History of the Marshmallow
Have you ever wondered...
...About who invented marshmallows or how long they have been around?
A Brief History Lesson
Ah, marshmallows; those sugary pillows of fluff that are such a part of campfire tradition. While enjoying one such serving of pure calories roasted over my barbeque grill, I had a thought. Yes, I know. Those can be quite dangerous. Anyway, the result of that thought is this little history lesson.
The marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis) grows in salt water marshes, and is native to parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. The roots and leaves of the plant have medicinal uses as soothers of irritated tissue, and can be applied topically, or internally. The roots of the marshmallow plant are where the sticky stuff, called mucilage, is found ("Planet Botanic"). According to my research, marshmallow delicacies originated in ancient Egypt, and were made with sap from the marshmallow plant, which was flavored with honey. The early Egyptian marshmallow treats were reserved for the Pharaohs and the gods ("Twisted-Candy.com").
Marshmallows as we know them are direct descendants of medicinal confections made in France in the mid 1800’s. The original Pate de Guimauve was a medicinal candy used to soothe sore throats and coughs and also served as a digestive aid. Sap from the marshmallow root was used in conjunction with egg whites and sugar, and perhaps another ingredient or two, to make a candy that was tasty, and good for you. Confectioners made the candies by hand, casting and molding the marshmallows, then waiting for them to set (Olver). Like all handcrafted treats, marshmallows manufactured in that way were expensive, and in limited supply.
As we all know, marshmallows are delicious. The puffy little things were popular enough in the 1800’s to make European manufacturers want faster and cheaper ways to mass produce them. A guy named Alex Doumak came up with something called the “extrusion process”, which involves pumping marshmallow candy goo through tubes and then cutting the result into smaller, equal pieces (Bellis). By that time, the actual marshmallow sap had been replaced by gelatin as a binding agent, which made marshmallow production easier, but removed any medicinal properties.
Today, marshmallows come in a variety of sizes, colors and shapes. Marshmallow Peeps are probably the most popular and best-known of marshmallow variations. Peeps and Peeps Bunnies are a product of the Just Born candy company, which has been producing Peeps since 1954 (Bellis). Jet-Puffed marshmallows are produced by Kraft, and have been made the same way since 1953 ("Stateside Candy Company "). Some common and very tasty uses for plain white marshmallows are; roasting them over a fire, making Rice Crispy Treats with them, using them as a topping for Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole, and putting small ones on hot cocoa. The marshmallow fluff that comes in a jar is also an ingredient in some fudge recipes.
While no longer an ingredient in marshmallows, mallow root extract is still a highly useful substance for the treatment of burns, stings, splinters, digestion problems, sore throats, and pretty much any other type of skin irritation ("Planet Botanic"). I personally have found that tea made from dried mallow root really helps to settle an upset stomach (caused by a hangover, for instance). Don’t cite me on that, but feel free to ask the nearest naturopath about the many uses of mallow root.
"American Kraft Jet Puff Large Marshmallows: 10oz Bag." The Stateside Candy Company . The Stateside Candy Company, American Sweets in the UK, 2011. Web. 1 Jun 2011. <http://www.americansweets.co.uk/american-kraft-jet-puff-large-marshmallows-10oz-bag-530-p.asp>.
Bellis, Mary. "The History of Marshmallows."About.com. About.com, 2011. Web. 1 Jun 2011. <http://inventors.about.com/od/foodrelatedinventions/a/marshmallows.htm>.
"Marshmallow Candy History." Twisted-Candy.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Jun 2011. <http://www.twisted-candy.com/marshmallows.html>.
"Marshmallow." Planet Botanic. Planet Botanic, n.d. Web. 1 Jun 2011. <http://www.planetbotanic.ca/fact_sheets/marshmallow_fs.htm>.
Olver, Lynne. "Food Timeline FAQs: candies." Food Timeline.org. The Food Timeline, 2000. Web. 1 Jun 2011. <http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcandy.html>.