The magical fruit: A taste test of supermarket jelly beans

Illustration for article titled The magical fruit: A taste test of supermarket jelly beans
Photo: Marnie Shure

The most famous lover of jelly beans was Ronald Reagan, and that pretty much sums them up. This candy is moderately shelf-stable, stores well in a cardboard box, and is traditionally dominated by a corn syrup flavor. It’s the ultimate “old timey” candy, an edible time capsule. A small handful of jelly beans is enough to remind you that so much of what makes candy interesting to a 21st-century consumer (X-treme sour powder! Ten different snack foods stuffed into one chocolate bar! Zombie flavors!) didn’t even exist when jelly beans came into this world.

You might say the 21st century has experienced something of a jelly bean renaissance, with many classic candies now being sold in this springtime format. Which makes sense: Producing jelly beans seems like an easy way of diversifying a brand’s offerings for the Easter candy season and scoring one more valuable slot on convenience store shelves. You can sell them in bulk bags for more money, and there’s little risk of alienating consumers with icky corn syrup flavor because most people are probably just buying these things to jazz up Easter basket grass and cut glass bowls anyway. We are in an age of widespread jelly beanification, and I’m not about to be left behind the times.

I went to my local Target and bought every bag I could find, including brands I’ve eaten many times before. Even if I already knew what they tasted like, I wanted to judge each according to these key criteria:

Exterior: Most jelly beans possess a sugary outer shell that doesn’t yield to your bite so much as get pulverized into a million grainy, concentrated too-sweet granules—and the shards that don’t immediately nestle between your molars mix into a paste with the chewy center of the jelly bean, dotting the soft innards with unwanted grittiness. Some brands suffer from this shell problem more than others; sometimes sucking on the bean helps erode the shell, sometimes not. But the grittier the shell, the more it’ll get dinged in the rankings.

Interior: Good chew? Pleasant springiness? Great burst of flavor? Functioning like tooth cement? All of these factors will be weighed.

Faithfulness To Original Candy: In the case of, say, a Sour Patch or Swedish Fish jelly bean, do the beans actually evoke the flavors of the candy whose coattails they’re riding? And/or is this an inventive entry in that candy’s oeuvre?

Volume Snackability: Do I want more than “just a taste” of these? Do I want to fill a cereal bowl with these beans and eat them by the fistful? (Note that this diverges from the matter of tastiness, because even a delicious candy might not earn volume snackability points if it’s too rich, indulgent, or sour.)

May the best bean win.

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled The magical fruit: A taste test of supermarket jelly beans
Photo: Marnie Shure

Brach’s Classic Jelly Bird Eggs

Ah, the OG, the éminence grise of jelly beans that has decades on the rest of ’em. Firstly, let me say that I admire what Jelly Bird Eggs have been able to do for Easter baskets throughout history. Truly, I respect it. But there’s just no vibrance to these things. This is as much my fault as the beans’, but every bite is a reminder that I’ve wrecked my palate with more high-octane candies, just like I’ve wrecked my beer palate with DIPAs. This used to be enough for those who came before you, the Jelly Bird Eggs seem to grumble as I dive into what should be an array of fascinating flavors—pineapple, lemon, lime, orange, raspberry, cherry, grape, and licorice—but instead they fall short of what my modern taste buds expect.

And it might indeed be just a me problem: These things have held on since the 1930’s, for God’s sake. Brach’s does one thing best of all, and that’s endure. The divisive licorice flavor, for example, hangs on despite so much societal objection, and you have to respect that.

