The history of the marshmallow quite interesting. Did you know this confection (albeit in a very different form) dates back to Ancient times? The very first “marsh mallows” were plants [Althaea officinalis] indigenous to Europe and Asia. The flowers were favored by the Ancient Greeks and Romans because they were considered to be healthful. Platina in his De Honesta Voluptuate et Valetudine [On Right Pleasure and Good Health] (an Italian cookery text published in the late 15th Century) devotes Book IV, Section 8 to “On the Seasoning of Mallow,” in which he outlines the botanical history and healing properties of this particular plant. Marshmallows, progenitor of the fluffy white confection we eat today [which, by the way contains NO marsh mallow], originated in France sometime during the middle of the nineteenth century. Marshmallow roasts commenced in the late 19th century.
“Marshmallows or Guimauves are a form of sweetmeat for which the confectioner is indebted to the pharmacist. The original Pate de Guimauve was a pectoral remedy. It was made, as the name implies, from a decoction of marshmallow root, with gum to bind the ingredients together, beaten egg white to give lightness and to act as a drying agent, while sugar was incorporated to make the whole palatable. Marshmallow has come down to us basically unchanged except that it no longer contains extract of marshmallow. The marjority of marshmallows are made with egg albumen and gelatin, some are made with all of one and none of the other…”
—Skuse’s Complete Confectioner, 13th edition [W.J. Bush & Company:London] 1957 (p. 145)
“Marshmallows are one of the earliest confections know to humankind. Today’s marshmallows come in many forms, from solid…to semi-liquid—to the creme-like or as an ice cream topping. Originally…marshmallows were made from the rood sap of the marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) plant. It is a genus of herb that is native to parts of Europe, north Africa, and Asia. Marsh mallows grow in marshes and other damp areas…The first marshmallows were made by boiling pieces of the marsh mallow root pulp with sugar until it thickened. After is had thickened, the mixture was strained and cooled. As far back as 2000BC, Egyptians combined the marsh mallow root with honey. The candy was reserved for gods and royalty.
Modern marshmallow confections were first made in France around 1850. This first method of manufacture was expensive and slow because it involved the casting and molding of each marshmallow. French candy makers used the mallow root sap as a binding agent for the egg whites, corn syrup, and water. The fluffy mixture was heated and poured into the corn starch in small molds, forming the marshmallows. At this time, marshmallows were still not mass manufactured. Instead, they were made by confectioners in small stores or candy companies.
By 1900, marshmallows were available for mass consumption, and they were sold in tins as penny candy. Mass production of marshmallows became possible with the invention of the starch mogul system of manufacture in the late 19th century…
In 1955, there were nearly 35 manufacturers of marshmallows in the United States. About this time, Alex Doumak, of Doumak, Inc., patented a new manufacturing method called the extrusion process. This invention changed the history of marshmallow production and is still used today. It now only takes 60 minutes to produce a marshmallow. Today, there are only three manufacturers of marshmallows in the United States, Favorite Brands International (Kraft marshmallows), Doumak, Inc. and Kidded & Company.”
A sidebar to the information contained in this books (written by Donna R. Bearden) adds: “In the early 20th century, marshmallows were considered a child’s confection, dispensed as penny candy at general stores along with licorice whips and peppermint drops. But through a fortuitous connection with other popular foods and some clever marketing, marshmallows would soon become a staple ingredient at pot-luck dinners, family get-togethers, and even elegant parties….A perusal through twentieth-century cookbooks and recipe booklets reveals that marshmallows usually served as an ingredient in cakes, candies, and desserts….Perhaps the greatest distinction for marshmallows occurred as a result of their advantageous connection with gelatin salads and desserts, which rose in popularity during the 1920s and 1930s. Recipe booklets for Jell-O and Knox Gelatin from that time include recipes that called for marshmallows on almost every page–recipes like banana fluff, lime mallow sponge, cocoa tutti frutti, and paradise pudding.”
