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Marshmallows - Sweet Treats, Recipes and Herbal Origins

Updated on March 07, 2016
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honours degree in biology. She enjoys exploring nutrition as well as the culture and history of food.

Marshmallows of different colors and flavors
Marshmallows of different colors and flavors | Source

A Delicious Confection and a Useful Plant

Marshmallows are sweet, puffy and delicious confections. They are very popular as both a treat and a recipe ingredient. According to the National Confectioners Association, 90 billion pounds of marshmallows are sold each year in the United States for a total cost of around $125 million dollars.

Modern marshmallows are generally made from a mixture of sugar, corn syrup, salt, gelatin, water and vanilla flavor. Food color is sometimes added as well. The mixture is heated to create a smooth consistency and then cooled to make the solid marshmallow.

Originally, marshmallow candy was made from the sap of the marshmallow plant. The sap contains a substance called mucilage and is said to have medicinal benefits. When mucilage is mixed with water it forms a gel. Candy was made by grinding the root of the marshmallow plant or by extracting the sap and then mixing the root or sap with honey.

Marshmallows and hot chococolate - a delicious treat, especially at Christmas time
Marshmallows and hot chococolate - a delicious treat, especially at Christmas time | Source

Americans buy 90 million pounds of marshmallows each year, about the same weight as 1,286 gray whales.

— National Confectioners Association

The Many Uses of Marshmallows

Marshmallows are fun to eat right out of their package or after being toasted around a campfire. They make a tasty addition to hot chocolate or cocoa. Melted marshmallow can be used as a cake frosting.

Marshmallows are also used to make peeps. These are colored and sometimes specially flavored shapes that resemble cute animals such as chicks and bunnies. Peeps are often available at Easter but may be sold all year long. Some are made to suit other special occasions besides Easter. Snowmen may be available at Christmas, for example, and ghosts and pumpkins may be sold at Halloween.

Marshmallows are often used in dessert and snack recipes. Hot, melted marshmallows form a gooey and sticky “glue” that holds ingredients together. This glue works very well in Rice Krispie treats and s'mores. Many people like to cover sweet potato casseroles with marshmallows.

Marshmallow creme, which is sometimes sold as a brand known as “fluff”, is used in desserts and in fluffernutter (fluff and peanut butter) sandwiches. Creative cooks use the confection and the creme in many other ways. In marshmallow creme or fluff, the gelatin used to make marshmallows is replaced by egg white and the water is omitted.

Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows Recipe

Special Types of Marshmallows

Gourmet Marshmallows

Some companies produce gourmet marshmallows. These have a wide variety of interesting and unusual flavors, such as pumpkin spice, banana, strawberry, coffee, chocolate and gingerbread. They sometimes have toppings of crushed nuts or toasted coconut, or they may be dipped in chocolate. Artisan marshmallows are usually fresher than regular store-bought versions and have a finer, melt-in-the-mouth texture.

Vegan Marshmallows

Vegan marshmallows are also available. Most marshmallows aren’t suitable for vegetarians and vegans because gelatin is obtained from boiled animal bones and skin. Instead of gelatin, vegan marshmallows contain carrageenan or agar, which are gums obtained from seaweeds.

How to Make Marshmallows at Home

A Slightly Healthier Treat

If you like to follow a healthy diet, marshmallows should be saved for special occasions. They contain a lot of sugar and sometimes a lot of fat, too. They're fun and delicious to eat as occasional treats, but if you're concerned about health you shouldn't eat them on a regular basis.

There is a way to make marshmallows a bit healthier if you make your own. Instead of using white, refined table sugar and corn syrup as sweeteners, unrefined brown sugar, agave syrup, honey or a mixture of these relatively healthy sweeteners can be used in the recipe.

Marshmallow Fondant Recipe

S'mores

Making a s'more is easy. The treat got its name because many people - including me - want "some more" after eating one! It's fun to make s'mores around a campfire.

  • Place a piece of chocolate on half a graham cracker.
  • Place a freshly toasted marshmallow on top of the chocolate.
  • Cover the marshmallow with the other half of the graham cracker.
  • Wait a moment before eating. This allows the heat of the toasted marshmallow to melt the chocolate and creates a gooey and yummy treat.