Exterior: 2/10
Interior: 4/10
Faithfulness To Original Candy: N/A
Volume Snackability: 2/10
Overall Score: 2.6/10

Advertisement

Jelly Belly 30 Flavors Jelly Beans 

Illustration for article titled The magical fruit: A taste test of supermarket jelly beans

I volunteer for a candy charity drive every year, and for two decades, Jelly Belly has sponsored the event by giving us free candy to hand out. So I’m feeling charitable in return, and because of that, I’ll just say this: not my thing! They’re not bad. Jelly Belly has just always felt, I don’t know, a tad indecent. Indecent because a candy that is otherwise pretty seasonal is diluted by the year-round availability of Jelly Belly. Indecent because Jelly Belly hopped aboard the concept of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans from the Harry Potter universe, and now you risk coming upon flavors engineered to disgust you. Indecent because they’re tinier and harder and more precisely stamped with their own logo than any other beans on the market. Indecent because Jelly Belly has made me hyper aware of how many people in my life say yes to buttered-popcorn-flavored candy. All that aside, I’ve given these another taste with the ranking criteria in mind, and they don’t rank dead last. So hopefully they’ll continue to sponsor our charity drive.

Exterior Tastiness: 3/10
Interior Tastiness: 3/10
Faithfulness To Original Candy: N/A
Volume Snackability: 3/10
Overall Score: 3/10

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled The magical fruit: A taste test of supermarket jelly beans

Big Chewy Nerds Jelly Beans

I’m a big fan of eating candies one by one rather than by the handful, and when you eat one Nerd at a time you understand that you’re just paying a premium for dyed sugar cubes. But at the very least, those tiny sugar nuggets were small enough to grind to dust between your teeth. When I bit into my first Nerds jelly bean, meanwhile, my thoughts flashed to my dental insurance.

The catastrophe of a shell that encases this jelly bean is a feature, not a bug, and it cracks thunderously between your molars when you try to breach it. Once you finally reach the center, there’s some interesting flavor to be found, but it only arrives by the time your mouth is a discordant mess of shell and jelly. I ate four of these for research, and I couldn’t make it through a fifth. I just wish I’d been warned about the degree to which these Nerds Jelly Beans are just… Nerds-encrusted jelly beans. The product is called Big Chewy Nerds Jelly Beans, and while there is technically a chewy center in there somewhere, this name is a gross omission of the facts. The former name, Nerds Bumpy Jelly Beans, was more descriptive. Nerds Craggy Shrapnel Beans would be most accurate. No bunny sent by God would bring you these.

Exterior Tastiness: 2/10
Interior Tastiness: 5/10
Faithfulness To Original Candy: 8/10
Volume Snackability: 1/10
Overall Score: 4/10

Advertisement

Peeps Jelly Beans

I was compelled to open this bag up and take a big whiff immediately because Peeps are all bound up with the sensory memory of unsheathing them on Easter morning. The smell that hits you inside this bag of jelly beans really is marshmallow, though marshmallow comprises only one of four flavors in the bag. The others are a nice change of pace from the typical mixed fruit in a candy bag: blueberry (not blue raspberry), strawberry (not cherry or “redberry” or Red), and lemon (a nice complement to blueberry).

Illustration for article titled The magical fruit: A taste test of supermarket jelly beans

We need to talk about the marshmallow jelly bean. It really and truly does taste like a marshmallow, but stickier (on account of its being a jelly bean). It’s sort of a cheat to isolate the marshmallow flavor to a single bean within the bag, for which this product loses a few points in the “Faithfulness” category. It seems inevitable that this colorless ghost bean will divide households, with haters tossing them back into the dish in disgust and devotees picking out whole handfuls of them. But love them or hate them, the way Peeps has jelly bean’d itself is undeniably shrewd, and even though I have no interest in eating more, I love that there’s no other bean quite like these. (And I’ll probably pick out the rest of the blueberry ones to eat.)

Exterior: 3/10
Interior: 5/10
Faithfulness To Original Candy: 9/10
Volume Snackability: 3/10
Overall Score: 5/10

Advertisement

Starburst Jelly Beans

Illustration for article titled The magical fruit: A taste test of supermarket jelly beans

The only DNA these jelly beans share with actual Starburst is the juiciness gene. I can’t explain how one jelly bean could be “juicier” than another, but they definitely offer up a namesake “burst” when you chew them. Beyond that, these beans don’t even seem to be trying to mimic Starburst. (You ever see Green Apple Starburst? Or Grape? Part of the original lineup they are not.) But it’s important to note that Starburst was an early disruptor in the jelly bean space. As such, Starburst Jelly Beans have become their own thing entirely, a separate and distinct entity that has grown its own parallel fanbase. I’ll always appreciate how they livened up our bland Brach’s world, inspiring all other candies to follow suit.