—How Products are Made Volume 3, Krapp & Longe, editors[Gale:Detroit] 1994 (pages 276-277).
Early 20th century commercial marshmallow packaging & pricing. Campfire Marshmallow package, 1930.
Marsh mallows (the plant)
“Mallow, a common wild plant of Europe, Mallow was a potherb in Greece and Rome, more useful as such to the poor than to the rich, and particularly useful because it alleviated hunger. An aside by Lucian suggests that it was used, like lettuce nowadays, as a garnish on trays of food at banquets. It also had medicinal uses…Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis), Greek althaia, Latin hibiscus, a plant resembling mallow, was used to treat wounds, and was an ingredient in medicinal wine taken for coughs.”
—Food in the Ancient World From A-Z, Andrew Dalby [Routledge:London] 2003 (p. 206)
“Marshmallow. The name of both a plant an confection. The former…[is] a common plant of Europe and Asia, is related to the common mallow but looks more like the hollyhock. Although its leaves are edible, the chief use of the plant lies in its roots, which yield a mucilaginous substance which is the traditional basis for the sweet confections known as marshmallow but has now been almost entirely replaced by gum arabic.”
—Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davdison [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 481)
More on the medicinal properties of marshmallows, A Modern Herbal, Mrs. M. Grieve .
Marshmallow recipe evolution
[Ancient & Medieval Rome]
Ancient marshmallows were classed as medicine, not candy. Instructions for preparing the plant for human consumption most likely first appeared in medical texts and herbals. Platina’s “On the Seasoning of Mallow” (On Right Pleasure, Book IV, section 8 ) extols the healing qualities of mallow but does not provide a recipe for making it. If you want to make modern marshmallows using mallow plants check these recipes.
Pastes formed with gum Complete Confectioner, Eleanor Parkinson (uses gum arabic are real marsh mallow plant roots).
“Marshmallow.This is a wholesome plant, and very palatable when boiled, and afterwards fried with onions and butter. In seasons of scarcity, the inhabitants of some of the eastern countries often have recourse to it as a principle article of food.”
“Marshmallow water. A concoction of marshmallow is effacacious in the cure of severe coughs, catarrhs, &c. Cut the roots into thin slices, and pour over them boiling water (about a pint to an ounce of the root), cleansing and peeling off the outer skin before infusion. The water may be flavoured with the squeezed juice and grated rind of an orange, and sweetened with honey or brown sugar-candy. Marshmallow leaves are eaten dressed like lettuce, as a salad. Time, two hours to infuse.”
—Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery with Numerous Illustrations [Cassell, Petter, Galpin:London] (p. 410)
Marshmallows.–Cover an ounce of carefully picked gum arabic with 4 tablespoonfuls of water, and let stand for an hour. Heat the gum in a double boiler until it is dissolved. Strain through cheese cloth and while in about 3 1/2 ounces of Confectioners’ XXX sugar. Place on a moderate fire and beat for 3/4 of an hour, or until it comes to a stiff froth. Remove from the fire, beat 2 or 3 minutes while cooling and stir in 1/2 teaspoonful vanilla. Dust a tin pan with cornstarch, pour in the marshmallow, dust cornstarch over the top and set aside to cool. When cold cut into squares with a knife dipped in cornstarch, roll the squares in the starch and pack away in tin or other tight boxes.”
—Household Discoveries: An Encyclopedia of Practical Recipes and Processes, Sidney Morse [Success Company:New York] (p. 538)
1 tablespoon granulated gelatine
1 cup boiling water
1 cup sugar
whites 3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Dissolve gelatine in boiling water, add sugar, and a soon as dissolved set bowl containing mixture in pan of ice water; then add whites of eggs and vanilla and beat until mixture thickens. Turn into a shallow pan, first dipped in cold water, and let stand until thoroughly chilled. Remove from pan and cut in pieces the size and shape of marshmallows; then roll in macaroons with have been dried and rolled. Serve with sugar and cream.”
—Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, Fannie Merritt Farmer [Little Brown:Boston] (p. 523)
[NOTE: This book also has recipes for marshmallow cake with marshmallow cream (icing), marshmallow chocolate cake, marshmallow frosting and marshmallow gingerbread. Marshmallow hot chocolate recipe instructs the cook to place inexpensive marshmallows– “they melt more quickly”–in the bottom of a cup and pour the hot chocolate over them!.]
As a rule it is better and less costly to purchase marshmallows than to try to make them. Here, however, is a recipe should you desire to make them: Soak three ounces of gum arabic in one cupful of water for two hours, cook in a double boiler until dissolved. Strain, return to saucepan, and add one cupful of powdered sugar; stir until stiff and white. Add one teaspoonful of vanilla, beat it in and pour the mixture into pans which have been rubbed over with cornstarch. Cut in squares when cold and roll in cornstarch and sugar, in the proportions of three parts cornstarch to one of sugar.”
—Cooking Menus Service, Ida Baily Allen [Doubleday:Garden City] (p. 796)
[NOTE: This book has instructions for making a marshmallow doll (p. 799), and recipes for marshmallow cream (cake filling), marshmallow cream sauce, marshmallow fondant icing, marshmallow frosting, marshmallow fruit sauce, marshmallow fudge, marshmallow icing (uncooked), marshmallow layer cake, marshmallow lemon cake and marshmallow pumpkin pie.]
Recipes using the marsh mallow plant
[CAUTION: these recipes were submitted by a reader, they have no dates. They will produce “modern” marshmallows, not ancient cures. Gum arabic is not an ancient ingredient.]
Recipe for Marshmallow sweets
Make sure the mallow roots aren’t moldy or too woody.
Marshmallow gives off almost twice its own weight of mucilaginous gel when placed in water.
4 tablespoons marshmallow roots
28 tablespoons refined sugar
20 tablespoons gum arabic
Water of orange flowers (for aroma or instead of plain water)
2 cups water
1-2 egg whites, well beaten
Make a tea of marshmallow roots by simmering in a pint of water for twenty to thirty minutes. Add additional water if it simmers down. Strain out the roots. Heat the gum and marshmallow decoction (water) in a double boiler until they are dissolved together. Strain with pressure. Stir in the sugar as quickly as possible. When dissolved, add the well beaten egg whites, stirring constantly, but take off the fire and continue to stir. Lay out on a flat surface. Let cool, and cut into smaller pieces.
(Recipe from Herbal Medicine by Diane Dincin Buchman, Ph.D.)Syrup of Marshmallows, The Complete Confectioner, Eleanor Parkinson [Lippincott:Philadelphia] 1864 (p. 23)
Pate de Guimauve
(Pate de guimauve was the French confection made from the roots.)
Take of decoction of:
marshmallow roots 4 ounces;
water 1 gallon.
Boil down to 4 pints and strain; then add
gum arabic 1/2 a pound;
refined sugar 2 pounds.
Evaporate to an extract; then take from the fire, stir it quickly with:
the whites of 12 eggs previously beaten to a froth;
then add, while stirring.
The general concensus of the food history sources is that Marshmallow Fluff was the first marsmallow creme to be manufactured and marketed on a large scale to the American public. “Is Fluff the same as Marshmallow Creme? Generically, they are the same, but Fluff is made by a costly, batch-whipping process. Creme is whipped in a continuous mixing process. The differing results are quite evident.” (Durkee & Mower).
Prior to that marshmallow creme-type products were made by cooks at home. Many late 19th century marshmallow paste recipes produced solid foods. The first spreadable marshmallow creme recipes we find in American used store-bought marshmallows. This substance was used for cake filling.
The earliest mention we find of marshmallow creme in an American cookbook is from Fannie Farmer’s Boston School Cook Book, 1896:
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Whites 5 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla.
