The Observotron

I am the omnipotent machine of observation and opinion spewing. All I do and say is right.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


With Easter steadily approaching I think it is safe to assume that everyone is looking forward to the resurrection of our savior, and by savior I am of course referring to food, lots and lots of food. For those who observe lent (I observe it…from far far away), Easter marks the end of the fasting period and is celebrated by gorging ourselves with cream-filled eggs, chocolate bunnies and of course, jellybeans. The jellybean has a rich and exciting history. Well actually, jelly candies have been around for thousands of years and have remained relatively unchanged until an 18th century American, whose name was not important enough for history to record, put a shell on them and called them beans. It’s all actually quite boring, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have something to say about the jellybeans in the marketplace today, so sit down and take it.

Yesterday’s Jellybean

I’ve never much cared for the traditional jellybeans, which taste predominantly like sugar and only remotely like the flavors they are color coded to impersonate. Beyond that, eating just a handful of them would leave me feeling as sick as if I had stuck a straw directly into the sugar jar, and put the other end of that straw up my nose. Luckily, brave men and women have worked toward a better jellybean, but in so-doing have they flown to close to the sun? For the sake of making a mundane topic seem dramatic, I say yes.

Jelly Belly Beans: The Rise and Fall of Gourmet Jellybeans

In 1976, the idea of the first gourmet jellybean was born from a Los Angeles candy distributor who wanted to see jellybeans made with natural flavorings. He called up Herman Goelitz Candy Co. who had a reputation for making the best candies and later that year the first 8 Jelly Belly flavors were born: Very Cherry, Lemon, Cream Soda, Tangerine, Green Apple, Root Beer, Grape and Licorice. Compared to the waxy faux-flavored beans of the past, these must have been a like crack to the candy mongering hordes of 30 years ago. Even Ronald Reagan became addicted. (The president’s love of Jelly Bellies gave rise to the blueberry flavor, which allowed him to serve his favorite jellybeans in patriotic colors at inaugural parties.) I myself love the idea of naturaly flavored jellybeans but cream soda? root beer? These are not the sorts of flavors I want when I reach for a handful of fruity candy. Sadly, as years past it only got worse.

Today, eating Jelly Bellies is like playing Russian roulette with your mouth. Now with 50 assorted flavors including my arch enemy, buttered popcorn, it is nigh impossible to fulfill a fruit candy craving without running into an unsavory mix. The makers of Jelly Bellies have lost their way. Instead of making candy one can enjoy by simply eating it, they have turned it into an activity where one is encouraged to eat combinations of their different flavors in order to experience something that tastes like a more complex treat.

They even give recipes that you can find at their website. Here are a few:

Using their format for recipes, here's one I stumbled upon from my own experience:

So what happened? Like the mighty Caesar, they got too ambitious. The ego-driven candy barons of Jelly Bellies prided themselves so much at creating realistic flavors they didn’t know where to stop. The goal of making good candy was replaced with the goal of making flavors that tasted like real food, thus forcing upon the world these confectionary Frankensteins that exist solely to prove that they could be created. Ironically, Jelly Bellies are the polar opposite of what sci-fi enthusiasts always predicted the future of food would hold. Instead of a flavorless pill that combined all the nutrition of a day’s meals into one easy-to-swallow capsule, we get the glory that is the mashed-up flavors of an entire day of eating with none of the nutrition.

Is there any redemption to be had for the jellybean? Oh yes, but like most things in life it must get worse before it gets better. Which brings us to…

Bertie Bott's Flavor Beans

These have their origin in the Harry Potter series and are basically a nightmarish exaggeration of what is wrong with Jelly Bellies. Whereas Jelly Bellies’ flavors include things you wouldn’t want to eat in the form of a jellybean, Bertie Bott’s have flavors of things you wouldn’t want to eat period such as salmon, dirt, booger, and yes…even vomit. Of course, BB’s Flavor Beans have been a huge success, as Harry Potter fans will do anything to emulate their young wizard hero. I’m surprised I don’t hear about kids scarring themselves in the face more often.

Starburst Jellybeans (Viva La Revolution!)

Finally, the moment you have all been waiting for: jellybeans I actually love. Starburst jellybeans are so good. Unless you are alergic to awesomeness, these are the beans to go with. They are the evolution of both Starburst and the jellybean. They are the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie baby of the candy world. They combine the tart deliciousness of starburst with the wrapper-free gorge fest that is the jellybean. It’s like sex without having to pay for dinner and a movie…or go to dinner and a movie…or know the person’s name. It’s the kind of foodgasm that can only be matched pre-shelled pistachios. Unlike Jelly Bellies, Starburst jellybeans can be eaten by the handful without having to worry about any bad flavor combinations. It is a dangerous beast though. One could go too far and end up dead in their own rainbow-colored vomit. So please, use caution when savoring these little capsules of joy.

The Future

Can I hope for a future where the unsung hero of jellybeans that is Starburst can rise up and overtake the reigning Jelly Belly? It will be a long road, but if there are those of you out there like me, who refuse to trade good old fashion eatability for gimmicky recipes and silly food games, then join me. Buy a bag of Starburst jellybeans and prove to the candy makers that we want candy that fulfills our needs in a candy; one that doesn’t make us think too hard about what we are snacking on, doesn’t make us avert our attention from whatever else we are doing, and doesn’t make us use both hands. We are the people who scoff at the Ring Pops and the Wax Bottles of the world. We didn’t come here to play with our food; we came here to eat it. We should not be afraid of our candy; our candy should be afraid of us!

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