The Time Iowa And Utah Staged A Government Brawl Over Jell-O

It seems like Jell-O is beloved by all — especially kids who enjoy the jiggly, colorful gelatin dessert as a snack and as a toy (via USA Today). The slimy delicacy gets transformed into Jell-O shots, an alcohol mixture gulped by college students. Even an entire generation once got creative and concocted Jell-O salads stuffed with fruits, vegetables, and even chicken (via National Museum of American History).

The Jell-O craze didn't just pop out of nowhere. In fact, its popularity has been tumultuous even before Jell-O was invented. Gelatin desserts were typically desserts reserved for the wealthy, according to SLATE. It wasn't until the invention of powdered gelatin and the refrigerator that gelatin became a commodity for the average person.

The modern-day gelatin dessert was invented in 1845 by Peter Cooper (via Jell-O Gallery Museum). It wasn't until 1897 when Pearle and May Wait created the colorful gelatin dessert we now know as Jell-O. While it took off, sales wavered during the latter half of the 20th century until it was relaunched as a family-friendly food product (via Slate). Despite Jell-O's turbulent reputation, the dessert became an obsession with Utah. The beehive state's devotion to Jell-O eventually led to a friendly feud with another state.

The details behind the Iowa-Utah rivalry over Jell-O

It all started in 1999 when then-Kraft Foods (Kraft Heinz now owns Jell-O) released the annual list of its "capita sales figures of Jell-O," according to SLATE. Utah's capital, Salt Lake City, was number one for the past two years. However, Iowa's capital, Des Moines managed to beat Salt Lake City that year. This particular incident gelled the brawl between the two states.

Des Moines' number one ranking revved up Utahns of all ages to take action. The following year, Scott Blackerby, then-executive chef at Bambara, funded a "Take Back the Title" campaign. According to The Daily Universe, Blackerby even hosted a Jell-O sculpting contest at his restaurant. Students at Brigham Young University followed suit, pressuring the Utah government to officially acknowledge Jell-O as the state's official food. It worked as in 2001, the state legislature passed a resolution formally recognizing Jell-O as an official state snack.

As for Des Moines' coveted number-one spot? It was a one-year stint. Salt Lake City took back its reign in 2000 (via The Daily Universe). The mayor of Des Moines at the time, Preston Daniels, reportedly joked that he was "highly disappointed."

Why Utah is obsessed with Jell-O

It may seem odd that Utah is fanatical about Jell-O, but as The Daily Universe puts it, Jell-O has "always been a part of Utah pop culture." The Mormon corridor, which begins in Utah and branches out to parts of Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana is nicknamed the "Jell-O Belt," (via Business Insider). 

The gelatin dessert wasn't just enshrined into Utah's law as its official state snack. Yes, Utahns may love Jell-O all year long, but there is also an official Jell-O Week that takes place on the second week of February. The state also displays its affection for Jell-O to the world. When Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics, Jell-O was included in its official collective pins (via SLATE).

About two-thirds of Utah's population are Mormons, according to Thrillist. The publication theorized that since the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints prohibited Mormons from drinking alcohol, coffee, and tea, Jell-O was naturally the next "rebellious" drinking source for teens. Utah's Mormon culture also generally emphasizes huge church gatherings and family. So when Jell-O rebranded itself as a family-oriented product, Mormons gravitated towards the gelatin dessert as it's an affordable food to serve kids and at parties (via The Atlantic).