Which Of These Sweet Treats Was Originally Made From Sap?
Today marshmallows, the fluffy sugary treat roasted over campfires and dumped into hot chocolate, are made with sugar, water, and a bit of gelatin. Their current form (and the machinery that cranks them out by the tens of thousands), however, is a relatively new development in the history of the food stuff.
In fact, marshmallows have been around since ancient Egypt where they were created by mixing nuts, honey, and the thick, glue-like extract (sap) of the marshmallow plant (Althaea officinalis). The treat was labor intensive to create and the early versions of marshmallows were much denser and chewier than the modern marshmallow.
Over time, the process remained almost entirely unchanged until, in the 19th century, French confectioners pioneered two new techniques. First, they whipped the marshmallow sap and sweetened it, making it more like the modern light and fluffy marshmallow. Second, they used egg whites and gelatin (combined with modified corn starch) instead of the marshmallow root extract, which eliminated the labour-intensive extraction process, but did require industrial methods to properly combine the gelatin and corn starch.
It wasn’t until 1954, when American inventor Alex Doumak created an industrialized method for extruding marshmallows, that mass production became feasible. Without industrialization, the humble marshmallow would have never become a staple summer bonfire snack.
Image courtesy of John Morgan.