Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Photo credit: WhatsCookingAmerica.com

Have you ever looked at a food and wondered, "Where the heck did that come from?" During a family s'mores session last night I found myself pondering the origins of the marshmallow. "Where did it come from?" "Who first discovered it?" "How is it made?" "Why is it made? - other than for campfire desserts of course." It was this nagging sense of wonder that enticed me to dedicate my morning to understanding the rich, chewy, gelatinous history of what became one of America's favorite sweets.

Believe it or not marshmallows were first created from a medicinal plant called the Altheae officinalis. The mucilaginous extracts this plant excreted were used as a remedy for sore throats and the roots were eventually used in early Egyptian honey confections using nuts and the plant's sap.

The popularity of the marshmallow plant quickly spread to 19th century France where the French harvested the spongy pith at the center of the plant, boiled it in sugar, then dried it to make a soft, chewy candy. The French also pioneered the more modern approach to the marshmallow by whipping the sap and sweetening it. This same whipping technique is what contributes to today's marshmallow recipes involving egg whites, corn starch and gelatin to help simplify the manufacturing process.

Manufacturing became a key component of the marshmallow texture we all know and love today. In 1948 an American named Alex Doumak invented the extrusion process which gave our marshmallows their cylinder shape and powdered exterior.

Studying the history behind our everyday foods never ceases to amaze me. Just like friends, relatives, leaders and champions our food has made a fascinating journey prior to landing in our tummies.

Knowledge is delicious Yummies. Learn your foodie history.



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