In a toothsome episode of the Mental Floss series Food History, host Justin Dodd explains how gummy bears came to be.
How did gummy bears go from niche German sweet to the world’s favorite gelatin candy?
Dodd first recounts the early versions such as Turkish Delight and wine drops, however, German candymaker Hans Reigel struck out on his own in 1920 to create the now-famous company Haribo. The name is a combination of the first two letters of Reigel’s first name, last name, and his hometown of Bonn.
This new company was the first to shape the chewy candy in the shape of a bear. This particular shape came from the famous dancing bears of Germany.
The shape originated as an homage to a European tradition that goes back centuries. Trained, “dancing” bears gained popularity during the Middle Ages, and they persisted into the 20th century. They were still a common sight at German festivals 100 years ago, so Riegel knew it was an image his customers would recognize.
In reality (and tragically), the aforementioned bears were not dancing at all. Rather they were avoiding the pain of hot plates put under their feet. This cruel practice has since been outlawed in Germany and around the world. Yet in some way, Reigel’s treats pay sweet homage to the bears in perpetuity.