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.