What is Marshmallow?
There is no lovelier campfire treat than fun, squishy marshmallows! Some of my fondest childhood memories involve toasting marshmallows on family camping trips or outdoor parties, and most people would agree that hot cocoa with marshmallows on a cold day is the ultimate comfort food.
But how much do we really know about these chewy sugar pillows?
In this article I’ll share with you:
- What is a Marshmallow?
- How are Marshmallows made? (infographic and animation)
- What are the ingredients in a Marshmallow?
- Origin of Marshmallow
What is Marshmallow?
Marshmallow is an intensely sweet and spongy bite-sized treat. It is mostly sugar and air, with almost no nutritional value. They are usually white coloured and vanilla-flavoured, but a common variation is pink, which may be rosewater or strawberry flavoured. The main ingredient in marshmallows is sugar, although glucose syrup (corn syrup) is also added to prevent them from crystallising.
Marshmallow and chocolate is a classic combination that is used in hot cocoa and hot chocolate, s’mores, tea cakes, and Easter treats. A traditional Thanksgiving dish is baked sweet potato topped with marshmallow. Artisanal hand-crafted marshmallows often feature creative ingredients such as peppermint, toasted coconut, nuts and sprinkles.
What is marshmallow fluff?
Marshmallow creme (fluff) is marshmallow with egg white but no gelatine. It is popular in the US as part of a ‘fluffernutter’ sandwich, which is peanut butter and marshmallow fluff on white bread. Marshmallow creme (aka marshmallow cream) also appears in Arabic cuisine as ‘natef’.
How are Marshmallows made?
The creation of these strange bite-sized morsels is a mystery to most, but they are in fact quite a simple food. While writing my non-fiction food comic book How Food is Made: An illustrated guide to how everyday food is produced (more about the book here) I researched a ton of food science and food industry books, magazines and journals to get the real answer to this question, which I give to you now.
The following is an extract from my book How Food is Made…
What is marshmallow root?
Marshmallow confectionery was originally made with the roots of the marsh-mallow plant (Althaea officinalis), native to Asia, Europe and North Africa. The plant is part of the mallow family and grows in damp environments such as marshes—giving it its name, marsh-mallow. The plant contains a jelly-like substance called mucilage, which originally gave marshmallow candy its characteristic texture. Today, the confection no longer contains any of the plant.
Are marshmallows made from pigs?
Yes, kind of. Marshmallows contain gelatine (from pigs or cows) which means they are not vegetarian- or vegan-friendly. However, vegan marshmallows that use vegetable gums or agar instead of gelatine are available, so if you don’t want to eat animal products you can still enjoy vegan marshmallows. Artisanal hand-crafted marshmallows may use whipped egg white, which is vegetarian-friendly but not vegan.
How Marshmallow is Made infographic and animation
Ingredients in a Marshmallow
The ingredients in a marshmallow can include any or all of the following.
|Sugar||Glucose Syrup |
eg corn syrup
|Egg White||Corn Starch||Gums |
eg gum arabic, xanthan gum
|Sodium Hexametaphosphate||Soy Protein|
Origin of Marshmallow
In the mid-1800s, French confectioners created the predecessor of the modern marshmallow, a fluffy candy made from whipped marsh-mallow root sap, sugar and egg white, which was known as ‘pâté de guimauve’. Guimauve production was very small scale as it was a boutique handcrafted treat enjoyed by the wealthy.
In the late-1800s, marshmallow candy production became more automated, leading to the commercial growth and mass consumption of marshmallow confectionery. Gelatine also replaced marsh-mallow root around this time as it was easier to work with.
Marshmallows arrived in the United States in the early 1900s and were sold as penny candy to children. By the 1930s, marshmallows had become a huge craze, incorporated into salads and sweet dishes including cakes and frosting.
Medicinal uses for marshmallow
While marshmallow candy no longer contains the plant after which it is named, the marsh-mallow plant (Althaea officinalis) has a long history of use as a medicinal plant. A form of marshmallow candy existed in ancient Egypt as early as 2,000 BCE and was made exclusively for the gods and pharaohs. This ancient candy was composed of marsh-mallow root cooked in honey, possibly with nuts or fruit.
The marsh-mallow plant was used by the ancient Greeks for treating wounds, respiratory problems and dysentery. It was used in early Arabic medicine for treating inflammation and by the ancient Romans as a laxative. Throughout history, marsh-mallow has been widely used to treat sore throats and coughs.
Did you enjoy this article ‘What is Marshmallow’?
If you’d like to learn more about the processed foods we eat everyday, please check out my non-fiction food comic book How Food is Made: An illustrated guide to how everyday food is produced. The book features 60 common foods, detailing their history and manufacturing process using illustrations and food infographics.
If you have ever wondered where factory food really comes from and how it is made, this book is for you. Don’t just take my word for it. The press and readers love the book too – check out media and reviews here. Find out more about the book here and view a free sample from the book here.
Thanks for reading!