The Legend of Lime Jell-O

Radio stars of the 30s and 40s Jack Benny and Lucille Ball were sponsored by the beloved product, and its commercials dominated early television shows. Who didn’t love that colorful, jiggly, fun texture and versatility. Little children delighted in it, adults found it light and refreshing, and older folks enjoyed it as an easy and sweet conclusion to an otherwise bland meal in a nursing home. It was a predictable, familiar and welcome sight to millions. It soothed young children at home with measles and graced the food trays of surgery patients as it eased them back into eating solid foods. It was also the basis for tomato aspics and molded salmon mousse. Although it had some limitations due to mobility and temperature, it still frequently took center stage at picnics and backyard barbecues. It was like one of the family.

It was introduced in the late 1800s by an entrepreneur named Pearle Wait and his wife May, who experimented with grinding gelatin into a powder, which was a collagen originally extracted from the tissues and hooves of barnyard animals, adding flavorings and sugar which produced the first sweet version of gelatin. After a few dismal years, they ran a large ad in the Ladies’ Home Journal magazine, hyping the new colorful sweet as “America’s favorite dessert” and the product took off. Inexpensive, easy to make and fun for kids, it became a staple in the American household and continues to this day. It went on to be acquired by several large companies over the years and refined and marketed as an inexpensive “salad” and dessert.

The top five favorite flavors are:

1) lime

2) strawberry

3) berry blue

4) cherry

5) watermelon

LeRoy, New York is known as its birthplace and has the only Jell-O Museum in the world, prominently located on the main street through this small town. Jell-O was manufactured there until General Foods closed the plant in 1964 and relocated to Dover, Delaware. According to Kraft foods, the state of Utah eats twice as much lime jello as any other state (maybe those large Mormon families account for that). The theory is that Mormons have quite a sweet tooth (they also consume the most candy in the country) and if asked to bring a green salad to a dinner, they will show up with lime Jell-O (favorite add-ins include shredded carrots or canned pears).

A hugely popular concoction during the 1950s was a lime jello recipe which featured whipped topping, cottage cheese or cream cheese, crushed pineapple, miniature marshmallows and walnuts. It frequently appeared at baby showers, luncheons, church potlucks and buffet dinners, usually shaped by a large mold and trimmed with mayo. U.S. stats tell us 159.72 million Americans consumed flavored gelatin desserts in 2017, but this figure is projected to decrease to 154.07 million in 2020.

Although the younger generation is moving in a different direction and consumption stats show a decline in this once beloved staple of American cuisine, it still holds its own at any family gathering. And most of us agree, there is always room for Jell-O.