All about Gummy Bears

Whether you call them "gummy" or "gummi," whether you prefer bears or worms, whether your loyalty lies with Haribo or Black Forest, there’s no denying that the gelatinous, rainbow-colored candies most of us first came to know and love simply as “gummy bears” are one of the world’s most popular confections. Sure, chocolate bars (and the many variations thereof) remain the top-selling treats across the globe, but how many cocoa-based snacks inspired a hit animated TV series in the 1980s (Disney’s The Adventures of the Gummi Bears), a song with over 45 million hits on YouTube (The Gummy Bear Song), and played a pivotal role in the plot of an award-winning Broadway musical about a transgender East German rock singer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)?

Indeed, “gummies” (for lack of a better all-encompassing term defining the vast array of available adaptations on the original bear) surely have one of the most devoted followings of any candy in history; to know a gummy lover is to recognize both the gleam of greedy, fiendish glee that will appear in his or her eyes whenever some new form of gummy is discovered ("Oh my god, this store has gummy Smurfs!") and the inner peace that can only be gained from a generous portion of an old favorite. ("There, there–eat your bag of Gold-Bears and you’ll feel much better.") Yes, it’s a rabid and ever-expanding fan base; in fact, according to Haribo, if you laid all the Gold-Bears produced in a year head to toe, they would form a jiggly, tooth-decaying ring around the earth four times.

And to think it all started with a poor German factory worker, a bag of sugar, and a dream.

“Rubber Bears” and World Domination

Popular as Haribo’s fun, fruity teddies had become in the years following the war, the bears themselves were still in the process of becoming the iconic animals we scarf down by the handful today. At first, the bears were taller and slimmer, looking more like, well, actual critters you might see in the wild (or dancing at a festival). It wasn’t until 1960, when Hans and Paul began mass marketing the bears for a broader European market, that Haribo started producing the squatter, smushier, ostensibly more kid-friendly Gummibärchen ("little gummy bears"). In 1975, Haribo trademarked the term "Goldbären" globally. (The name is a play on the German words for "gold" and "cute.")

And just in time, too. Thanks to German-language teachers in U.S. high schools dispensing gummy bears in classrooms so their students could sample foreign cuisines, and American servicemen bringing gummy souvenirs from overseas for their families, the demand for Gold-Bears in this country was growing. Naturally, professional sugar pushers looking to create a similar cash cow (or bear, as it were) had starting making their own versions of Haribo’s best-selling item: The American Jelly Belly Company (previously The Herman Goelitz Company) came out with a gummy bear in 1981, the same year Trolli launched gummy worms. In 1982, Haribo, which had been selling Gold-Bears through U.S. distributors, astutely decided it was time to open up its first American office and staked its claim in Baltimore (the branch is still in operation today).

So began the now decades-long debate over which was the superior Gold-Bear: German or American? (Not to mention the many debates over the merits of Gold-Bears versus Black Forest, Heide, Jelly Belly, and the countless other competitors who would crop up over the years.) Many insist to this day that the German version is better, with more "real fruit" taste, a chewier consistency, and one extra type of bear (apple! The rest are raspberry, orange, lemon, pineapple, and strawberry, in case you were wondering). Of course, there are also those rare gummy fans who prefer Trolli's mouth-puckering, neon-colored worms or even the more subdued, somewhat unidentifiable flavors of Black Forest, for example. Perhaps this wide range of public opinion and appetite is the reason why no legal disputes over the origin or image of the gummy bear have been recorded, save one between Haribo and the chocolate company Lindt over the latter's lookalike gold-foil-wrapped chocolate bear (Haribo won in 2012).

Still, as the confection’s creator (with a closely guarded secret recipe), Haribo has secured its status as one of the leading gummy manufacturers in the world*–*currently, they produce 100 million Gold-Bears every single day.

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