Follow recipe for mixing butter cakes. Bake in shallow pans, and put Marshmallow Cream between the layers and on the top.” (p. 427)
Ms. Farmer does not give a recipe for Marshmallow Cream in this book (perhaps an oversight?). She does give a recipe for Marshmallow Paste in the cake filling section:
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons hot water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Put sugar and milk in a saucepan, heat slowly to boiling point without stirring, and boil six minutes. Break marshmallows in pieces and melt in double boiler, add hot water and cook until mixture is smooth, then add hot syrup gradually, stirring constantly. Beat until cool enough to spread, then add vanilla. This may be used for both filling and frosting.” (p. 435)
Sarah Tyson Rorer lists this recipe in 1902:
“Marshmallow filling. Put a half pound of marshmallows and a quarter cupful of water in a double boiler over the fire. Stir until melted. Take from the fire and our while hot into the well beaten whites of two eggs. Add a teaspoonful of vanilla.”
—Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book (p. 627)
Old newspapers suggest marshmallow roasts (consumers heating purchased marshmallows over open fire for fun) began in the late 19th century.
“‘Marshmallow roasts’ are the newest thing in summer resort diversions. The simplicity of this form of amusement is particularly charming. One buys two or three pounds of marshmallows, invites half a dozen friends, and that is all the preparation required. However a small amount of kindling-wood must be taken along with which to build a small fire in an unfrequented spot on the beach, away from crowds unfamiliar with so refined a species of entertainment. When the fire is blazing merrily, or better still, when it has died down to red embers, each member of the party takes a sharpened stick and affixes upon the end of it a marshmallow. Simultaneously all those engaged hold their marshmallows over the embers, as close as possible to avoid burning and roast dexterously, so as to brown the marshmallows nicely on all sides. This requires some skill, because marshmallows are highly inflammable and will take fire if not very prudently handled. The…marshmallows…swell up to considerable more their normal size…They are a sort sublimated combination of candy and cake, all in one bite, though the proper fashion is to nibble the roasted marshmallow off the end of the stick. One set consumed, each person pokes the point of his wooden skewer through another marshmallow and the performance is repeated until everybody’s appetite is satisfied Marshmallow roasts are an excellent medium for flirtation…appropriately exhibited by nibbling the marshmallows of each other’s sticks. Accordingly the idea is sure to grow in favor.”
I started some Marshmallow (Marsh Mallow) plants from seed about six weeks ago, and was finally able to transplant them into the yard today. They prefer a sunny, but cool and moist place to grow… hopefully the edge of the woods will work well enough for them.
Marshmallow has many medicinal uses, although that’s another post for another time! But I stumbled across this recipe from like the 19th century and was excited to find it, and wanted to share. ‘Cause I love stuff like this.
Hopefully my plants will thrive where they are, and I’ll get to experiment with them one day!
Original Marshmallows From Marshmallow Root
- 4 tablespoons marshmallow roots
- 28 tablespoons refined sugar
- 20 tablespoons gum tragacanth (or gum arabic- a natural product which can be bought online)
- 2 cups water (Water of orange flowers for aroma or instead of plain water)
- 1 -2 egg white, well beaten
- Make sure the mallow roots aren’t moldy or too woody. Marshmallow gives off almost twice its own weight of mucilaginous gel when placed in water.
- Make a tea of marshmallow roots by simmering in a pint of water for twenty to thirty minutes. Add additional water if it simmers down. Strain out the roots.
- Heat the gum and marshmallow decoction (water) in a double boiler until they are dissolved together. Strain with pressure.
- Stir in the sugar as quickly as possible. When dissolved, add the well beaten egg whites, stirring constantly, but take off the fire and continue to stir. Lay out on a flat surface. Let cool, and cut into smaller pieces.
There’s also this one which is similar…
2 egg whites
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup raw cane sugar
1 tbsp powdered Marshmallow (root)
Whip egg whites until almost stiff. Add vanilla and whip until stiff. Then whip in the sugar, 1 tsp at the time. Finally, add Marshmallow and whip again. Place by teaspoonful on cookie sheet. Bake in 325 oven for 1 hour.
I got my Marshmallow seeds at Horizon Herbs. They also sell the plants there.