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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'.

Toasted marshmallows
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 pre-packaged S'mores.

Dietary preferences
The traditional 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 marshmallows.

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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