6 Surprising Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Jell-O

published Jun 23, 2022
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

Once, when my sister and I were kids, we had the neighbors over for a playdate. Afterwards, their mother called ours. Our friends had been talking nonstop about the delicious, unique dessert they had for lunch at our place, and wondered if their mom might ask for the recipe. If it wasn’t too complicated, maybe she could make it, too. When my mother heard this, she howled. The mysterious, decadent dessert was Jell-O.

Whether you grew up eating it for dessert, like I did, or just enjoyed the commercials, you probably have a Jell-O story of your own. (Perhaps it takes place at a college dorm … ) On a recent trip down memory lane, I unearthed a few fun facts about Jell-O, including the most popular flavor and why people add it to cookie recipes.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

1. Jell-O is 135 years old this year.

Think this is a 1990s invention? Think again. Jell-O was developed in 1897 by a carpenter named Pearle B. Wait. Wait was allegedly attempting to concoct a laxative tea, which, frankly, might make him the first influencer in known history. His wife was the one who named it Jell-O, but the product changed hands a few times before finally hitting it big in 1902, with $250,000 in sales.

2. It’s a secret ingredient in cookies.

I know this sounds like a gimmick, but Jell-O cookies are definitely a *thing.* To make your own Jell-O cookies, add the powder to your dry ingredients for a flavor boost and color infusion. “We have been making these for years for the residents of the retirement community I work at, and they love them (so does the staff). They make a colorful addition to tea time and brighten days!” reads one review on Jell-O’s official recipe page, which was enough to convince me.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

3. Strawberry is the most popular flavor.

A Jell-O spokesperson told me that strawberry is overwhelmingly the most popular flavor. And that’s no surprise, seeing as strawberry pretzel squares are one of the four most popular Jell-O-centric recipes. (Jell-O Jigglers also rank highly.) 

4. There are also some wild retired flavors.

Like most products that have been around for decades, Jell-O flavors come and go with the fashions. Among their now-retired flavors are cola, celery, chocolate, coffee, and apple. (Don’t confuse “chocolate” with another product by Jell-O brand: pudding.) Honestly? I would sign any number of petitions to bring celery back. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Prop Styling: Stephanie Yeh

5. There’s a National Jell-O Week.

When it comes to obscure food holidays, most foods get a day. Jell-O takes a whole week to celebrate its wiggle. You can thank Utah for that; the state is wild about Jell-O, and declared the extended holiday in 2009. Mark your calendars for the second week in February and start stocking up on your favorite flavors now. 

6. There’s also a Jell-O Museum.

Okay, it’s more of a small gallery, really. But still! An entire organization! Dedicated to Jell-O! It’s located in LeRoy, New York, where Wait created it. In addition to kitschy original ads and vintage molds, the museum seeks to answer important questions like this one, on the homepage of its website: “Who tested Jell-O for brain waves and what’s more intriguing — why?”

What’s your favorite Jell-O flavor? Tell us in the comments below.