Hot chocolate wouldn’t be the same without them. Campfires wouldn’t be the same without them. The Egyptian gods would have been without a delicacy without them. What are they? You guessed it. Marshmallows.
A BRIEF HISTORY
The first record we have of them comes as early as 2000bc. The ancient Egyptians harvested mallow from the marshes near by (I love literal naming, don’t you?) and combined the whipped mallow root with nuts and honey to make a dessert that was reserved for their gods and royalty. Granted that was a good long while ago and we don’t have any photographic evidence of what this candy would have really looked like, it is documented as being a confection of highest regards.
But, it isn’t the marshmallow we all know and love now is it? Those didn’t come around until the mid1800’s, when they became a popular item in French candy stores. These were made using traditional methods of whipping the mallow root into a fluffed up frenzy which made it extremely hard for those poor French candy makers to keep up with the demand for what they called “Pote de guimauve”. These difficulties led what was coined as the “Starch-Mogul” system in which they added a modified corn starch to help give the product some consistency before replacing the mallow root altogether with a gelatin to stabilize the mixture.
Now, where as this has obviously only made them easier to come by and paved the way for the marshmallows of today it came at a cost. Marshmallows had long been used by the Romans and Greeks among others to cure sore throats and coughs, soothe toothaches, indigestion, diarrhea, and were even used at one point in time as a love potion. But the removal of the mallow root from the recipe cost all of this. So we now have a product that is much easier to make, its just lost its health benefits.
MARSHMALLOWS IN AMERICA
In the early 1900’s, after the introduction of the starch mogul method, marshmallows had never been easier to produce and found their way across the pond to America. It didn’t take long for them to become popular and catch on in the states and in 1948 a man named Alex Doumak created and patented an extrusion process that ran the ingredients through tubes, cutting them into equally sized pieces, forever changing hot cocoa for the better. With all of these new extrusion processes and mechanized production methods, marshmallows started to be produced in a number of different shapes and flavors ranging from shapes like peeps to the new process Kraft patented “jet puffing” their marshmallows by subjecting them to a gas blast at the rate of 200pounds per square inch. It didn’t take more than a couple years for marshmallows to become an American staple.
Today, America is the primary consumer of marshmallows, buying more than 90,000,000 pounds of them annually. With all of those marshmallows being sold in a year, most of them sell from Oct to Dec but over 50% of the product sold in the summer is destined to be roasted over an open fire.
But I think what we all really want to talk about here is the cataclysmic event that is believed to take place in 1927, at a girl scout camp out, where the girls put chocolate over a roasted marshmallow in a bed of graham crackers and uttered those sacred words, “gimme S’more”. Yes boys and girls it was around a girl scout camp fire that s’mores found their way into the world and in 1927 the Girl Scouts of America even published a recipe for them in their campfire recipe book changing the culinary habits of campers all over the world.So there you have it folks, from Egyptian gods to girl scouts, marshmallows have been around for a long time. They’ve staked their claim on America’s confectionery history and changed our day to day lives in ways we typically wouldn’t pay any attention to. Thanks for reading and I’ll be back with another confectionery deep dive in a couple weeks.