We all love the fluffy, sugary treats that are so often toasted over a camp fire. It has been found that over half of them are toasted each year. It is often hard to resist the pink and white sweets. However, few people seem to know much about their Ancient Egyptian origin. This may come as a surprise, but the marshmallow is actually a plant!
The dainty, cream flowered marshmallow plant, Althaea officinalis, grows in salt marshes and near large bodies of water. Ancient Egyptian doctors would find the beautiful plants and extract the sap from the plants’ roots and occasionally stems. This gooey sap would thicken a mix of egg whites, sugar and sometimes extra ingredients were added, like honey and nuts. The mixture would be whisked into a foamy meringue which later hardens.
Ancient Egyptian doctors would use marshmallows as medication because they found the mallow sap in the new sweet useful to soothe children’s sore throats. Even though it was used as medication, it appears that marshmallows were sometimes given as treats for rich children as well.
During the mid-1800’s, marshmallows were getting ever more popular and people wanted a faster and more efficient style of manufacture. With more advanced manufacturing processes and new texturing agents, the marshmallow sap was eliminated, and was replaced by gelatine. This gave them a new more stable form. But sadly with the sap, went its medicinal properties.
In the late 1800's they needed a yet quicker method of creating marshmallows. Instead of by hand, the new system known widely as ‘starch mogul’ let people create marshmallows in moulds made of corn starch (like jelly babies are today).
By 1948, the marshmallow manufacturing process was sped up further and perfected. Alex Doumak, French marshmallow maker, was one of the many experimenting with mallow making. He discovered the ‘extrusion process’. Now the marshmallows are able to be made by piping the mixture through long tubes and cutting the shape into small equal pieces. Saving hands, time, money and effort.
Marshmallows were flying off the shelves, but the mallow makers needed to really excite their customers with something different and new. In 1953, an American company bought a smaller, old fashioned company that made fancy mallows by hand. The larger firm liked the way the other's marshmallow chicks looked. A year later, in 1954, they had created a machine that could make just these. Soon they started making more seasonal marshmallows, and sweet bunnies appeared on the market. Following the excitement, new bright colours and flavours quickly joined the crowd.
During my research, I have discovered that it is possible to have a phobia of these scrummy treats. This condition is known as althaiophobia. One sufferer of this unusual condition claims that the marshmallows are the same size as your oesophagus and thinks they might choke if they eat one. Alongside this, some get dry mouths if eating marshmallows and claim they freeze at their sight although liking the taste. I have read an online blogger resolving this problem by eating mini marshmallows and finding them better being smaller than their throat.
This clearly is not the case with everyone. Today marshmallows seem to be coming in the biggest and wackiest forms. An example of their modern wackiness is the strange ways people like to eat mallows. Some like it roasted, stale, in coffee and on pizza as a topping!
Many American sweet companies individually produce enough marshmallows each year to circle the world twice. With this many mallows on shelves, America on average spends over $125 million on these a year. It is estimated to be around 90 million pounds of marshmallow eaten in America annually. This is the rough equivalent to 1276 grey whales or 3750 double decker buses. This means that on average, each American would eat above a whopping 3 pounds of marshmallow every year.
Mallows have always been a favourite of mine, although unlike some, I prefer them fresh and uncooked. Now, where did I put the rest of the pack?