Why Are Jelly Beans Shiny?

Since I was little, I’ve always preferred jelly beans.

Something magical about their shiny, colorful appearance drew me in and sparked a lifelong passion for candies. 

Then, once my tongue got to savor all those vibrant flavors, I was hooked. 

In fact, I’ve even had the opportunity to visit a jelly bean factory to see how they are made. But more on that shortly.

Today, I’ll be sharing some fascinating insights into the world of jelly beans. 

Specifically, we’ll dive into the mystery of why jelly beans are so shiny, explore the components of a jelly bean’s shell, and discuss other shiny candies you might come across. 

So sit back, grab a handful of these sweet treats, and let’s get started!

What Makes Jelly Beans Shiny?

The shininess of jelly beans results from a thin layer of edible wax applied to their surface during manufacturing. This wax gives the jelly beans their glossy finish, which is not only visually appealing but also provides protection and helps to preserve their flavor.

Have you ever wondered why jelly beans glisten in the light? 

It’s all thanks to a thin layer of edible wax. 

During manufacturing, jelly beans are coated with this wax to give them their signature shine.

Here’s a quick story to help illustrate this.

I was given a unique opportunity to tour a jelly bean factory a few years ago. 

As I wandered through the facility, marveling at the machines that churned out millions of these delightful candies, I caught a glimpse of a large vat filled with a shiny, clear liquid. 

I asked the factory worker accompanying me what the liquid was. 

He explained that it was a mixture of vegetable and/or beeswax, used to coat the jelly beans and give them their lustrous appearance.

This process is known as ‘panning,’ and it’s been used for centuries to create shiny candies. 

So, why do they do it?

Benefits of Wax on Jelly Beans

The wax serves a few important purposes:

  • Aesthetic appeal: The shiny appearance of jelly beans is undoubtedly eye-catching and makes them stand out in a sea of other candies. This increased visual appeal can boost sales and attract customers.
  • Protection: The wax coating also serves as a protective layer that helps prevent the jelly beans from sticking together or becoming damaged during transportation and storage. This ensures that they arrive in perfect condition when they reach the candy store shelves.
  • Flavor preservation: The wax seal helps lock in the flavors and keep the jelly beans fresh and delicious.

The Panning Process 

So, we now know why jelly beans go through the panning process, but what exactly does this involve?

Let’s explore this in more detail by breaking down the process of how jelly beans are made shiny, from pre-panning to panning and to post-panning:

  1. Wax selection: The type of wax used can vary depending on the manufacturer, but most commonly, a blend of vegetable and/or beeswax is used. These waxes are safe for consumption, tasteless, and odorless, ensuring they don’t impact the flavor of the jelly beans.
  2. The panning process: After the jelly beans have been formed, colored, and flavored, they are placed in large, rotating drums, often called ‘pans.’ These pans gently tumble the jelly beans as the wax is sprayed onto their surface. The tumbling action ensures even distribution of the wax, providing a consistent shine across all the jelly beans.
  3. Polishing: Once the wax has been applied, the jelly beans undergo a polishing process. This step typically involves adding a polishing agent, such as powdered sugar or calcium carbonate, to the pan. As the pan rotates, the polishing agent smooths out any imperfections in the wax coating, resulting in the glossy finish that makes jelly beans captivating.
  4. Quality control: Finally, the shiny jelly beans pass through a quality control process where they are inspected for consistency in appearance, shape, and shine. This ensures that only the most visually appealing jelly beans make their way to store shelves.

In summary, jelly beans’ shininess is achieved through applying a thin layer of edible wax and the panning and polishing processes. 

This not only gives them their iconic appearance but also serves as a protective layer and helps to maintain their delicious flavors.

What Is The Shell Of A Jelly Bean Made From?

The shell of a jelly bean is primarily composed of sugar, corn syrup, and a thickening agent called gum arabic. These ingredients are combined, heated, and then molded into the iconic bean shape to form the outer layer of a jelly bean.

Now that we know why jelly beans are shiny, let’s dive deeper into their structure. 

The outer shell of a jelly bean is made from a blend of sugar, corn syrup, and a thickening agent called ‘gum arabic,’ derived from the acacia tree sap. 

This mixture is heated and then molded into the iconic bean shape we all know and love.

