When I was a kid at Boy Scout camp we used to sit around the campfire immolating Kraft puffed marshmallows on a stick. Everyone said they thought these smoldering lumps of puffy sugar were great—I didn’t and I don’t believe anyone else did either. The only good thing about a burnt Kraft marshmallow was that they usually fell off the skewer and I didn’t have to eat it. Now don’t get me wrong, I had a sweet tooth unparalleled to anyone. I loved sweets (still do), but hated those over-puffed, sickeningly sweet, machine-made, sticky, white, commercial marshmallows.
A marshmallow is a confection that, in its modern form, typically consists of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, water and gelatin. Commercial manufacturers add some artificial flavors and colors, then whip it into a sticky, spongy mass.
The original recipes for making marshmallow used an extract from the root of the (marsh) mallow plant, Althaea officinalis, instead of the gelatin used today. The Althaea officinalis is a pink-to-white flowering perennial herb, indigenous to the salt marshes and sea-bordering wetlands of Eastern Europe, North Africa and Asia. While not a native to North America, this member of the Hibiscus or mallow plant family was eventually brought to the Americas and became naturalized in the eastern portion of the continent.
Marshmallows were originally made from the stems of the marsh mallow plant (no kidding; that what it’s called). When peeled they reveal a soft and spongy pith with a texture similar to manufactured marshmallow. This pith was boiled in sugar syrup and dried to produce a soft, chewy concoction. This mucilage was used to soothe sore throats in the days when the Egyptians ruled the world around 2000 B.C.
In 1948 things changed (for the worse) when Alex Doumak got a patent on an extrusion process where marshmallows were extruded as soft cylinders, cut in sections and rolled in a mix of finely ground cornstarch and powdered sugar. This began the bastardization of the marshmallow.
Why I Love Marshmallows
At Choclatique, we make marshmallow better. Our artisanal, all-natural ingredient marshmallows are made the slow, old-fashioned way—one batch at a time. While we don’t use the pith of the Althaea officinalis, we carefully blend Hawaiian cane sugar, egg whites, gelatin, corn syrup and natural vanilla to create Choclatique’s fantastic artisanal marshmallows. While the sugars are being cooked, the egg whites are beaten. Then we slowly merge the hot and cold ingredients together and continue to blend and whip the mixture into a fluffy air-filled mass. The mixture is poured into trays and the marshmallows are set aside for 24 hours to cure before cutting, coating and drizzling with our rich, smooth and creamy Private Reserve Dark or Prestige Milk Chocolate. The marshmallows themselves more closely resemble what would have been made and eaten in the early 1900’s. And, that’s a really good thing.
We are always looking to develop new flavors of marshmallows. This holiday season we will introduce our new Candy Cane Marshmallow. For Valentine’s Day 2010 we will introduce our new Cinnamon Marshmallow and for Easter, our new Lemon Drop Marshmallow. If you have a great marshmallow flavor, let us know. We will name it after you (provided your name is not “Stinky”) and enroll you in the Chocolates of the Month club for a 3-month, free membership. Remember, free is a good thing.
So now you know that there’s no need to continue burning marshmallows over an open fire or dipping them in chocolate or anything else for that matter. Choclatique’s chocolate-enrobed artisanal marshmallows are great all by themselves.