S'mores can also be made in a microwave. In this case, use an untoasted marshmallow.

  • Place a piece of chocolate on half a graham cracker and a marshmallow on top of the chocolate.
  • Microwave for ten to fifteen seconds or until the marshmallow puffs up.
  • Remove from the oven and place the other half of the graham cracker on top of the marshmallow.
  • Allow the sandwich to cool slightly before eating.

S'Mores Recipe

The largest s’more ever made weighed 1,600 lbs and used 20,000 toasted marshmallows and 7,000 chocolate bars. The record was set on May 23, 2003.

— National Confectioners Association

Rice Krispie Treats or Squares

Rice Krispie treats or squares are also easy to make, though they require a bit more effort than s'mores. The squares are sweet, gooey, chewy and delicious. To make them, melt about 1/4 cup of butter or margarine in a saucepan. Add one package of regular-sized marshmallows (about 40 marshmallows) and stir until melted. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in 6 cups of Rice Krispies. Place the mixture in a greased pan and cool, then cut into squares. More details about making the treats are shown in the video below.

Rice Krispie Treats Recipe

Which is your favorite marshmallow dessert from this list?

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Illustration of the marshmallow plant
Illustration of the marshmallow plant | Source

The Marshmallow Plant

The scientific name of the common marshmallow (or marsh mallow) plant is Althaea officinalis. It's a flowering plant that is native to central and southern Europe, west Asia and the northern part of Africa. The plant has been introduced to other parts of the world. It usually grows near the sea and is often found in salty marshes.

The flowers of the plant have five petals. They are often white in colour but may be pale pink. The leaves are lobed and are covered with short, fine hairs on both their upper and lower surfaces. They have a velvety feel when touched.

The marshmallow plant is edible, although sometimes the mucilage content can give an unpleasant texture to the plant. It’s important to distinguish marshmallows from other types of mallow if you are considering eating them. The genus name of the plant - Althaea - comes from the Greek word althein, which means "to heal"'. Marshmallow has had a reputation as a healing plant since ancient times.

The flower of the marshmallow plant
The flower of the marshmallow plant | Source

Medicinal Uses of the Marshmallow Plant

The marshmallow’s mucilaginous sap coats surfaces and mucous membranes in living things. It’s traditionally been used as an emollient to relieve skin inflammation and as a medicine to soothe sore throats, dry coughs and an irritated stomach or intestinal lining. Even today some people say that marshmallow helps them, although more scientific evidence is needed before researchers generally agree that the plant is beneficial medicinally.

Marshmallow is thought to be safe, but a few precautions are advised when using the plant. There is some evidence that it may lower blood sugar, so diabetics should be very careful with marshmallow. It may increase the amount of lithium in the body, so people taking a lithium medication need to consult their doctor before taking marshmallow. There is also a concern that the mucilage could interfere with the absorption of other medicines, so it shouldn’t be taken at the same time as these medications.

The fruits of the marshmallow plant are flat and are sometimes known as cheeses.
The fruits of the marshmallow plant are flat and are sometimes known as cheeses. | Source

The History of Marshmallows

In Ancient Egypt, members of the royal family are thought to have eaten marshmallow sap or roots mixed with honey and nuts. In the nineteenth century, French doctors mixed the sap with sugar and egg whites and cooked the mixture. Thus process created a sweet medicine for sore throats that more closely resembled our modern confections than the Ancient Egyptian creation.

Eventually marshmallow sap was replaced with gelatin, removing any possible medicinal properties from the confection. The “marshmallow” name was retained, however. Air is whipped into modern marshmallows to increase the fluffy texture.

Today marshmallows are very popular treats and recipe ingredients. They are a fun snack and a tasty and useful addition to desserts. I suspect that people’s interest in the treat will continue for a long time to come!

© 2011 Linda Crampton

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    • Donna Sundblad profile image

      Donna Sundblad 5 years ago from Georgia

      Interesting information! We used caramel marshmallows on our Smores last time we made them and everyone loved them...even more than usual.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Caramel marshmallows sound delicious, Donna! I'll have to look out for these in my local stores. Thanks for the comment.

