It’s the final week of the season, and we’re kicking things off with a bang! Faithful readers are probably aware that since reviewing Trader Joe’s Gourmet Jelly Beans in 2019, no package has scored better than they did, with a total score of 30 beans. Waterbridge Gourmet Jelly Beans tied that score last year, though. Is it a coincidence that both brands are manufactured in Ireland?
Dear reader, it is not! Combining a bit of Internet sleuthing and logical deduction, I have reached the conclusion that both Trader Joe’s and Waterbridge jelly beans are manufactured for those brands by The Jelly Bean Factory, originally a family company founded in Dublin in 1998, which was acquired by Swedish company Cloetta in 2014.
- As previously noted, both brands state on their packaging that they are a product of Ireland.
- The physical characteristics of both sets are, in retrospect, identical. (This is particularly obvious today, as I taste Trader Joe’s Sour Jelly Beans immediately following my review of Waterbridge Sour Jelly Beans.)
- Rakewell over on the Exploring Trader Joe’s blog observed some tweets boosting Trader Joe’s jelly beans that just so happen to have been posted by Jelly Bean Factory Managing Director Richard Cullen in a 2015 post: “A special note on Trader Joe’s Gourmet Jelly Beans”.
- As for Waterbridge, they have the same 36 flavors as the ones listed by Jelly Bean Factory1, including some flavors I’ve never seen in any other collection, such as Cranberry & Apple, Mint Sorbet, Caramel Popcorn, and “English” Blackberry.
That seems fairly conclusive, wouldn’t you say?
Regardless, imagine my delight upon seeing a new arrival in my local Trader Joe’s last fall: Trader Joe’s Sour Jelly Beans! I hadn’t made this connection about the shared manufacturing at the time, but I knew that I had to try them based on my prior positive experience alone.
Already assuming that these beans are physically the same as the original Trader Joe’s Gourmet Jelly Beans, and now realizing they are also the same as Waterbridge jelly beans, I am going to refer you back to those prior reviews for descriptions of these characteristics.
Also, as it happens, in the Waterbridge review I rated every category exactly the same as Trader Joe’s, two years later and without looking back at it (because I had no reason to believe they were related at the time). I’ll remind you of what those ratings were, as well.
Size and shape
4 out of 5 beans
5 out of 5 beans
4 out of 5 beans
Taste and flavor
- Green Apple
- Blue Raspberry
At this point in the review, you might be wondering, “Won’t these taste the same as the Waterbridge sours from last week?”
Dear reader, they do not! My chief complaint about the Waterbridge sours was that they weren’t all that sour. Trader Joe’s Sour Jelly Beans do not have that problem. They are extremely sour across the board!
It seems like the folks in TJ’s product development group must have tried Jelly Bean Factory’s standard sour flavor offerings and found them lacking, so they asked for new, more sour flavors. Perhaps they thought that the standard Jelly Bean Factory sours would have resulted in a product not sufficiently differentiated from the existing package of Trader Joe’s Gourmet Jelly Beans.
This is a little bit of a double-edged sword, though. These Trader Joe’s sours are just on the edge of being too sour and letting their acidity dominate the actual fruit flavor. Until looking up the flavor listing on the Trader Joe’s website, I honestly couldn’t tell what flavor the red bean was supposed to be (possibly because I just didn’t expect and wasn’t really considering cranberry), and thought that green a bit of a toss up between apple and lime. Tasting them again with the intended flavors in mind, I can indeed pick out clearly evident characteristics of those flavors.
Tangerine, Lemon, and Blue Raspberry were all pretty clear, though. Tangerine is distinctly different from Waterbridge’s Sour Orange. Lemon may be the one bean that is a direct carryover of a Jelly Bean Factory flavor – their Sour Lemon flavor was the most sour bean in the Waterbridge set. And I’m always a sucker for Blue Raspberry.
One thing I appreciate about this set is that it leans into fruits that are naturally sour by choosing Cranberry for the red bean, Tangerine for the orange bean, and Green Apple for the green bean. (Yeah, limes are sour, too, but it’s nice to not have three citrus flavors in a collection of only five.)
At the risk of being a bit of a Goldilocks, I’m docking the category slightly for being on the edge – or, honestly, probably just past it – of too sour, but this is a really nice bunch of flavors here.
8 out of 10 beans
The one-of-each test
Perhaps the ultimate test of a bag of jelly beans is how enjoyable it is to take one of each flavor and eat them all at the same time.2
Being just past the edge of too sour makes the one-of-each test challenging, even for just five perfectly chewable beans. The acid takes control, overwhelming the individual fruit flavors. I also get a strange and prominent medicinal undertone throughout the chew. (Is it possible for an undertone to be prominent?)
It’s not a horrible experience, but the flavors are so intense to begin with that I would generally prefer to stick to one or two of these beans at a time.
5 out of 10 beans
|Size and shape||4/5 beans|
|Taste and flavor||8/10 beans|
|One-of-each test||5/10 beans|
Trader Joe’s may have taken things to a bit of an extreme in making these flavors more sour than their counterparts, but it’s still a delicious, high-scoring set of beans.
Stay tuned for the third in this trio of sour bean reviews in a few days, and then we’ll wrap the season with a few more very interesting reviews, including our annual guest spot from Ms. Penny Sterling, and a unique season finale that you won’t want to miss!
This is true when comparing with Jelly Bean Factory lists from a few years ago, but it appears that Jelly Bean Factory has rotated some flavors in and out of their current roster of 36. ↩
This test is specific to fruit flavors only. While non-fruit flavors like licorice or buttered popcorn may be welcome, they are exempt from this test. Because that’s just nasty. ↩