In 2015, Aucklander Jessica Mentis took part in a project that challenged participants to practise an activity for 100 days while uploading their progress on Instagram. Jessica’s concept could barely have been more original: to create architectural, artisan jelly, shaped using 3D-printed moulds to add a fine-dining spin on that perennial childhood favourite pudding. And her brand name was no less innovative either, for now Jessica’s known as ‘The Jellyologist’.
“You know, the intention was never to start a full-time business,” she admits, “the intention was simply to create. I saw it as a creative experiment, and I was completely taken by surprise when it turned out that there was a market for it.”
Jessica says that it was a combination of a couple of popular Instagram posts and promotion from some superstar followers in the form of Trelise Cooper, and poet and mother of Lorde, Sonja Yelich, that “helped to get the ball rolling”. So, is Lorde a fan of The Jellyologist creations too?
“Yes, she and her mum are big supporters. We did a Mother’s Day event a while back and Lorde bought some jelly for her mum.”
Why do you think your jelly has been so embraced?
“Well, I think that everybody has a nostalgic connection to jelly. We remember it from our childhoods. Now, I guess, we’ve reinvented it and brought it into the 21st century, with a contemporary twist.”
Were you a big jelly fan as a child?
“Everyone always asks me that, but no! Because of my background in architecture and design, I was always more interested in the idea of jelly as a medium. It’s so interesting in the sense that you can see through it and it holds its own structure. There is so much potential.”
As well as her exquisitely crafted gourmet jellies that take the form of miniature cones and cubes and pyramids, Jessica has been commissioned to build iconic structures such as the Empire State Building and Eiffel Tower, for a TV campaign. Jellyologist offerings, originally only tailored for events and celebratory occasions, can be found on Countdown shelves in the form of DIY mixes and kits replete with their own garnishes and cone-shaped moulds. Flavours include vanilla chai, feijoa and apple, Nan’s pavlova and chocolate lamington, all crafted using the finest ingredients and locally grown fruit, free of artificial colours and preservatives.
“It’s hugely exciting being able to offer the experience to people at home,” Jessica says. “The moulds and mixes are really easy to use, and the results are spectacular, so that’s a big part of the appeal. It’s blown us away how people have responded to them. It has just been awesome.”
Jessica and her team are also in the process of developing some vegan offerings, though that is proving trickier to, well, mould.
“Obviously meat-free is a hot topic so it will be so nice to be able to cater to a plant-based audience,” she says. “But it’s quite difficult as plant-based alternatives are structurally different to gelatine—but we are getting pretty close, so watch this space!”
Other upcoming flavours include a sure-fire hit in the form of espresso martini.
“Generally speaking, there hasn’t been much innovation in jelly for 60-odd years, it’s one of those products that has just kind of stayed static,” says Jessica. “So, it’s quite nice to come in and shake it up.”
Wobbling Around the World
Rather confusingly, what Kiwis (and Brits and Aussies) call ‘jelly’ is usually referred to as ‘Jell-O’ in the US, where ‘jelly’ is more likely to be used when referencing what we call ‘jam’.
New York cough syrup manufacturer Pearle B Wait bought the patent for Jell-O in 1897, and created its four original flavours of orange, strawberry, lemon and raspberry.
Part of Jello-O’s clever marketing campaign saw them hand out free samples and moulds to immigrants arriving at Ellis Island in the early 20th century, later employing artistic greats like Norman Rockwell to create their ads.
The earliest known jelly reference comes courtesy of Roman scholar, Pliny, who describes the creation of a glue using fish-derived gelatine.
Gelatine alone is nigh-on tasteless.
Edible jelly dates from the turn of the 15th century when it was used as a means of helping to preserve meats and vegetables.
The Victorian era in Europe saw the rise of jelly as a popular desert and potential artform, cut into geometric shapes and suspended within clear jelly blocks.
A type of Spanish folk art popular in Mexico and some southern US states sees coloured gelatine solutions injected into jellies to create encased objects like flowers.
Salt Lake City is said to have the highest per-capita jelly consumption in the world.
In 1923 movie, The Ten Commandments, the parted Red Sea was made of jelly.
The consistency of the human brain closely resembles that of jelly.