Jelly Babies and Liquorice Allsorts: Candy Facts and History

Updated on January 5, 2018
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honors degree in biology. She enjoys exploring nutrition as well as the culture and history of food.

Liquorice or licorice allsorts
Liquorice or licorice allsorts | Source

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 Jelly Babies
Bassett's Jelly Babies | Source

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.

Organic Fruiti Bears
Organic Fruiti Bears | Source

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

Colour
Flavour
Name
Purple
Blackcurrant
Big Heart
Yellow
Lemon
Bubbles
Pink
Raspberry
Baby Bonny
Orange
Orange
Bumper
Red
Strawberry
Brilliant
Green
Lime
Boofuls

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!

Exploding Candy

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

Bassett's Liquorice Allsorts bought in Canada
Bassett's Liquorice Allsorts bought in Canada | Source

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.

Liquorice allsorts in a bowl
Liquorice allsorts in a bowl | Source

Bertie Bassett

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.

References

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

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      • AliciaC profile image
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        Linda Crampton 3 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, crocker. As I mention in the article, the extract containing the liquorice flavor is obtained from the root of the liquorice plant. This extract is then mixed with other items to make candy.

      • profile image

        crocker 3 months ago

        where does liqourice come from ?

      • AliciaC profile image
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        Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Craig. You're a great Doctor Who historian! As you say, the second doctor did like jelly beans. The fourth doctor was a special fan of the treats, though.

      • profile image

        Craig in Portland 3 years ago

        jelly babies go back to the second Doctor. Not the fourth. In the 1973 episode "The Three Doctors", the second Doctor offers the Brig some Jelly Babies.

      • AliciaC profile image
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        Linda Crampton 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        I enjoy eating liquorice too, DDE! Thanks for looking at my hubs.

      • DDE profile image

        Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

        Candy Facts and History - Jelly Babies and Liquorice Allsorts I was browsing through your hubs and came across many which I haven't stopped by before I enjoy eating liquorice

      • AliciaC profile image
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        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Colin. Spring is coming here. I saw my first crocuses in bloom today, even though there was a chill in the air. Our days seem to alternate between being rainy and sunny. Thank you so much for the kind comment. I'm sure that my cats - Bennie, Nevin and Smudge - would love to send you, Tiffy and Gabriel their best wishes, too! I send my best wishes as well.

      • epigramman profile image

        epigramman 5 years ago

        Such is the power of advertising and hub presentation, my esteemed fellow Canadian, I wish I had, at almost 2 in the morning, some delicious Licorice All-sorts right now - lol lol

        This is an endlessly fascinating and brilliant work of research and enlightening information - yummy yummy I wish I had some of that love in my tummy - lol lol

        Sending to you warm wishes and good energy from Colin and his cats, Tiffy and Gabriel, at lake erie time ontario canada 1:55am and how has your winter been so far? Here, it's been a mix of cold and snow then mild with rain

      • AliciaC profile image
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        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Alun. Thanks for the comment and the vote. I enjoyed seeing the jelly baby sneak away, too. I like liquorice myself, although I know that some people share your opinion about it!

      • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

        Greensleeves Hubs 5 years ago from Essex, UK

        AliciaC, nice fun page about sweets which were common in my childhood and which are still around today. I like the adverts and the videos (especially the little jelly baby in the 'exploding jelly baby video which sneaks away unnoticed). All round an article with lots of interesting facts but ...

        Too bad I've always hated jelly babies! I've never much liked liquorice allsorts either (tho' the coconut ones were bearable because they didn't seem to have proportionately so much liquorice in them!) Voted up. Alun.

      • AliciaC profile image
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        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        I agree, lemonkerdz. There are several interesting sweets from my childhood that I still enjoy. I hope they continue to be made for a long time.

      • lemonkerdz profile image

        lemonkerdz 5 years ago from LIMA, PERU

        yes just the smell from that factory was enough to get your mouth watering. Lets hope we never lose these iconic sweets no mater what new ones come along.

      • AliciaC profile image
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        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        It must have been very tempting to buy sweets when you lived so near to the sweet factory, lemonkerdz! Poor jelly babies - they lose their heads and they scream! Thanks for commenting.

