Fact Zap

Journey of a Marshmallow

Marshmallows clip art

Marshmallow plant (called Althaea Officinalis) , is a native of Europe and West Asia. The original marshmallow plant, true to its name, grows well in marshes and river banks.

Marshmallow plants

Roots of marshmallow plants have a gummy substance called Mucilage. It soothes human skin and tissues. It can moisturise dry skin. Take a look at the ingredients in your skin care products. If the list has MRE (Marshmallow Root Extract), it includes mucilage from marshmallow roots and leaves. Lozenges and cough medicines often include marshmallow extracts because it soothes tissues of the throat.

Marshmallow history

Ancient Egyptians around 2000 BC were the first to use marshmallow, though they considered it a medicine, not a sweet dessert. Egyptians extracted gummy pulp from marshmallow roots, boiled it with honey untill thick. The thick syrup was cooled, strained and used as medcine. Marshmallow syrups for treating sore throats and skin balms for rashes and skin problems.

French Marshmallows

Later on, candy makers in France started using marshmallow to make tasty, healthy treats. They came up with a soft and spongy dessert called P√Ęte de Guimauv (or the Guimauv paste). It was made by hand beating egg whites, sugar and marshmallow syrup for a very long time. It was then allowed to set. No baking involved! Once hardened, it was cut into shapes and sold. It became popular, but its long handmade process made mass production difficult.

Modern Marshmallows

Preparation time was long mostly because marshmallow pulp was extracted by hand and whisked for long. So, creative candy makers added gum arabic brought from Africa and Asia. Gum arabic made the process easy and fast... Later on, marshmallow extract was replaced with Gelatin.

What makes Marshmallows spongy ?

Marshmallows are made by whipping a sugary solution. This process traps air in the sugar mix. When gelatin is added, it makes the sugar solution firm. But it still has pockets of air which give a sponge like texture. Plain sugar crystals tend to crystallise. So, Corn syrup is mixed with sugar to make marshmallows sweet and fluffy.

Gelatin in Marshmallows

Gelatin is made from collagen, a protein in animal tissues. Collagen is made of three polypeptide chains, which are nothing but long amino acid chains. These 3 chains twist around each other forming one single chain.

On heating, the three chains separate from each other. When it is allowed to cool, some of these chains twist around each other, while others remain free. So, part of the cooled gelatin is stiff and part is floppy. This gives gelatin it's elastic texture. When mixed with sugar syrup and trapped air, it becomes spongy and elastic. Hence marshmallows are classified as colloids -- air molecules distributed in a gelatin base.

Did you know ?
More than half of any marshmallow is only air.

The largest marshmallow made (as of 2023) weighs around 650 kg. It took about 100 people 53 hours to make. It made its way to the Guinness book of records as the biggest marshmallow. It was made by a candy company in Mexico.