Candy Facts and History: Jelly Babies and Liquorice Allsorts
English Candies or Sweets
Jelly babies and liquorice allsorts are popular British candies or sweets. Liquorice allsorts in particular have become a widespread treat enjoyed by people in many countries. Jelly babies are soft, gelatinous candies that are produced in a mold that resembes a baby. Liquorice or licorice allsorts are firmer, brightly coloured candies with a wide variety of appearances, accounting for the "allsorts" name.
The exact ingredients of the candies depends on their manufacturer and the country in which they're sold. In general, jelly babies are made from gelatin, sugar, citric acid, water, flavours and colours. Jelly babies have a softer surface and a much softer centre than the typical gummy candies made in North America. They were created by the Bassett's confectionary company in Sheffield, England, but are now made by other companies in addition to Bassett's.
Liquorice allsorts are usually made from a base mixture of gelatin, sugars, starches and flour and have added colour. Like jelly babies, the candies were first made by the Bassett's company, but other companies around the world now produce liquorice allsorts. Despite their name and the fact that most of the candies have black as well as coloured sections, some brands don't contain liquorice. They may contain anise (or aniseed), though, which is a natural substance with a flavour that resembles liquorice.
The Bassett's confectionary company was formed in 1842 by George Bassett in Sheffield, England. In 1918 the company created the forerunner to jelly babies, which they called peace babies to mark the end of World War One. In 1953 the product was relaunched as jelly babies. Bassett's was taken over by the Trebor company in 1992 and is now part of the Cadbury Schweppes company, but their jelly babies and liquorice allsorts still bear the Bassett's name.
Bassett's jelly babies are soft and squishy. They don't have the rubbery texture of gummy candies and can be easily torn into pieces. Jelly babies don't require much chewing, so it's easy to eat too many of them!
The stores near my home don't sell jelly babies, but one does sell organic fruiti bears, which have a similar texture. The photo of fruiti bears below shows the paler colour of candies with natural colours compared to those with artificial colours. I've cut some of the candies open to show the soft, moist interior.
Jelly Baby Trivia
The fourth version of Doctor Who (played by Tom Baker) was a particular fan of jelly babies and often offered someone one during a tense situation.
Jelly Babies and Doctor Who
Artificial Colour Concerns
In 2007, artificial colours and flavours were eliminated from Bassett's jelly babies due to concerns about their safety. Artificial colours may increase hyperactivity in children, although this is a very controversial claim. Some scientists and members of the public believe that artificial colours do affect children's behavior, while other scientists say that there is no link. The flavours in the new version of jelly babies are produced by fruit juices.
Each colour of Basset's jelly babies has its own flavour, colour and name, as shown in the following table. This results in a rather strange situation in which someone is eating a candy which has a seemingly personal identity!
Bassett's Jelly Baby Colours, Flavours and Names
A Screaming Jelly Baby and Elephant Toothpaste
Screaming Jelly Babies Chemistry Experiment
Jelly babies are used in a popular chemistry experiment often called (somewhat macabrely) the "screaming babies" experiment. When a jelly baby is added to a strong oxidizer, a rapid and strong chemical reaction occurs. The reaction produces light and a "screaming" sound. An oxidizer is a chemical that causes a reaction by taking electrons away from another substance. In this case the oxidizer is reacting with the sugars in the jelly babies.
Please note that this reaction is not safe to do at home. It's potentially dangerous and can be a violent reaction - which is why it's so interesting to watch when professional chemists perform it!
An Exploding Jelly Baby
More Jelly Baby Trivia
George Harrison of the Beatles reportedly said in an interview that he liked jelly babies. As a result, fans often pelted the group with jelly babies during their public appearances, which the musicians understandably disliked.
Creation and Description of Liquorice Allsorts
Liquorice allsorts were created in 1899 as the result of an accident (or so the story says). Charlie Thompson was a salesman at the Bassett's company. He tripped while he was carrying a tray of separate liquorice and paste candies to show a potential customer. The candies became jumbled up, creating odd combinations. The customer was impressed and placed an order for the mixed-up candies - the first liquorice allsorts.
Most liquorice allsorts assortments contain the following types of candies.
- a sandwich made of two layers of pink, orange, brown or white candy with a black, liquorice-flavored layer in the middle
- a double-decker sandwich made of white and black layers
- a short cylinder of pink or yellow, coconut-flavored candy that surrounds a central black, liquorice-flavored cylinder
- a long, black, liquorice-flavored cylinder surrounding a cylinder of white candy
- a long, black, solid cylinder of liquorice-flavored candy
- flat, circular pink or blue candies covered with little balls and surrounding a gelatinous, anise-flavored interior.
Coconut and Liquorice
My favourite variety of liquorice allsorts, which always seems to be the least abundant in the bag, is the coconut one. Other members of my family have the same preference. The person who gets a coconut candy (without looking at their candy selection before they get it) is considered to be the lucky winner in the candy lottery. My second favourite is the brown and black sandwich because the brown layers have a mild cocoa taste.
It's important that buyers check to see if their brand of liquorice allsorts actually contains liquorice. Liquorice has some health benefits (although probably not when it's mixed with sugar and the other ingredients in liquorice allsorts), but it also has a potential danger. It contains a substance called glycyrrhizin, which may raise blood pressure.
Liquorice Allsorts Trivia
A villain called the Kandy Man appeared in some of the 1988 episodes of Doctor Who. The Kandy Man was a life-size figure who looked as though he had been made from candies joined together. The candies looked very much like liquorice allsorts.
Bertie Bassett is the mascot of Bassett's liquorice allsorts. Reportedly, he owes his existence to a copywriter named Frank Regan. Frank created the first Bertie out of liquorice allsorts joined by pipe cleaners. Today, a bag of U.K. liquorice allsorts always contains a single piece of soft candy shaped like Bertie Bassett. He is said to taste like anise.
Bertie has been the company's mascot since 1929 and has become a popular figure. In 2009, Bertie married Betty (another mascot with a body made of liquorice allsorts) as a publicity stunt for Bassett's.
A Liquorice Allsorts Ad From the 1990s - Turning Bertie
Where to Buy Jelly Babies and Liquorice Allsorts
I buy both liquorice allsorts and jelly babies (or the equivalent to jelly babies) occasionally. I've enjoyed them since childhood. While they certainly aren't health foods, they are very nice for an occasional treat. Bassett's liquorice allsorts (and other brands) are always available in my local stores. For genuine Bassett's jelly babies I have to travel further to get to a store that imports British candies and other foods. The journey requires a fifty minute drive, but it's definitely worth it! Both candies can be bought online at various websites.
© 2013 Linda Crampton