Well, folks, I’m sorry for the quiet week. Between a bit of travel and coming down with a cold, I’ve been unable to review anything at all this week. Fortunately, I had a guest review lined up already that can stand in for me as a season finale review!
I’ve never much cared for spice jelly beans, so I’ve avoided reviewing them, but they are an ever-present part of jelly bean season, so it’s felt like a hole in this site’s oeuvre. I found out that my friend, Penny, was interested in writing a guest review, and that she does like spice beans, so I asked her to review some! Penny is a wonderful storyteller; I knew she would write a fantastic review, and I was not disappointed.
Those who read regularly probably know that I have many feelings about Brach’s Jelly Bird Eggs. I’m very interested to see what Penny’s perspective on them will be!
Ms. Penny Sterling, take it away!
Hi! I’m Penny.
Cranfill asked me to guest review some beans for him – Just Born Spiced Jelly Beans, to be exact. But I couldn’t find any. I looked in five different grocery/drug stores, but they were all MIA. Either everyone loves them and they sold out, or everyone hates them and they weren’t stocked. So I was told to buy a bag of any spiced jelly beans I could find and review them.
I couldn’t find any.
Well, I did, but they aren’t called jelly “beans” on the packaging. They’re called “eggs.” And not just eggs, oh no: Jelly Bird Eggs, from BRACH*S, which bills itself as “America’s Candy Maker”. And they are America’s Candy Maker, in the exact way that the Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team”: Everybody knows about them but nobody really likes them. And if they were good at one time, they certainly aren’t that good now.
I purchased these beans – oops, sorry, Jelly Bird Eggs – with an air of nostalgic anticipation. Granma Olmstead used to always have a jar of these in her house. Granma Olmstead wasn’t really my grandmother; she was just the woman who lived next door, who would let me come over and play whenever I was too much for my mom. Which was often.
I liked BRACH*S Spiced Jelly… I’m sorry. I have to talk about this. Jelly Bird Eggs? Bird Eggs? How is drawing a parallel to a bird’s reproductive system appetizing? Like calling them “eggs” wasn’t enough? Who in the Brach family said, “Now just hold on there a minute – we can’t just go callin’ them any old type of egg! We need specificity! What if someone thinks that maybe we’re making the confectional equivalent of fish eggs, or insect eggs? Clarity is the key to understandin’!” Screw it. I’m calling them beans. This website is NOT called A Boy and His Bird Eggs, now is it? Let’s move on!
I liked BRACH*S Spiced Jelly Beans back then, because they had something that was kind of missing in my house: flavor.
My mother was not a cook. She did not understand flavor. She used to make celery Jell-O. Not Jell-O with celery in it, but Jell-O that had, as its flavor, celery. On purpose. She treated every spice like it was as precious as Kashmirian saffron. As a result, you could put a ladle or two of her chili in a bowl and still see the bottom of the dish. So going next door to Gramma Olmstead’s meant I could grab a handful of those shiny, brightly colored candies, and eat them slowly, while watching Pap-pap Olmstead watch the Yankees.
So I eagerly opened the package and forced myself to go through the CBE (Cranfill Bean Examination) routine quite carefully.
Size and shape
BRACH*S (that’s literally how they spell their name) jelly beans are almost identical in size to a medium-sized kidney bean. Which is why it’s so darned frustrating that they choose the egg reference, instead. And while they are not really bean-shaped, they’ve got more of a resemblance to a legume than they to do a gamete. They’re really just slightly misshapen oblong lumps. And each color seems to have been made independently of each other. The black and purple ones seemed to be consistently the largest ones, while the orange ones had the most variation in size. The green and white ones were the smallest, while the pink ones were juuuust right.
Except for the fact that they were not smooth. None of them were, really. They all had dimples and myriad little flat surfaces, as if the pressure of resting next to another bean was enough to smash the shell slightly.
1 out of 5 beans
Chewability and Texture
Cranfill has these as separate categories, but it doesn’t really work to do it that way here. Let’s start with the shell: There really isn’t one. You know how bread crust is harder and chewier than the rest of the bread? You also know how if you put a slice of bread on the counter for a day, it becomes stale, and also becomes harder and chewier than the rest of the bread?
The outsides of these beans is closer to stale bread than crust. They have a level of hardness that has more to do with exposure to air than an actual shell. I don’t know the process of making jelly beans, but if it involves cooking, I’d say these are underdone. They didn’t as much chew as squish. I didn’t try it, but I’d bet I could flatten one with just the force of my tongue pressing up onto the roof of my mouth. Which, in retrospect, makes sense, since I don’t remember Pap-pap Olmstead having teeth. They dissolved quickly into a gritty mush that slunk, embarrassed, down my throat.
Chewability: 0 out of 5 beans (Tongue-smushing ≠ chewing. Sorry, Pap-pap.)
Texture: 1 out of 5 beans (They have a texture. It’s just not pleasant.)
Taste and flavor
Be aware that the above observation happened after I put the beans in my mouth. So my notes are full of anticipation in this category. At first.
There are seven colors of bean in the bag: white, pink, orange, purple green, red, and black. Nowhere on the bag is any designation of which “spice” corresponded with which bean. My son Fred came home about this point. He had never heard of spice jelly beans. “Ooh! Nothing says ‘Easter’ quite like a handful of cardamom beans,” he said.
