Candy experts estimate that more than 4.6 billion jelly beans will be made this Easter.
According to William Kelley, a fourth generation candy maker and vice chairman of the Jelly Belly Candy Company, the process is rather complicated. It takes 7 to 10 days to make a Jelly Belly jelly bean. The rigid weeklong process begins in the kitchens of the Jelly Belly plants in Fairfield, Calif., and North Chicago, Ill.
Master confectioners begin the process by creating slurry. According to Kelley, slurry is basically sugar, water, corn syrup and cornstarch. The slurry is then cooked in large kettles and cookers at temperatures over 300-degrees.
The slurry is then run through a steam injection cooker, which explodes the starch molecule and forms a gel.
It’s then put into a kettle where color and flavors are added to make a jelly belly. Colors and flavoring are then blended into the slurry base in a large kettle to make the skeleton of the jellybean.
According to Tomi Holt, a spokesman for Jelly Belly, the flavoring is the key to the distinctive true-to-life taste of Jelly Belly beans. The flavors are created using natural juice concentrates, fruit purees or natural flavorings whenever possible.
“If you were making an ordinary jelly bean you wouldn’t add color and flavor to the slurry,” Kelley said. “Putting it on the inside complicates the process, but this is how we ensure that our beans taste better all around. Other companies just put the flavoring on the shell.”
The hot candy from the upstairs kitchen is dropped down through stainless steel pipes into a machine called a mogul or starch-molding machine, which creates molds and deposits the candy into those molds.
While the candy is cooking, shallow wooden trays are filled with dry cornstarch. The mold with the distinctive shape of the Jelly Belly bean is pressed into the starch, there are 1,260 molds imprinted per tray.
“At this point we’re making the center to the jelly,” Kelley said.
The mix then goes to a pumping station where it will take one to three pumps to fill those cavities. The hot flavored slurry is deposited into the molds at a rate of 25 quarts per minute, with each tray holding 2.5 pounds of hot candy.
The hot centers in the cornstarch molds are cooled into jells to become the center of the Jelly Belly beans. They are cured for 24-48 hours in a dry room. According to Holt, the drying room’s high temperature and low humidity are critical to the successful production of the beans.
“After it dries it is now a molded piece of candy,” Kelley said. The now solid mixture is put back in starch molding machine so that the powdery cornstarch can be separated from the bean centers and be recycled.
As the cornstarch is recycled, the warm, tender centers are moved along a mesh conveyor belt for a quick moistening under a steam spray to remove any excess starch.
“It comes out as a clean piece of candy, but so far it’s only the center that you have,” Kelley said. Following the steam bath the centers go through a sugar coating process for a light coating of sugar and then cool off overnight.
After the overnight cooling the centers are placed in a machine called a pan.
“It looks like a cement mixer you’d see on a construction site, except ours is spotlessly clean,” Kelley said.
These pans revolve on a shaft and the centers are put in the pan. A cooked liquid solution of sugar, water, corn syrup and color flavoring is added for the second time. Kelley stresses that this second flavoring is what makes their beans different.
The second flavoring is called the “engrossing process” and results in a thin shell on each bean. According to Holt, after a specific amount of time, usually about two hours, the beans are covered with a drying sugar while candy makers constantly check for even distribution. The beans are coated a total of four times.
Shortly after another curing period, the nearly completed beans are placed into giant stainless steel pans, which hold about 500 pounds of beans. They receive a final dusting of sugar, and another coating of plain sugar syrup, to enhance the coloring, and a final finishing with confectioner’s white wax glaze to create the brilliant jewel finish.
The beans are stored overnight, inspected and taste-tested. Approved beans then move through pipes to the printing machine where every bean is imprinted with its name. The beans fall into a tray with a pocket for each little bean. Snug in their pockets, the beans pass under a roller, which prints the Jelly Belly name on 20,700 beans per minute. White food coloring, the same food coloring used to make marshmallows white, is used by the printer to create the Jelly Belly signature. The beans then move on to be packaged.
According to Kelley, 850 million beans are produced a week. Each Jelly Belly bean has 4 calories and zero fat. There are currently 40 official flavors, 13 rookie flavors, 10 sour flavors and another 15 or so seasonal flavors.