The marshmallow is a confection that, in its modern form,
typically consists of sugar or corn syrup, water, gelatin that
has been softened in hot water, dextrose, flavorings, and
sometimes coloring, whipped to a spongy consistency. Some
marshmallow recipes call for eggs.
It seems likely that the marshmallow
first came into being as a medicinal substance, since the
mucilaginous extracts from the root of the marsh mallow plant,
Althaea officinalis, were praised as a soothing remedy for sore
throats. Concoctions of other parts of the marshmallow plant had
medical uses as well.
The use of marshmallow to make a candy dates back to ancient
Egypt, where the recipe called for extracting sap from the plant
and mixing it with nuts and honey. (Another pre-modern
recipe uses the pith of the marshmallow plant, rather than the
sap. The stem was peeled back to reveal the soft and
spongy pith, which was boiled in sugar syrup and dried to
produce a soft, chewy confection.).
Candymakers in early 19th century France made the innovation of
whipping up the marshmallow sap and sweetening it, to make a
confection similar to modern marshmallow. The confection was
made locally, however, by the owners of small candy stores. They
would extract the sap from the mallow plant's root, and whip it
themselves. The candy was very popular but its manufacture was
labor-intensive. In the late 19th century, French manufacturers
devised a way to get around this by using egg whites or gelatin,
combined with modified corn starch, to create the chewy base.
This avoided the laborious extraction process, but it did
require industrial methods to combine the gelatin and corn
starch in the right way.
Another milestone in the development of the modern marshmallow
was the invention of an extrusion process by the American Alex
Doumak in 1948. This allowed marshmallows to be manufactured in
a fully automated way, and produced the cylindrical shape we now
associate with marshmallows. The process involves running the
ingredients through tubes, and then extruding the finished
product as a soft cylinder, which is then cut into sections and
rolled in a mix of finely powdered cornstarch and confectioner's
sugar. Doumak founded the Doumak company in 1961 on the strength
of his patent on this process.
Most of the current brands of commercially available
marshmallows in the United States are made and copacked by Kraft
Foods and Doumak, Inc, under such names as Jet-Puffed, Campfire,
Kidd and numerous "private label" store brands.
Marshmallows are used in S'mores, Mallomars and other
chocolate-coated treats, Peeps, Whippets and other sweets, Rice
Krispies treats, ice cream flavors such as Rocky Road, as a
topping for hot chocolate and candied yams, and in several other
foodstuffs. Americans eat about 90,000,000 pounds of
marshmallows per year. Marshmallows are manufactured in
the United Kingdom by, amongst others, Haribo, Barrett, Princess
and numerous 'non' brand companies inc. shops and supermarkets'.
A popular camping or
backyard tradition in North America and the English-speaking
world is the roasting or toasting of marshmallows over a
campfire or other open flame. A marshmallow is placed on the end
of a stick or skewer and held carefully over the fire. This
creates a caramelized outer skin with a liquid, molten layer
underneath. According to individual preference, the marshmallows
are heated to various degrees-from gently toasted to a charred
outer layer. The toasted marshmallow can either be eaten whole
or the outer layer can be consumed separately and the rest of
the marshmallow toasted again. S'mores are made by placing a
toasted marshmallow on a slice of chocolate which is then placed
between two graham crackers. Some companies mass produce
marshmallow recipe uses powdered marshmallow root, which may be
difficult to obtain. Most commercially manufactured marshmallows
instead use gelatin in their manufacture, which vegetarians
avoid, as it is derived from animal hides and bones.
An alternative for vegetarians is to use substitute non-meat
gelling agents such as agar for gelatin. However, other
vegetable gums often make an unsatisfactory product that does
not have the spring or firmness expected of gelatin-based
Marshmallow crème and other less firm marshmallow products
generally contain little or no gelatin, which mainly serves to
allow the familiar marshmallow confection to retain its shape.
They generally use egg whites instead. Non-gelatin versions of
this product may be consumed by ovo vegetarians. Several brands
of vegan marshmallows and marshmallow fluff exist as well.
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