x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Centipede-flavoured jelly beans, anyone?

Mouldy cheese, ear wax and centipede? You may well wind up with one of these flavours next time you eat a Jelly Belly.

Leave it to Jelly Belly to up the ante for games played with the confection. No longer just the stuff of Easter egg hunts or guessing how many are in the jar, Jelly Bellies can also be used for trickery and completely disgusting friends and colleagues - BeanBoozling, as those in the biz call it. A few years ago, a light went on in Herman "Herm" Rowland's head. The CEO of Jelly Belly, who is clearly deeply in touch with his (not so) inner child, decided to make jelly beans in the grossest flavours imaginable and make them look identical to pre-existing favourites. He'd throw the good and bad in the same box and attach a wheel - indicating the flavour options of whatever bean the arrow lands on.

The odds are 50-50; you could get a good one or a very, very bad one. Caramel corn could be mouldy cheese, cafe latte could be ear wax, buttered popcorn could be rotten egg, juicy pear could be booger. The list goes on. Here on the Arts & Life desk, we take things pretty seriously. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it, even when it involves spinning the Jelly Belly wheel and taking your chances on eating something skunk spray or dog food-flavoured. I convinced my colleagues to play a few rounds. Katie Boucher was the first to fold. Getting gross-flavoured jelly beans each time, she quickly called it quits. I tried to trick Ed Lake into thinking the box contained only normal flavours, but he was (as always) one step ahead and the jig was up. Oli Good will eat anything you put in front of him. Consensus on the worst flavour? Centipede. Unanimous.

Victoria Reeves of Jelly Belly UK explains that sweets-making is a serious business; some flavours - island punch, for example - take up to 21 days to settle properly, though the average bean takes only 10. While they're ripening, they sit in a dark room, undisturbed. Like that of a fine wine or cheese, the process cannot be rushed. "We get a lot of inquiries from wine companies, you know, because they want to know how to get people to appreciate quality of flavour," Reeves says.

Jelly Belly has 50 official flavours, a handful of seasonal ones (such as candy cane) and 10 sour flavours. And there are always a few rookies. "Those are the ones we're testing out," Reeves says, adding that her favourite current test flavour is chilli mango - "I tell them they just must add this one! It can take up to two years to fully develop a new flavour." The Jelly Belly is a quality bean, and its customers won't settle for less than a top-of-the-line sweet. The 111-year-old company responds in kind by producing ranges for its customers as diverse as the flavours it offers. A recent new line was the Sports Bean, a source not only of flavour, but also carbohydrates, vitamins and electrolytes. Next year this line will be expanded to include caffeine-enhanced jelly beans, perhaps for the office crowd.

In a nod to global trends, the company is in the process of creating three new flavours: pomegranate, green tea and dark chocolate. Another line of all-natural jelly beans is also in the works. Of course, not every taste can be a hit. Among the discontinued flavours are Hawaiian punch and peppermint stick. Released two years ago, the BeanBoozled variety has been popular, possibly just because people are curious. After all, without Jelly Belly, how would we know what pencil shavings really taste like?

"People like them. They like the dare-to-compare with the wheel," Reeves says. "And they've been warned! But they are pretty gross aren't they? Baby wipe flavour? Awful!"