Jelly Babies and Liquorice Allsorts: Candy Facts and History
British 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 allsorts are firmer, brightly coloured candies with a wide variety of appearances, accounting for the "allsorts" name.
Both type of candies were first made by the Bassett's confectionary company in Sheffield, England. Today they continue to be made by Bassett's but are also produced by other companies. Jelly babies have a softer surface and a much softer centre than the typical gummy candies made in North America. Despite the liquorice allsorts name and the fact that many of the candies have black sections, some brands of allsorts don't contain liquorice. They may contain anise (or aniseed), though, which is a natural substance with a flavour that resembles liquorice.
Bassett's Confectionary Company
The Bassett's confectionary company was formed in 1842 by George Bassett in Sheffield, England. He lived from 1818 until 1886. At one time he was the mayor of Sheffield. Bassett's jelly babies and liquorice allsorts were created after George's death.
Bassett's was taken over by the Trebor company in 1992. Trebor was later acquired by the Cadbury Schweppes company. Kraft bought Cadbury and created Mondelez International, which is now the home of Bassett's products. The jelly babies and liquorice allsorts still bear the Bassett's name, however.
In the United Kingdom, candies are known as sweets, gelatin is known as gelatine, a gelatine dessert is called jelly, and licorice is spelled "liquorice".
History of Jelly Babies
The history of jelly babies is uncertain. They may have appeared in 1864 when a man working at a confectionary company in England was asked to create a mold for jelly bears. Apparently the mold looked more like a baby than a bear, so the candies were referred to as "unclaimed babies". At that time, unclaimed babies was the term used for babies abandoned outside churches. Though the idea of using the term for a candy is disturbing by today's standards, it seems to have been acceptable in the nineteenth century. Advertisements from the past show that candies with this name were sold to the public.
A popular but uncorroborated story says that in 1918 Bassett's created the forerunner to their jelly babies, which they called peace babies to mark the end of World War One. In 1953 the product was relaunched as jelly babies.
Jelly Babies and Fruiti Bears
Bassett's jelly babies are soft candies, though their surface is firmer than their interior. They lack the rubbery texture of North American gummy candies. They are easy to chew, which means it's also easy to eat too many of them. The candies are covered with a dusting of starch.
The ingredients in jelly babies depends on their manufacturer and the country in which they're sold. In general, they're made from gelatin, sugar, citric acid, water, flavours, and colours.
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 above 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.
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 (Mainly) the Fourth 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 controversial claim. Some scientists and members of the public believe that artificial colours do affect children's behaviour, 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.
The names and characters of the candies were assigned in 1989. One example of the characters that are depicted is Bubbles. She's a girl and wears a necklace, as can be seen in the jelly baby photo above. Another is Boofuls, who has his hand on his eye because he's crying. I have yet to discover why he's so sad. A gruesome interpretation could be that he's sad that he's about to be eaten. Bubbles is smiling at her fate, however.
Bassett's Jelly Baby Colours, Flavours, and Names
A Screaming Jelly Baby (and Elephant Toothpaste)
An Interesting 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!
George Harrison of the Beatles reportedly said in an interview that he liked jelly babies. As a result, fans sometimes pelted the group with jelly babies during their public appearances, which the musicians understandably disliked.
Liquorice Allsorts History
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.
Types of Liquorice Allsorts
Liquorice allsorts are usually made from a base mixture of gelatin, sugars, starches, and flour and have added colour. Most assortments contain the following types of candies:
- a sandwich made of two layers of pink, orange, brown, or white candy with a black, liquorice-flavoured layer in the middle
- a double-decker sandwich made of white and black layers
- a short cylinder of pink or yellow, coconut-flavoured candy that surrounds a central black, liquorice-flavoured cylinder
- a long, black, liquorice-flavoured cylinder surrounding a cylinder of white candy
- a long, black, solid cylinder of liquorice-flavoured candy
- flat, circular pink or blue candies covered with little balls and surrounding a gelatinous, anise-flavoured 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 liquorice allsort (without looking at their candy selection before they get it) is considered to be the lucky winner in the candy lottery. My second favourite allsort 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. The substance is extracted from the root of the liquorice plant. It may have 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.
A villain called the Kandy Man appeared in some of the 1988 episodes of Doctor Who. The Kandy Man was a life-sized figure who appeared to have been made from candies joined together. The candies looked very much like liquorice allsorts. Bassett's was upset but accepted the BBC's promise not to use the character again.
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
In 2016, RJ's Licorice of New Zealand created the world's largest liquorice allsort, which set a Guinness World Record. The height, width, and depth of the lime green and black sandwich had the same ratio as in a real allsort. The sandwich weighed 1,105 kg or 2,436 pounds.
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.
Information about George Bassett from the Bassett Family Association (See Section Two of the newsletter.)
The bittersweet history of liquorice from Newstalk radio station
Facts about the world's largest liquorice allsort from Guinness World Records
Unravelling the jelly baby's past from the BBC (British Broadcasting System)
Questions & Answers
© 2013 Linda Crampton