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Marshmallows: The History of This Ooey Gooey Treat


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Marshmallows are ooey gooey treats that simply seem to make life so much better! While marshmallow isn’t as common in candy bars as say, caramel, nougat, or peanut butter, it surely is a favorite amongst many consumers across the world. This has been the case for quite some time, as marshmallows are perhaps one of the earliest forms of confections, dating all the way back to ancient Egypt.

So, let’s take a look at the marshmallow – the history, how it is made and some classic candies that feature this light, fluffy, gooey and creamy sweetness! Whether it’s covered in delicious dark chocolate, melted and smashed together with graham crackers and milk chocolate in s’mores, or even drizzled on your ice cream sundae, marshmallows have always been one of our favorite sweet treats!

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The history of the marshmallow

Like many of our favorite sweets today, marshmallows have a long history and evolutionary process that began many centuries ago. Sometime around 2000 BC, ancient Egyptians harvested the sap from the root of the marshmallow plant, combined it with ground up nuts and honey as a sweetener. This sweet concoction, like many early confections was exclusively reserved for the upper echelons of society.

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The mallow plant (Althaea officinalis), grew along the banks of marshes (hence the origin of the term, “marsh-mallow”) and other wetland areas of the Nile River. The very first marshmallows were made by grinding up the pulp from the root of the plant and mixing it with honey, or sugar until it thickened.

Ancient Egyptians believed this plant had medicinal properties as well. The plant’s roots have been used by many societies throughout history to treat chest pains, to help ease inflammation, to soothe sore throats and coughs, and as an ointment. Historians have also found evidence of its use as a medicine in ancient Greek and Arab societies as well.

The French are responsible for the modern iteration of the marshmallow

In the mid nineteenth century, French candy makers got a hold of the mallow root and they would whip up the sap with egg whites and sugar syrup into a new breed of confections. But these weren’t the light, fluffy candies we know and love today. Rather, as Smithsonian Magazine points out: these marshmallows were more of “a cross between a medicinal lozenge and a bonbon.”

These confections became an instant success, but candy makers found it difficult to keep up with consumer demand. This was due to the fact that these treats were individually made by hand, taking a great deal of time and effort to produce. With the rapid global industrialization of the era, it was only a matter of time before this process would become completely reimagined.

Eventually, candy manufacturers figured out that the mallow root could be replaced with gelatin. This, combined with modern manufacturing processes created the light and puffy marshmallow treat that we see on store shelves today.

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Industrialization and technological innovation played a huge role in the creation of the modern marshmallow

Arguably, one of the most important innovations of this era was the starch mogul system. This is essentially a candy mold, in which runny liquids and gels can be made into different shapes. This tool took much of the hard work out of the equation, because the candy no longer needed to be made exclusively by hand.

This invention made marshmallows easy to mass produce, which greatly reduced the cost of making the candies, making them more affordable and accessible to the average consumer. Initially, this machine was used to make marshmallows, but today the system is widely used in the candy industry to make all sorts of products, such as gummy candies, jelly beans and candy corn.

In the 1920’s marshmallows really began to make a name for themselves among American consumers. In 1917, a Kentucky coal miner asked a traveling salesman from the Chattanooga Bakery for a snack that was “as big as the moon.” The bakery obliged and put together some graham cakes, marshmallow fluff and coated it all in creamy milk chocolate. Thus, the aptly-named Moon Pie had been invented.

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In 1927, The Girl Scouts published the first known recipe for s’mores in their “Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts” handbook. This gooey campfire concoction combined graham crackers and milk chocolate with a fire-roasted marshmallow.

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According to legend, the name “s’mores” came about because everyone around the campfire who tried it would say: “gimme some more.” Today, this iconic treat has become virtually synonymous with camping and outdoor summer fun.

In 1936, the Mallo Cup was created by the Boyer Candy Company. This coconut-laced milk chocolate cup contains a whipped marshmallow center and has been a prominent feature in American sweet shops for nearly a century.

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As marshmallows were rapidly gaining popularity, yet another advancement in technology came about. In 1948 Alex Doumak invented the extrusion process, which was a much more efficient way to produce the marshmallow.

This process consisted of running the marshmallow ingredients through tubes, allowing them to be cut into equal pieces. These could then packaged and delivered to stores all across America. Learn more about the modern marshmallow production process here.

Marshmallows’ popularity exploded in the 1950’s

With marshmallows now even more readily available, consumers were eager to gobble them up in droves. Magazines began publishing a variety of recipes for dishes involving the fluffy white confection. Among these included a sweet potato casserole with a roasted marshmallow topping. These candied yams have become a pivotal staple of Thanksgiving dinners in the United States.

Marshmallows were also heavily marketed around this time as the perfect addition to any cup of hot chocolate. We couldn’t think of a tastier way to warm up from the inside out during the cold winter months ahead!

Another notable entry was made by candy company Annabelle’s in the Rocky Road marshmallow candy bar. This was the invention of a Russian immigrant Sam Altshuler, who had made his roots in the San Francisco area. He invented the bar in 1918, selling it from a push cart outside of movie theaters. But it wouldn’t be until the 1950’s when its success really took off.

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In 1950, he created the Annabelle’s Candy Company, naming it after his daughter. His earlier attempt at creating a candy bar, based off of a favorite ice cream recipe was the company’s crown jewel. The Rocky Road candy bar, which combined marshmallow filling with cashews and creamy chocolate is one of the most popular retro candies from this era. This perfect combination of sweet, salty and crunchy still sells very well to this day!

Easter just wouldn’t be the same without Peeps!

Another popular marshmallow product to come out of the 1950’s are perhaps some of the most iconic. Peeps were born when the Rodda Candy Company was acquired by Just Born in 1953. Their small line of marshmallow chicks that were made by hand squeezing marshmallow creme from pastry tubes were of particular interest to the new owners.

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Their son, Bob helped streamline the process of creating these cute handmade marshmallow chicks. What once took 27 laborious hours to produce by hand could now be done in 6 minutes thanks to the help of modern machinery. This extremely popular holiday candy was originally marketed and promoted for the Easter holiday, but now they come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors for all seasons, and all occasions.

Marshmallows continue to be one of the most popular confections across the world to this day. According to the National Confectioners Association, Americans consume around 90 million pounds of marshmallows each and every year. This is an impressive feat, considering these sweet treats are comprised of mostly air.

As experts in the candy and snack industries, Redstone Foods has over 55 years of experience with the sweet, pillowy treat known as the marshmallow. If you’re looking to stock your store’s shelves with marshmallow products after reading this article, we wouldn’t blame you!

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