Tuesday, September 18, 2007


This is a backgrounder about the jiggly substance.

Long after the reptilian dinosaurs roamed the planet earth and before the emergence of the two world wars, there was a substance created that was so gooey, so tasty and so sugary; it would forever change the way people eat their dessert. And its name would be called Jell-O.

A good friend of mine, Webster, states that Jell-O is “a brand of dessert made from a mixture of gelatin, sugar, and fruit flavoring, dissolved in hot water and chilled until firm.”

Since Webster doesn’t explain the difference between the tasty treat and the trademark name, I feel it is important to distinguish the two.

Jell-O is a brand name, which belongs to the company Kraft Foods.

There. That’s it. But there’s so much more. The history behind it is fascinating.

In 1845, inventor Peter Cooper was able to secure the first patent for the wiggly dessert although it looks nothing like it does today. Cooper would boil calf's hoofs for hours, then add water to powder to create the gelatin, finally leaving it in a cool area to sit and take shape.

According to the Jell-O history at Kraft Foods website, Cooper packaged the gelatin in neat little boxes. The prepared gelatin had to be clarified by boiling with egg whites and shells, and then dripped through a jelly bag before being turned into shimmering molds. It was a longer process compared to ours today.

In 1897, the first Jell-O product became available in stores but it quickly needed an image attract people. The Kraft Foods website said, “The first Jell-O advertisement ran in Ladies’ Home Journal featuring smiling, fashionably coifed women in white aprons proclaiming Jell-O gelatin “America’s Most Famous Dessert”. At this time, Jell-O was always prepared in a tin mold.”

Originally, there were four flavors: orange, strawberry, lemon and raspberry. Today, there are currently 20 different gelatin dessert flavors which include: apricot, berry blue, cherry, cranberry, grape, lemon, lime, margarita, mixed fruit, orange, peach, pina colada, pineapple, raspberry, strawberry, strawberry-banana, strawberry daiquiri, strawberry-kiwi, watermelon and wild strawberry. What, no bubblegum?

The website also said in 1904, Jell-O’s first trademark the Jell-O Girl made her first appearance; a small child playing with Jell-O boxes in a nursery instead of her toys. Weird. Their catchphrase was “You can’t be a kid without it.”

It didn’t make its debut in Canada until 1905 in the small town of Bridgeburg. And in 1923, to appeal to a larger audience, the first sugar-free gelatin D-Zerta was introduced. There are to date 12 sugar-free giggly desserts.

Author Wendy Woloson wrote about how the advertising of Jell-O made it the popular treat it is today, mainly thanks to the help of famous celebrities.

“Jack Benny and Mary Livingston promoted it on radio, coming up with the catchy "J-E-L-L-O" tune. Kate Smith sang the praises of Jell-O in magazine advertisements during World War II. In the 1950s, such luminaries as Roy Rogers, Andy Griffith, and Ethel Barrymore became spokespeople. From the 1970s through the 1990s, beloved actor and comedian Bill Cosby was the chief spokesperson for Jell-O,” she wrote.

Before I finish this mesmerizing tale about the giggly jelly, I called the Jell-O company to learn how many packages are sold each year. I was surprised to learn that over one million pack of Jell-O are sold each day including 250 million sold in the United States every year. On a side note, the receptionist or whomever I was chatting with was reading the Kraft Foods website information on Jell-O to me after I had finished reading the entire thing and I told her this before the interview.

American traveling food writers Jane and Michael Stern have said that "More than any other food, Jell-O symbolizes how America really eats ... Jell-O is Americana in a mold."

In 2003, a writer from Chemical & Engineering News, Corinne A. Marasco, discovered “when Jell-O hooked up to an electroencephalograph machine (an instrument that records the electrical activity of the brain), Jell-O demonstrates movement virtually identical to the brain waves of a healthy adult man or woman.”

According to the Gelatin Manufacturers Institute of America, gelatin contains 84-90 per cent protein, one to two per cent mineral salts and eight to 15 percent water. I guess if I need a brain implant, I can make my own.

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