      • lemonkerdz profile image

        lemonkerdz 5 years ago from LIMA, PERU

        I used to live in sheffield very close to the bassett factory and used to get a mix of sweets from the staff shop, i never knew that the belly babies were peace babies, especially when people bite the heads off first. thanks

      • AliciaC profile image
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        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks for the visit and the comment, BkCreative. Liquorice allsorts do look nice as a cake decoration. I like your cousin's idea of decorating the table with them, too!

      • BkCreative profile image

        BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

        We used to have allsorts here in the US decades ago - and of course I ate them. But I haven't seen them since. Ah, but my US cousin has citizenship also in the UK and I visit him in England. He was so thrilled to find the allsorts that he uses them for decoration when he sets a table; very pretty and very colorful.

        As a lover of candy - thanks a million for a fun hub - yay!

      • AliciaC profile image
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        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Deb. I have to be careful that I buy candy only occasionally, because like you if I have it in my home I find it hard to resist it! Thanks for comment - I appreciate it.

      • aviannovice profile image

        Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

        Definitely a winner! I remember the allsorts for the Christmas holidays when I was a kid, but the Jelly Babies, that sounds great, too. Now, here's the deal with me and candy...if I have it, I eat it. I have a voracious sweet tooth. I loved the history of the candies, too.

      • AliciaC profile image
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        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you, SINewsome. The candies remind me of my childhood, too!

      • SINewsome profile image

        Sophie Newsome 5 years ago from New York

        These candies remind me so much of my childhood! Nice hub.

      • AliciaC profile image
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        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thank you so much, Eddy. I appreciate the votes and the share. I hope you have a wonderful day too!

      • Eiddwen profile image

        Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

        Even though hate Liquorice it didn't stop me from enjoying this one Alicia and I vote up.across and share all around. Have A wonderful day my friend.

        Eddy.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Martin. It's great to hear from someone who loves liquorice! Thanks for the comment.

      • Mhatter99 profile image

        Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

        Thank you for this. P.S. send all unwanted black liquorice to me. :))

      • AliciaC profile image
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        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        I enjoy eating liquorice allsorts, too, truthfornow! Thanks for the visit.

      • truthfornow profile image

        truthfornow 5 years ago from New Orleans, LA

        I love to eat liquorice allsorts. I have to see if i can find some jelly babies now.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, peachpurple. It's nice to meet you! I know that gummies are very popular, but I prefer the softer texture of jelly babies. I like their taste, too. Thanks for the comment.

      • peachpurple profile image

        peachy 5 years ago from Home Sweet Home

        I love gummies and so does my child. They are chewy and great for exercising the jaws. Never heard of jelly babies. Another knowledge to add into my memory bank. Thanks

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks for the visit, drbj! Jelly babies are made out of gelatin, like gummy bears, but as you say gummy bears have a much firmer consistency. Jelly babies are a soft candy.

      • drbj profile image

        drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

        Although licorice flavor is not one of my favorites, Alicia, I did enjoy learning about liquorice allsorts and jelly babies. The latter seem to be similar to gummy bears which are firmer and very popular with children in the U.S. Thanks for this imported candy education.

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Tom! Tom Baker was my favorite Doctor Who in the old series. In the new series my favorite is David Tennant. Thank you for the comment and the votes!

      • AliciaC profile image
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        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, theraggededge. Thank you very much for the comment! My preference is the other way round - I prefer liquorice allsorts to jelly babies, although I like them both.

      • kashmir56 profile image

        Thomas Silvia 5 years ago from Massachusetts

        Hi Alicia, I heard of Jelly babies before and also Liquorice allsorts, I've had liquorice allsorts before but not jelly babies. Tom Baker was my favorite Doctor Who . Thanks for this interesting facts on jelly babies and liquorice allsorts. Well done !

        Vote up and more !!!

      • theraggededge profile image

        Bev G 5 years ago from Wales, UK

        Ah... sweeties from my childhood! Love jelly babies, not so keen on Allsorts - there are some I like and some I can't stand. Was surprised to learn that there is flour in them, never would have guessed, but yes, now I realise that the paste part is not pure sugar.

        Awesomely interesting!

      • AliciaC profile image
        Author

        Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Hi, Bill. Liquorice allsorts are much more common outside of the UK than jelly babies, so don't feel bad that you've never heard of jelly babies before! Thanks for the visit.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

        I have never heard of Jelly Babies....sheez, I must live in like a cave or something. LOL Thanks for the education.

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