Mormons and Jell-O: A History

mormons and jello title

Mormons love Jell-O™. It’s indisputable fact, supported by the 2001 state resolution that named Jell-O Utah’s official state snack. Jell-O is so ingrained in the Mormon image that Utah has been dubbed the “Jell-O belt” of America. Which is all fine and dandy. We can make a mean Jell-O salad for the ward potluck. But in spite of Utah’s firm hold on the first place spot in Jell-O sales in the past, Jell-O has captured the heart of the American people for over a century. Are you prepared for the wiggly, jiggly history of Mormons and Jell-O? It’s not what you think.

1897: Jell-O brand created by Pearle Bixby Waite

rainbow jello

Original flavors included strawberry, raspberry, orange, and lemon. Waite sold his new company after 2 years to Orater Frank Woodward, owner of Genesee Pure Foods Company.

1904: Jell-O advertising campaign of the Century

jello girl ad
via Pinterest

Jell-O launched an extensive advertising campaign designed to brand Jell-O as “America’s Most Famous Dessert.” Advertisements like this one drawn by Norman Rockwell branded Jell-O as the food of youth and fun, while keeping the prices low enough for moms. It was this campaign that launched Jell-O into the limelight (get it?) and made Jell-O popular throughout the next 40-50 years.

1923: Used in the silent film “The Ten Commandments”

via Youtube

Fun fact: the water effect during the pivotal scene of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea was made by filming Jell-O. Whether or not it was red Jell-O, we will never know, but we hope it was, because otherwise they missed an opportunity there.

1924: Renamed as “The Jell-O Company”

the Office jello

The power of branding prompted the Genesee Pure Foods Company’s name change into the Jell-O Company. They can really capitalize on that SEO now.

1930: Lime Jell-O released as a new flavor

jello monster dancingThis is the famous green Jell-O, which Mormons apparently eat in abundance. Lime jello filled in the more savory dishes, like the classic carrots in green Jell-O that Mormons apparently can’t get enough of.

1934: Jell-O Jingle created

This song will never leave your mind. J-E-L-L-O.

1950s: The rise (and fall) of savory Jell-O recipes

After decades of people stuffing vegetables and other savory items into fruit flavored Jell-O, the company decided to release a line of savory Jell-O mixes, including celery, Italian, mixed vegetables, and seasoned tomato. Those flavors went over about as well as you’d think, and Jell-O stopped their production.

1970s: Jello Jigglers became popular

jello jumpingIn an effort to keep Jell-O alive, the company went back to a recipe for finger Jell-O cut into shapes, and found a hot seller. On the backs of Jell-O Jigglers, sales took off once again. Kids absolutely loved the finger Jell-O, and so sales in areas with families would have been top consumers.

1974: Bill Cosby hired as spokesman

Does anything more need to be said? Bill Cosby was hilarious. Jell-O pudding!!

1999: Utah’s “Take Back the Title” campaign

After Iowa beat out Utah for the top spot in Jell-O consumption in 1999, students at BYU launched the “Take Back the Title” campaign to try and boost Utah back to first place. So, many Jell-O creation competitions and sales were held, and much Jell-O salad was consumed.

2001: Jell-O named Utah’s State Snack

man hit with jelloUtah claimed its place once again as the nation’s top Jell-O state in 2001. So Rep. Leonard Blackham proposed State Resolution 5 to name Jell-O as Utah’s official state snack. The motion passed with only two dissenting votes.

2002: Olympics held in Salt Lake City

2002 olympics jello pinThe worldwide recognition Utah and its Mormon community received for the 2002 Winter Olympics cemented the idea of Mormons and Jell-O. Collectable pins were all the rage, so why not a bowl full of green Jell-O to represent the “Jell-O belt” of America?

2016: “Jell-O with the Senator”

jello with senator Mike Lee
via Chris Redgrave (@SpeakingOnBiz)
jello senator ad
via lee.senate.gov

Honestly, the “Mormons love Jell-O” craze didn’t start until the 1990’s. But these days, Utah Mormons accept it, and some embrace it. For instance, if you ever find yourself in Washington D.C., take Jell-O with Utah Senator Mike Lee on Wednesdays.

So, behind the Jell-O Olympic pins, the officially named State Snack, the constant stream of green Jell-O jokes… why are Mormons associated with Jell-O? Do we really love it that much?

From a marketing perspective, Jell-O’s popularity raged on the perfectly polished counters of suburbia during the mid-1900s because it was pretty, pristine, clean, fast and easy. This, along with taglines such as, “Jell-O, you can’t be a kid without it!” and commercials revealing the smiling faces of families sharing in the jiggly joys of gelatin treats, Jell-O appealed to the likes of large Mormon families. With such a family/kid oriented advertisement strategy, Jell-O grabbed Mormon culinary culture by the horns (or is it the other way around?), and pretty soon, Utah became known as the “Jell-O Belt.”

In an article she published for Slate.com about Mormons and Jell-O, Christy Spackman wrote, “In adopting and making Jell-O “their” food, Mormons… are making a statement about their identity, accepting all of the food’s positive connotations of family-friendliness, child-centeredness, and domesticity.” That right there is the true “why” behind the mystery of Mormons and Jell-O.

Some are under the impression that the Jell-O love is rooted in the fact that Mormons abstain from alcohol, drugs, and other substances that are addictive and harmful to the body, that we are attempting to compensate in some way for the lack of those things in our lives. Not gonna lie, I LOL-ed when I read that. Let’s be honest with ourselves here, Mormons and Jell-O mix because Mormons love being together and having fun. Jell-O is a simple, fun, and yummy way to feed the masses, whether it be in the family or at the ward potluck, so why wouldn’t we like it?

There you have it folks, all the information you never knew you didn’t know about Mormons and Jell-O. Have a great Jell-O recipe to share? Let us know in the comments below!

Emma is an intern at the More Good Foundation and a student at BYU studying Communications with an emphasis in News Media. A returned missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and self-proclaimed nerd, her passions include (but are not limited to): the gospel, her family, writing, sports, world travel, Harry Potter and Mexican food.

Claim to fame: visited North Korea and the West Bank and came home with only a bad sunburn and crazy pictures. Music lover. Chocolate enthusiast. Book addict. Professional writer. Mormon.