Belly Flops

March 3, 2014

Short essay by Michelle Benoit.


Mas issue repetition belly flops 01

© Michelle Benoit.

Each Jelly Belly bean goes through a nine-step process that can take up to two weeks to complete. This, as our Jelly Belly Factory tour guide knowingly pointed out, produced a far superior product than the traditional three-day process used to make an “old-fashioned” jelly bean. This newer and longer process, introduced in 1976, allowed for the center of each jelly bean to be infused with flavor for the first time. Yum, infusion.

To begin, the filling for each Jelly Belly flavor was mixed in a kettle. The hot filling was dispensed into a tray of 1,260 jelly bean-shaped impressions, after which the tray was moved to a cooling room to allow the filling to harden. The cooled jelly beans were sent through a steam bath, covered with sugar, and then set aside to rest for 24-48 hours. After resting, they were placed in a rotating pan where four layers of syrup and more sugar were carefully poured over the jelly beans to form a solid shell. Next, coated with a confectioner’s glaze and polished to perfection, they were set aside for another 24-48 hours. For the finishing touch, each was stamped with the company’s logo before being packaged to be sold.

The factory tour did not spark an appreciation for a product perfected by a repetitive process—but just the opposite. I was drawn to the products of failure—the disfigured jelly beans, fused together, that were still just as delicious. The so-called “Belly Flops,” as these deviations from the ideal were deemed, were mechanically sorted out from the other jelly beans for not meeting the prescribed dimensions. They were sold in large bags that included an untold variety of flavors and mishaps waiting to be devoured. With my youthful reasoning—this was a fifth grade outing, after all—I paid no attention to the appearance of the jelly beans, but thought only of quantity. Given my extremely limited allowance I received to buy something from the gift shop, the marked down price of the Belly Flops made them even more attractive. From that moment on, my admiration for them was set.

Even though I have not eaten a Belly Flop since that day, there was something about them that stuck with me over the years. It was satisfying to find something that was celebrated for its differences instead of being discarded, and that was perhaps better because of them. The Belly Flops were one of the Jelly Belly factory’s best selling products, and were proudly sold alongside the “perfected” versions of jelly beans. The factory tour taught me that there is no such thing as a perfect process. There will always be deviations from the ideal. The difference was not to see the variations as failures, but as something to be embraced—just like I learned to embrace the Belly Flops.