Exterior: 4/10
Interior: 6/10
Faithfulness To Original Candy: 5/10
Volume Snackability: 7/10
Overall Score: 5.5/10

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled The magical fruit: A taste test of supermarket jelly beans

Swedish Fish Jelly Beans

The je ne sais quoi flavor of the original Swedish Fish candy is fruity, sure, but more accurately, it is Red. And that Red flavor is unlike any other Red flavor on the market. This is the strength of Swedish Fish, as is one other important factor: the gummies are coated in a combination of modified cornstarch and white mineral oil which hold the fishy shape and give the surface a nice sheen. Hence, biting into a Swedish Fish is a totally unique candy-eating experience. The mouthfeel is a teensy bit waxy, slippery, and starchy, seamlessly giving way to a gooey center. It is a nearly perfect candy.

Swedish Fish jelly beans get it half right. They mimic the flavor of Swedish Fish remarkably well, right down to the little tang at the end that makes you question whether you ate something flavored with cherry, lingonberry (as most internet sources claim), or just some optimally palatable Red chemical solution. The flavor is what kept me reaching for more. But in jelly-bean-ifying the texturally complex Swedish Fish, this candy sacrifices all the glorious mouthfeel of the classic gummi. You have to cut through all the grainy noise on the outside to get to the good stuff. Still, if you’re going to power through all that grit, this is the bean to do it for.

Exterior: 5/10
Interior: 9/10
Faithfulness To Original Candy: 9/10
Volume Snackability: 7/10
Overall Score: 7.5/10

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled The magical fruit: A taste test of supermarket jelly beans

Sour Patch Kids Jelly Beans

These are basically tiny, spherical Sour Patch Kids with a bit more structure to them. The jellied center has all the same chew as the classic candy, and you don’t even have to power through any shell crumbles to get there. Or maybe you do, but if so, the unpleasantness is lost in the assertive puckery bite of Sour Patch Kid flavor. Clever girl.

The five flavors each tasted like a heightened version of their Sour Patch Kid equivalent, and this must be due to the tinier grains of sour powder on the outside of the beans. The original candy has large, abrasive granules on the outside that erode your mouth before you hit the sweet spot. The jelly beans wisely choose a finer dusting—but since the scratchier sour sugar is so foundational to the essence of a Sour Patch Kid, these lose a couple points in the faithfulness category.

Exterior: 8/10
Interior: 7/10
Faithfulness To Original Candy: 8/10
Volume Snackability: 7/10
Overall Score: 7.5/10

Advertisement
Illustration for article titled The magical fruit: A taste test of supermarket jelly beans

Trolli Sour Brite Jelly Beans

May I curse on the last slide? Holy fucking shit! What a concept! Trolli has created a product that demonstrates its thoughtful approach to candy. Whereas just about anyone would expect this jelly bean to go the Sour Patch Kid route—sphere + sour powder, boom, done, let’s all collect our money and go home—Trolli instead packs the sour notes into the center of the bean, choosing to forgo sour powder entirely. This unlocks whole new levels of volume snackability, because your mouth doesn’t get too burnt out on the puckery sour flavors. Like all the best snacks, this jelly bean is calibrated to titillate just enough, but never so much that you want to stop eating them. As for the shell, it’s worn away some by sucking on each bean, but even if you go straight for the bite, it’s thin and pliable enough not to some away in shards. Trolli is doing all kinds of fun stuff lately, from tropical flavors to ridiculous shapes and topical LTOs (Sour Brite Weird Beards, James Harden Edition comes to mind), and these jelly beans are a shining example of what a company that’s having fun can create.

Exterior Tastiness: 9/10
Interior Tastiness: 9/10
Faithfulness To Original Candy: 7/10
Volume Snackability: 8/10
Overall Score: 8.3/10

Advertisement

Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.