Pleasant Prairie’s Jelly Belly Warehouse
Candy-maker’s tour provides a bellyful of beans
As All Hallows’ Eve draws near and the act of downing ungodly amounts of candy is considered socially acceptable, it’s time to find what lies at the center of the ubiquitous jelly bean. Just south of Milwaukee, in the village of Pleasant Prairie, Jelly Belly offers a tour inside its large warehouse and distribution center, where visitors can take a 30-minute ride on the Jelly Belly Express train to hear about the company’s century of candy-making and learn how treats like candy corn, jelly beans and taffy are made.
According to the National Confectioners Association, the jelly bean is a descendant of a Middle Eastern sweet known as Turkish Delight, a citrus, honey and rose water candy. In the mid-1800s, America went through a “penny candy” craze, when general stores sold a variety of different candies by weight from glass jars and packaged them in small paper bags. This spurred a creative streak in the candy-making biz and confectioners were coming up with all sorts of ideas, like a jelly candy shaped into a bean and given a soft shell. The shell coating was created using the same process the French used when creating Jordan almonds: rocked in a bowl filled with sugar and syrup until the almonds were coated in a candy shell. In the 1930s, because of their egg-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.
Jelly Belly’s roots are traced back to Gustav and Albert Goelitz, German immigrants who purchased an ice cream and candy store in Belleville, Ill., in 1869. The second generation of their family invented a new type of confection called buttercream candies, which include candy corn, a sweet the company has been making with the same recipe since 1900.
Since a Los Angeles candy distributor contacted the Goelitz Candy Co. in 1976 with an idea for a jelly bean made with natural flavorings, there have been two types of jelly beans in the world: gourmet and traditional. Both take between 6-10 days to make, but slight recipe differences give each its unique taste. Gourmet jelly beans tend to be softer and smaller than traditional jelly beans, and are flavored in both the shell and the middle. This is unlike traditional beans, which typically contain flavor only in the shell. The Goelitz candymakers created a recipe for jelly beans with intense flavors, including very cherry, lemon, cream soda, tangerine, green apple, root beer, grape and licorice.
At Jelly Belly, the manufacturing process begins at 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. Trays, each with an impression the size and shape of the center of a jelly bean, are coated with a layer of cornstarch. 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.
After they’re set aside for 24 to 48 hours, 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, and a confectioner’s glaze gives the beans a shiny look. After the beans are polished, a process that can take two to four days, they are ready for shipment.
The descendants of Gustav Goelitz continue to spread their wares to the world under the brand name Confections by Jelly Belly. Chocolate candies called JBz and Sports Beans, “a source of easily digestible carbohydrates for fuel, electrolytes for proper fluid balance, and vitamins for energy metabolism and good health,” are just two of the more than 100 candies the company creates.
Halloween is the holiday with the highest candy sales, but visitors on the tour of Jelly Belly’s warehouse can sample the goods free.