The surprising history of marshmallows
Who knew the fluffy treats could be so interesting?
Marshmallows, who doesn't love them? Whether you're piling them high in a steaming mug of hot chocolate (more marshmallows than hot chocolate please), or toasting them over campfires on a long stick, trying to perfect that crispy exterior and melty middle, all without setting them on fire... they're a gooey, puffy, squishy treat.
But did you know about the history of marshmallows?
Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay
Marshmallows – in some form – are believed to have existed as early as 2000BC by the ancient Egyptians. They made marshmallows from a herbal plant known as marshmallow, or Althaea Officinalis. These plants grew in marshes, hence the name.
Marshmallow was strictly reserved for gods and royalty, and was used as a medicine to heal coughs, sore throats and wounds. This was accomplished by boiling pieces of marshmallow root pulp with honey, until a thick paste was created. Once that was done, the mixture was strained and cooled, and made a surprisingly suitable healing treatment.
But how did marshmallows develop from an ancient medicine to what we know and love today?
Photo by Leon Contreras on Unsplash
We have French candy shop owners in the 1800s to thank for the further development of marshmallows. They discovered the sap of the marshmallow plant could be whipped from the mallow root into a fluffy candy mould. Sugar, water and egg whites were added to the marshmallow roots. This process usually took a couple of days before the product could be ready to be sold in bar form.
It was around this time when people started adding things to the mallow root plant, such as gelatine, to give them their squishy and fluffy texture. From there onwards, new ways of making marshmallows continued to develop. By the 1900s, these tasty treats could be mass produced in America.
Today, marshmallow manufacturing is mostly automated, and has been since the 1950s. It's now possible for factories to make thousands of pounds of marshmallow a day. Marshmallows only usually have four ingredients: sugar, water, air and a whipping agent, which is usually a protein. While the traditional recipe features powdered marshmallow root, the modern recipe usually uses gelatine instead.