The Marshmallow Story
iPhoneOgraphy – 23 Nov 2016 (Day 328/366)
A marshmallow is a sugar-based confection that, in its modern form, typically consists of sugar, water and gelatin whipped to a spongy consistency, molded into small cylindrical pieces, and coated with corn starch. Some marshmallow recipes call for eggs. This confection is the modern version of a medicinal confection made from Althaea officinalis, the marshmallow plant.
Marshmallow probably first came into being as a medicinal substance, since the mucilaginous extracts come from the root of the marshmallow plant, Althaea officinalis, which was used as a remedy for sore throats. Concoctions of other parts of the marshmallow plant had medical purposes as well. The root has been used since Egyptian antiquity in a honey-sweetened confection useful in the treatment of sore throat. The later French version of the recipe, called pâte de guimauve (or “guimauve” for short), included an egg white meringue and was often flavored with rose water.
The use of marshmallow to make sweets 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.
Confectioners in early 19th century France pioneered 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 sweet shops. They would extract the sap from the mallow plant’s root, and whip it themselves. The candy was very popular, but its manufacture was labour-intensive. In the late 19th century, French manufacturers thought of using egg whites or gelatin, combined with modified corn starch, to create the chewy base. This avoided the labour-intensive 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 extrusion process by the Greek American confectioner Alex Doumakes in 1954. Marshmallow mixture is pumped through extrusion heads with numerous ports aligned next to each other which form long continuous “ropes” of marshmallow. This invention allowed marshmallows to be manufactured in a fully automated way and gives us the familiar cylindrical shape of today’s marshmallow. In today’s modern marshmallow processing plants, the following process may be used to make marshmallows in large quantities. In large industrial kettles, water, sugar, and corn syrup are heated to a precise temperature and cooked for a precise time. This mixture is then pumped to another kettle to cool. Rehydrated gelatin is added and blended in once the mixture has cooled enough to not denature the gelatin. To give the marshmallow its fluffiness, it is pumped through a blender while air is pumped into it. At this point, it still needs to be cooled down further, so it will hold its shape when extruded, it is pumped through a heat exchanger prior to being pumped through the extrusion heads and onto a wide conveyor belt. The conveyor belt is coated in corn starch and more corn starch is dusted onto the top of the marshmallow extrusion as it passes down the conveyor. A large knife the width of the conveyor is located at the end of this conveyor table that will then chop the extrusion into the size marshmallow desired. The pieces will then be tumbled in corn starch in a large drum in order for the marshmallow to form its familiar skin and allow pieces that didn’t get cut all the way to break apart.
Marshmallows, like most sweets, are sweetened with sucrose. They are currently prepared by the aeration of mixtures of sucrose and proteins to a final density of about 0.5 g/ml. The molecular structure of marshmallows is very basic. It is a sugar solution blended with stabilizing structure agents such as gelatin, xanthan gum, or egg whites. The aforementioned structural components is what prevent the air from escaping and collapsing the marshmallows during aeration.