Monday, January 31, 2005

Apple #31: Marshmallows

Lately I've been enjoying a few marshmallows in my mug of hot chocolate. And I wondered, what are marshmallows, anyway? I'm almost afraid to find out.

  • Marshmallows today are made of corn syrup, sugar, gelatin, gum arabic, and flavoring. Gum arabic is a compound obtained from trees in India. It's essentially several sugars, and it's used as a flavor stabilizer. So, basically, marshmallows are made of sugar, goo, and more sugar.
  • According to Kraft, which makes the most popular marshmallows in the grocery store, Egyptian pharaohs were the first ones to eat the earliest form of marshmallows. These were made when people discovered that if they squeezed the root of the mallow plant (an herb), a sweet, sticky sap was released. They mixed this with honey and made candy.
  • In the 19th century, doctors mixed mallow root with egg whites and sugar, then cooked and whipped it into a meringue that hardened. This was given to children as medicinal candy, to soothe their throats (early cough drops). The mallow root supposedly had beneficial properties.
  • Mallow root is still sold today to treat sore throats, diarrhea, constipation, and bronchial inflammation.

Mallow root.
(Photo from

Health food stores typically sell mallow root chopped up like this.
(Photo from More Than Alive)

  • In France, in the mid-1800s, inventors whipped and molded the mallow root sap to make candy, and pretty soon, people couldn't get enough of it.
  • To increase production, marshmallow makers decided to mold the marshmallows. So that you could eat what was put in the molds, the molds were made of modified corn starch. Thus the marshmallows took on corn starch. Then, to make sure they'd stay fresh, the manufacturers added gelatin. Today's marshmallows, Kraft is happy to report, contain no mallow root at all.
  • Just Born, the company that makes the marshmallows treats called Peeps, produces over 1 billion Peeps each year. More than 700 million of them are eaten in the US in a year.
  • In 1953, it took 27 hours to make one Peep. Today, it takes 6 minutes.
  • If you put a Peep in the microwave and zap it for a little while, it will get huge. Every once in a while, my mother, who loves marshmallow candy, will put a Peep in there and blow it up.
  • Or if you're into more Peep-friendly activities, you could always dress up as a Peep:

A Peeps costume for children, available for $29.99

Sources's section on inventors, history of marshmallows
Kraft's pages on Jet-Puffed marshmallows (go to About Jet-Puff, then choose History or Nutritional Information)
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Midwestern Turfgrass Weed Identification and Control, Common mallow lookalikes photos
Camden-Grey Essential Oils, mallow root
Just Born About Peeps Fun Facts. Check out the Factory Tour, too.
Martin Chaplin, Professor of Applied Science, London South Bank University, page on gum arabic


  1. Dug up some ubiquitous marshmellow in the paddock yesterday to compare its root system to other spring dominant plants. Your comments came up as I searched for more info on the plant ( ) Thanks.
    Also enjoyed your blogs on words and ideas . Check out some of mine .

  2. Thanks for the comment, little john. I hope this entry was useful to you.

    I did check out your blog. I've been watching The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard, which is just now airing in my neck of the woods here in the US. We've just finished episode 4. If you or your colleagues have seen it, I'm curious to know what you think of it?


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