty interesting. You can’t just break off a little loop, it seems for each loop that you want the other half is pulverized into shards as you break it off. We’re all used to the dense sugar of the hard candy, but the wafer thin ribbons rather melt on your tongue. The flavors are ordinary and sweet, no tartness in the citrus flavors. The plain white one was cool because it was vanilla. There aren’t that many vanilla hard candies out there. The oddest thing was that the red and green striped one was some sort of strange mint. A toothpaste mint, which I’m guessing is a blend of spearmint and peppermint but tastes a little too much like toothbrush for me.
You can read more about F.B. Washburn and Sevigny’s at their home page. But here’s the part I liked best:
Did you know that there’s a “ribbon candy business” and that it was so consolidated now?
The other interesting thing is how low in calories these are. A full ribbon, which is a little over an ounce and looks huge is only about 60 calories. So if you’re looking for a little holiday indulgence that won’t fatten you up so fast, a couple of ribbons instead of a piece of pie ala mode might save you about 300 calories. It’s actually kind of nice to have with a little tea and the calories probably end up being lower consider that much of it shatters into microscopic shards that you’re more likely to inhale than consume.
Rating - 6 out of 10.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.