Food Trends

Things you didn’t know about gummy bears

Who doesn’t love gummy bears? 

Those sticky, chewy little bear-shaped gelatin-based candies are one of the most popular treats around, and they come in a wide variety of flavors and colors. But even if you never rode the school bus without a few in your pocket, we bet that there are some things you didn’t know about this tiny treat.

We tend to not give much thought to the history of gummy bears, but they’ve actually got quite an interesting backstory. They were invented in early 1920s Germany by Hans Riegel, a confectioner from Bonn who two years prior had started the Haribo candy company. Their earliest incarnation of what Riegel dubbed Gummibären, the considerably larger Tanzbären ("dancing bears"), were inspired by the trained bears Riegel had seen over the years at European street festivals and markets. They were a success from the start, and even stayed popular during Weimar Germany’s hyperinflation period by remaining very affordably priced. Eventually they shrunk to their current size and were renamed Goldbären, and today Haribo’s Gold-Bears are their flagship gummy bears.

Today, it’s impossible to visit a corner store or candy shop without encountering several varieties of gummy bears, and they range in size from teeny-tiny to several pounds. They’re made from a mixture of sugar, glucose syrup, starch, flavoring, food coloring, citric acid, and gelatin; nobody ever said that they’re healthy (they’re essentially just empty calories), and because they’re so sticky, they may cause tooth decay. But as with any candy, moderation is best.

So read on to learn how gummy bears got their name, what the flavor differences are between the main manufacturers, how they’re made, what exactly jelly babies (their British equivalent) are, and the story behind the popular Disney cartoon that they inspired. 

Hopefully by the time you’re finished you’ll have a greater appreciation for this little bear-shaped candy.

  • 1. Their Name Was Derived From the Original Main Ingredient

    Their Name Was Derived From the Original Main Ingredient

    iStock

    The “gummy” in gummy bear comes from the original thickener used by Riegel, gum arabic (the resin of an acacia tree). He called the product Gummibären, and the name stuck.

  • 2. Their Popularity Sparked the Gummy Boom

    Their Popularity Sparked the Gummy Boom

    iStock

    All the gummy products you see today, from worms to frogs, cherries and other fruit, sharks, and even hamburgers, were inspired by the success of the original gummy bear.

  • 3. Haribo and Trolli Are the Largest Producers

    Haribo and Trolli Are the Largest Producers

    Ferrara Candy Company

    In the United States, Haribo gummy bears come in five flavors: raspberry (red); orange (orange); strawberry (green); pineapple (colorless); and lemon (yellow). Trolli’s gummy bears are sold in the same colors, but their red is strawberry-flavored, green is lime, and colorless is grape.

  • 4. They’re Made in a Machine Called a Starch Mogul

    They’re Made in a Machine Called a Starch Mogul

    iStock

    To produce gummy bears, the design is carved into plaster by an artist, then duplicated in a tray filled with cornstarch called a starch mogul (the shape of the gummy is stamped into the starch first). The hot liquid is then poured into the molds, and after they set, the molds are turned out and the starch is recycled.

  • 5. Halal Gummy Bears Are Produced in Turkey

    Halal Gummy Bears Are Produced in Turkey

    iStock

    Haribo uses animal-derived gelatin to make its gummy products, so in areas where pork can’t be eaten they need to be made with bovine gelatin. In Turkey, there’s a Haribo factory that does just this, making halal/kosher gummies. Some gummy bears are made with starch or pectin instead of gelatin, and so are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.  

    More great gummy facts.

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