During my factory tour, I was shown a large machine that looked like a cross between a cement mixer and a popcorn maker.

It was here that the magic happened: the sugar, corn syrup, and gum arabic were heated and combined, forming a viscous mixture. 

The worker then demonstrated how the liquid would be poured into small, bean-shaped molds and allowed to cool.

Once the shells have cooled and hardened, they are removed from the molds and sent through a series of machines to receive their flavors and colors. 

Finally, they are coated with the edible wax we discussed earlier, completing the transformation into the shiny jelly beans we all know and love.

The Ingredients 

Let’s take a closer look at the individual components and their roles in creating the shell of a jelly bean:

  • Sugar: Sugar is the shell’s primary ingredient, providing the sweetness we associate with jelly beans. The sugar used is typically granulated white sugar, also known as sucrose.
  • Corn syrup: Corn syrup is added to the sugar to create a more pliable and manageable mixture. It helps bind the ingredients together and prevents the sugar from crystallizing, ensuring a smooth and consistent shell texture.
  • Gum arabic: Gum arabic is a natural gum derived from the acacia tree sap. It acts as a thickening agent and stabilizer in the jelly bean shell, providing structure and helping to hold its shape.
  • Colors and flavors: While not technically part of the shell’s composition, various colors and flavors are added to the sugar mixture to create the diverse assortment of jelly beans we enjoy. These colors and flavors are typically added after the initial ingredients have been mixed and heated but before the mixture is poured into molds.

During manufacturing, these components are combined and heated until they form a viscous liquid.

This mixture is then poured into bean-shaped molds, allowed to cool and harden, and finally removed from the molds to create the distinctive outer shell of the jelly bean. 

Once the shells have been formed, they are ready to receive their various flavors, colors, and the shiny wax coating we explored in the previous sections.

Other Shiny Candies To Be Aware Of

Other shiny candies you should be aware of include hard candies, chocolate-covered candies, gumballs, pearlescent candies, candy-coated chocolates, and licorice candies. These candies achieve their shininess through various processes and ingredients, such as the panning process, edible wax, or the addition of mica-based pearlescent pigments.

Jelly beans aren’t the only candies that sport a shiny coat. Many other sweet treats receive a similar treatment, often for the same reasons – visual appeal, protection, and flavor preservation. Here are a few examples of other shiny candies that you might encounter:

  • Hard candies: Classic hard candies like butterscotch, peppermint, and fruit-flavored drops are all made shiny through panning. This helps them stand out and maintain their shape and flavor.
  • Chocolate-covered candies: Many chocolate-covered candies, like M&Ms and chocolate-covered almonds, receive a glossy finish. This is achieved by adding a small amount of edible wax or shellac to the chocolate coating, giving the candies a smooth, polished appearance.
  • Gumballs: Much like jelly beans, gumballs often have a shiny outer shell. The coating is typically made from a combination of sugar, corn syrup, gum base, and food-grade wax, which creates a protective, eye-catching exterior.
  • Pearlescent candies: Some candies, like shimmering sixlets or pearlescent gumdrops, have an extra level of shine, thanks to the addition of mica-based pearlescent pigments. These pigments are considered safe for consumption and add a touch of luxury to the candies.
  • Candy-coated chocolates: Think of candies like Skittles or Reese’s Pieces. Their colorful, shiny shells are created through a similar panning process, using sugar, corn syrup, and other ingredients to form a durable, glossy outer layer.
  • Licorice candies: Licorice candies, like licorice allsorts or the popular Australian treat, licorice bullets, often boast a shiny finish. This is achieved by coating the licorice with a thin layer of sugar or gum arabic-based glaze, which imparts a lovely sheen and added sweetness.

As you can see, the world of shiny candies is vast and varied, with jelly beans being just one of many that rely on the clever use of edible wax and other ingredients to achieve their lustrous appearance.

Next time you’re enjoying your favorite shiny candy, take a moment to appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship that goes into making these delightful treats.


Jelly beans and other shiny candies owe their glossy appearance to a combination of factors, including the use of edible wax, the panning process, and the careful selection of ingredients. 

These processes create visual appeal and protect the candies and preserve their flavor. 

The result; jelly beans we have all come to know and love!

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