To the Ancient Egyptians, marshmallows were food deemed worthy only for the gods and nobility. In as early as 2000 BC, the Egyptians made marshmallows by mixing honey and nuts with the sap of a plant – Althae Officinalis, also known as marsh mellow. This plant grows in marshes and blooms flowers shaped like the common mellow. The Egyptians reserved this sweet treat specially for the gods, and the royalty ate it for its healing benefits. The root of Althae Officinalis is believed to be effective in treating coughs, sore throats and wounds.
Although nobody knows if the Egyptian version of the marshmallow had any resemblance to our modern marshmallow, the two might have some resemblance in their texture. The root of Althae Officinalis contains mucilage, which is “a thick, gluey substance produced by some plants and microscopic animals to help with food storage and seed germination”. This gave marshmallow its gummy taste, a distinctive trademark of the sweet.
In mid 19th century, the French started whipping the juices of the marsh mellow plant with eggs and sugar into a fluffy confection, and the result bears a closer resemblance to the marshmallow of today. However, because of the laborious process, they started replacing the plant extract with gelatin, which still produced the same gummy texture. This not only helped to reduce its production time, it also became less expensive to produce them
In 1954, American Alex Doumak revolutionised the production of marshmallows when he invented and patented the extrusion process. His invention “pressed the marshmallow mixture through tubes, then cut into equal pieces, cooled and packaged”. Doumak’s invention allows marshmallows to be mass produced and is still used by manufacturers today.
A fluffy sugary confection that has a chewy centre. The key step to making marshmallow is the way it is whipped into a light and fluffy consistency. It is a camping tradition to toast marshmallows over the campfire, which is done with the help of a skewer. This caramelises the skin of the marshmallow while the inside becomes a little warm and gooey.
Sugar, gelatin, and water. Some recipes call for egg whites, which is said to make to marshmallow softer and more delicate.