Inside the origin of Jell-O shots

Sometimes you just want your debauchery to have the taste and feel of a Beyonce song. Not "Drunk in Love," which kind of sounds like a romanticized description of beer goggles, but rather "Bootylicious" from her Destiny's Child Days. That classic captures the experience of gulping down a Jell-O shot. It basically sings to your slightly frightened liver: "I don't think you're ready for this Jell-O. My body's too boozy-licious for you, babe." But suddenly, your brain thoughtlessly exclaims, "Bottoms up!" and an alcoholic collagen blob brewed from boiled flesh or bone just nonchalantly twerks down your throat.

Of course, not everyone may want to feel like the butt of song parody when they party, so some people might pooh-pooh that Beyonce association. But if the Jell-O shot is your ammo of choice when using your liver for target practice, tongue-in-cheek musical humor might be unavoidable. As Mel Magazine details, musical satirist and mathematician Tom Lehrer claimed to have invented the mixture in 1956.

Lehrer recalled his eureka moment in a 2000 interview: "What happened was, I was in the Army for two years, and we were having a Christmas party on the naval base where I was working in Washington, D.C. The rules said no alcoholic beverages were allowed. And we wanted to have a little party, so this friend and I spent an evening experimenting with Jell-O. It wasn't a beverage." He decided to add vodka to orange Jell-O for a jiggly good time. But does the origin story add up?

A Jell-O shot in the dark

If you've heard the disorienting genius of Tom Lehrer's "New Math," you know that your answer to a basic math problem can be right and wrong depending on how you look at it. For example, comedic musician Luke Ski penned a 2009 song celebrating Lehrer's inventive solution to a drinking restriction and crediting him with inventing Jello-O shots. Lehrer himself seemed to find the idea that he did it first rather comical. According to Ski, Lehrer even reached out to set the record straight in an email, writing, "By the way, although I may have independently come up with the idea of vodka and Jell-O, as I'm sure many others must have, I didn't think up the name 'Jell-O shots,' and I don't know who did." So he invented Jell-O shots, but he also totally didn't.

History professor Ken Albala told Mel Magazine that gelatin powder has existed since 1845, and alcoholic concoctions that incorporate it have existed for roughly the same amount of time. But the practice of consuming booze-infused gelatin goes back much farther. In 14th-century Europe, people combined wine with aspics, gelatin-based meals that contained chunks of other stuff and were presumably used as medieval torture devices. Though, the wine was likely used for flavoring in that case. In any case, Lehrer didn't originate Jell-O shots, and it's anyone's guess who did.