It’s a Marshmallow World this Christmas
Its Christmas time and I’ve noticed that whenever I order some hot chocolate it comes with marshmallows. It also coincides with Dean Martin singing a Marshmallow World so I thought perhaps the world was telling me to look into what exactly a marshmallow is?
“When the snow comes to cover the ground,
It’s the time to play, it’s a whipped cream day
I wait for it all year round
Those are marshmallow clouds being friendly,
In the arms of the evergreen trees
And the sun is red like a pumpkin head,
It’s shining so your nose won’t freeze”
Whoever said that song lyrics need to make sense anyway?
Marshmallows have been a part of Christmas for hundreds of years and yet they’re a really simple confection consisting of sugar, water and gelatine whipped into a spongy consistency. The mixture is then moulded into small pieces and covered in corn starch. The reason they’re called marshmallows comes from the most modern version of the sweet that uses eggs and also uses stems from the mallow plant, Althaea officinalis. So that’s why it’s called a mallow, but what about the marsh bit?
Well that comes from the history of this simple, yet delicious, treat is fascinating and goes back to almost the dawn of the modern human race, in fact all the way back to the Egyptians. The mallow plant goes mostly in marshy areas hence marsh-mallows.
The Egyptians viewed marshmallows as food of the gods and royalty and used them for medicinal purposes such as sore throats and to soothe coughs. It wasn’t until the mid 1800’s that sweet makers in France came across the idea of making them into treats and they were re-christened as Pâté de Guimauve. These were expensive sweets because it took confectioners two days to make them. Eventually the process was speeded up and the mallow root was replaced with gelatine.
It wasn’t until the sweet made its way across the Atlantic and into the United States in the early 1900’s that they became a mass consumption treat of choice. They were introduced into tins as penny candy as well as being used in a variety of recipes such as tutti fruit and banana fluff. In 1948 an inventor by the name of Alex Doumak came up with the extrusion process that made it easy to produce long tubes of marshmallow mixture which when cooled could be cut into equal length pieces.
So when you’re ordering your Christmas hot chocolate or coffee and your sprinkle your marshmallows on top remember you’re enjoying Egyptian food of the gods.