    • Topnewhottoys profile image

      Topnewhottoys 5 years ago from Salisbury, Maryland

      ummm... now my sweet tooth needs a fix - good looking marshmallow recipes, but....

      I wonder how big a pile 90 million pounds of marshmallows would make?

    • gryphin423 profile image

      gryphin423 5 years ago from Florida

      Hi Alicia! I enjoyed your hub, I love marshmallows, especially fluff. Thanks for sharing!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      That's a mind-boggling thought, Topnewhottoys! People in the U.S. certainly love marshmallows, and I expect it's the same in many other countries too! Thank you for the comment.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, gryphin423. I prefer to eat marshmallows in desserts instead of eating them on their own - but I do love the desserts!

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

      This was an education on Marshmellows, I learned a lot. Our favorite dish for holidays is the Sweet Potato Casserole with marshmellows on the top. Thanks for this.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, mary615. I've actually never tasted sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows. It's never been a traditional part of my family's thanksgiving celebrations, and in fact I only heard about it recently. I'm going to try it on a small scale - I'll bake one sweet potato with some small marshmallows. I've read that the flavor combination is delicious! Thanks for commenting.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      Alicia - with this delicious, in more ways than one, hub you have successfully elevated the pedestrian marshmallow to a place of honor on the throne of sweet treats. The marshmallow, if it could, thanks you ... and so do I. Voted up, m'dear.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 5 years ago from Florida

      Hi AliciaC, you just get canned sweet potatoes, drain them, smash them, mix a little brown sugar, You don't want it too sweet. Pour into a casserold dish, and top with big marshmellows. Bake until the marshmellows are nice and brown. Good luck!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the comment and vote, drbj! It was fun to write about marshmallows and discover some interesting facts about them.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, mary615. I'll try making a sweet potato casserole with marshmallows very soon!

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      Mmmm I have just learnt lots about marshmallows, I love them, many thanks for sharing, best wishes MM

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for commenting, MM. I like marshmallows too! They're great for special celebrations or in special treats.

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 5 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Hmm looks delicious - I must go and put some hot chocolate on the stove and break out the whipped cream. I love marshmallows so thanks for all the great information

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, CMHypno. Yes, marshmallows and marshmallow treats are delicious! Thanks for the comment.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

      This was nice information. I learn much from you about marshmallows. I don't know that this plant has a lot of benefits. I really love all the videos above. You present this hub very well. I'll press all buttons here, expect funny. TOP Rated up!

      Prasetio

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you so much for the votes and the lovely comment, Prasetio! It is interesting to think that the early marshmallow candies may have had medicinal benefits.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      I found this to be very fascinating indeed! I wonder when marshmallows first became a classic American treat. They're so engrained in campfire culture, too! I wonder who was the first to toast marshmallows over a fire.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for the visit and the comment, Simone. Toasted marshmallows certainly are a fun food to eat around a campfire!

    • writingfrosh profile image

      writingfrosh 5 years ago from Philippines

      Interesting hub! I love marshmallows as a kid. Thanks for sharing DIY marshmallows. I can't wait to try them once I have my own mixer. :)

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, writingfrosh! I like the idea of making my own marshmallows because I can control their ingredients and create new recipes.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 5 years ago from Canada

      Wow, Alicia, this is fascinating! I have always wondered where marshmallows come from and now I know. Thank you for a wonderful hub and congratulations on the podcast!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you so much for the comment and the congratulations, prairieprincess. I was very excited to see that a podcast has been created based on this hub!

    • truthfornow profile image

      truthfornow 5 years ago from New Orleans, LA

      Marshmallows are yummy. Thanks for all this useful information. I had never read about the marshmallow plant before and its useful purposes.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, truthfornow. I enjoy learning about the herbal origins of foods and medicines - it's a very interesting topic.

    • profile image

      Joe 5 years ago

      We got some gourmet marshmallows for Christmas this year from Marshmallow Heaven (www.marshmallowheaven.com) and they were delicious.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Joe. Gourmet marshmallows look very tempting! There are lots of online retailers for special marshmallows now, and some of the companies have very interesting creations for sale.

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