There were no cardamom beans in this bag. I don’t think. But I knew enough about my spices that I was confident I could figure them out. I’ll report on them in the order I consumed them.
The White Bean
I was pretty certain that this was going to be peppermint, which is why I tried it first. It’s my least-favorite mint flavor. If there’s a taste equivalent of harmonics, peppermint doesn’t have it. It’s a single sine wave of mint. So I was pleasantly surprised at the restraint of the flavor of this bean. It wasn’t overpowering at all, and gave way to the sugary sweetness underneath. If I was forced at gunpoint to eat something peppermint-flavored, and this was an option, I might choose this. Or I might try to engage the gun-holder in a discussion on why they have chosen a life of forcing people to eat mint at gunpoint.
The Pink Bean
Wintergreen. Maybe my favorite mint. Granma Olmstead also had these big pink wintergreen lozenges in her house. I liked them too. This bean was reminiscent of that flavor, filling my mouth with that same smoky-cool perfume I remembered. It, too, faded quickly – too quickly this time – into the background.
The Orange Bean
Was… something? It was a pleasant taste, and released the spice perfume in my mouth and I almost had it… but the flavor was gone before I could place it. So I broke a Boy and His Beans rule: I had another. And another. That sugar mush was starting to get annoying. I had a thought about what it was, based partially on the color, but I wasn’t sure, so I gave one to Fred. He chewed thoughtfully for a moment, and said, “Carrot? An artificially sweetened carrot?”
That’s what I came up with, too. More than anything it reminded me of the carrot Jell-O my mom made as a kid – and yes, it was a thing, too. As far as horrible Jell-Os went it, was better than the celery Jell-O, except for Mom’s propensity for putting shredded cabbage in it, and oh my god I wish I was making this up. So, in the pantheon of jellied carrot products, this bean stands head and shoulders above the rest, but it’s a pretty weak field.
Note: I have since gone to the BRACH*S website and have discovered through the process of elimination (I got six of the seven right) that the actual flavor of the bean was “ginger,” which I never would have guessed, perhaps because I use fresh ginger in a lot of my cooking, and it did not remind me of that taste at all. Maybe if I went back and tasted another orange bean with this awareness I might taste ginger, but I don’t wanna.
The Purple Bean
Clover. A very old-fashioned flavor. The perfume of the spice hit me immediately when the shell was smushed open, and I recognized it immediately. This was the strongest and most pleasing flavor I had encountered so far. Well, it was for me. Fred also decided to sample one as well. “Is this candle-flavored?” he asked.
The Green Bean
Spearmint. Decent perfume. The flavor didn’t outlast the bean, though. I was beginning to suspect that what I had assumed was an attempt at subtle flavoring with the white bean was in reality a dearth of flavor, bag-wide. The flavor was pretty good, although it had a vaguely medicinal overtone to it that reminded me of toothpaste. Pretty good toothpaste, but toothpaste nonetheless. This bean tasted like you were eating the best-tasting toothpaste ever: It’s as good as you can possibly imagine eating toothpaste could be.
The Red Bean
Cinnamon. Definitely cinnamon, but the least spicy cinnamon ever. Which sucks, because I really like cinnamon.
Here’s what it tasted like: It tasted like someone took a Hot Tamale candy and did the flavor equivalent of Xeroxing it. And then took that Xerox, and Xeroxed it again. And then took the Xerox of that Xerox of the Hot Tamale and Xeroxed it a thousand times and put them into their bags.
And yes, I know “Xerox” is a corporate trademark and no longer a commonly-used substitute verb for “copy”, but it felt appropriate to use it in the context of these old-fashioned candies.
The Black Bean
Licorice. Surprise. Do you like licorice? You’ll like this. Do you not like licorice? You’ll not like this.
I like licorice. The perfume was immediate and very much the flavor one expects when biting into a licorice jelly bean. The only problem – again – was that it didn’t outlast the bean.
3 out of 10 beans
The one-of-each test
Hoo boy. These suckers were fairly large, so seven of them would be a healthy handful of bean. And by “healthy” I don’t mean anything regarding a level of fitness. Just that it was a lot to stuff into my bean-hole at once.
Are you familiar with the term “palate fatigue?” It describes the phenomenon of your taste buds getting tired of the same flavors over time. The idea is that for most folks, at some point, intense flavors (even ones you like) become unpleasant, if you have enough of them.
I experienced palate fatigue midway through this test. Well, maybe not palate fatigue, but certainly texture fatigue. But certainly flavor fatigue as well, because the mixing of these particular iterations of spices weren’t all that complimentary.
It was like seven competing fireworks companies all decided to shoot off their rockets at the same time. In the same place. In the rain. No matter how much you like fireworks, after a while, you can’t tell them apart and you just want it to be over. This handful was the jelly bean equivalent of that.
0 out of 10 beans
If you’re in your eighties and have lost a lot of the ability to judge subtle flavors, along with most of your teeth, these beans will look pretty in your candy dish and you won’t have to worry about refilling the dish too much. So it’s a solid financial decision.
|Size and shape||1/5 beans|
|Taste and flavor||3/10 beans|
|One-of-each test||0/10 beans|
Wow, Penny is an even harsher grader than I am! Now I feel kinda bad that she had to go through that. Maybe next year we can rustle up some Just Borns, which I suspect would fare far better.
Thanks again to Penny, and special guest commentator Fred!