Let's Talk About: Marshmallows: a campfire's best friend

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Marshmallows are a longtime favorite of cookouts and camping trips. One may wonder what they are made of and how they got their weird name.

The name comes from the marsh mallow plant (Althaea officinalis), which grows in swampy fields and has a soft, spongy root. It contains mucilage, a thin gluey jelly-like substance that helps the plant store food. Ancient Egyptians used it in their confections. Other cultures, such as the French, used the marsh mallow root in medicine for sore throats.

Modern marshmallows are no longer made from the plant. They are made from three basic ingredients: sugar, corn syrup and gelatin.

Here is a recipe to make some homemade marshmallows. You will discover that they are tastier than the store-bought kind. Because this recipe uses an electric mixer and a stove, get a grown-up's help.

In the mixer bowl, add 3 packages of unflavored gelatin into 1/2 cup of water. Allow it to dissolve then set it aside. Mix 2 cups of sugar and 1/4 cup of cold water in a separate bowl. This will add moisture to the sugar and prevent it from turning into crystals. Then add 2/3 cup of corn syrup to the water and sugar. Gently heat the solution to 241 degrees.

Slowly and carefully pour the hot solution into the stand mixer bowl of dissolved gelatin. Gradually increase the speed to high and beat for 15 minutes. This adds tiny air bubbles throughout the structure and removes extra moisture. Longer beating will create a drier, chewier marshmallow. Pour the marshmallow batter into a dish sprinkled with cornstarch and allow it to dry overnight. Cornstarch will help to remove moisture and prevent the edges from sticking.

Experimenting with online recipes that add different amounts of water, sugar, corn syrup, egg whites, spices and coloring will change the texture and final outcome of your marshmallow treat.

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