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The Long, Sweet History of Marshmallows

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Springy, sweet, and puffed full of air, marshmallows as we know them are a pretty unnatural (albeit delicious) treat. It turns out, though, that the campfire-friendly confections originated thousands of years ago with the most basic of ingredients.

Start with the fact that the marshmallow is actually a plant. Found mostly in Europe and western Asia, Althaea officinalis grows as high as six feet tall and sprouts light pink flowers. A member of the mallow family, it grows mainly in wet or marshy areas—and thus, "marsh" meets "mallow."

Beginning around 9th century BCE, the Greeks used marshmallows to heal wounds and soothe sore throats. A balm made from the plant’s sap was often applied to toothaches and bee stings. The plant’s medicinal uses grew more varied in the centuries that followed: Arab physicians made a poultice from ground-up marshmallow leaves and used it as an anti-inflammatory. The Romans found that marshmallows worked well as a laxative, while numerous other civilizations found it had the opposite effect on one’s libido. By the Middle Ages, marshmallows served as a treatment for everything from upset stomachs to chest colds and insomnia.

Althaea officinalisMelanie Shaw via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The Ancient Egyptians were the first ones to make a sweet treat from the plant, when they combined marshmallow sap with nuts and honey. The dish bore no resemblance to today’s marshmallows, and was reserved for the nobility. The gods were supposedly big fans, as well.

For centuries afterwards, the plant served as a food source only in times of famine. In contrast to the marshmallow candy, the marshmallow plant is tough and very bitter. In 19th century France, confectioners married the plant’s medicinal side with the indulgent qualities revealed by the Egyptians. Pâté de guimauve was a spongy-soft dessert made from whipping dried marshmallow roots with sugar, water, and egg whites. Sold as a healthful treat in lozenge and bar form, the guimauve, as it was known, quickly became a hit. There was just one problem: Drying and preparing the marshmallow stretched production to a day or two. To cut down the time, confectioners substituted gelatin for the plant extract.

With production streamlined, marshmallows made their way to the U.S. in the late 1800s. Soon after arriving, the recipe was tweaked to make marshmallow crème (which, in keeping with the marshmallow's health food origins, was once advertised as a wrinkle cream). In 1927, the Girl Scouts Handbook came out with a recipe for "Some More." It instructed readers to "toast two marshmallows over the coals to a crisp gooey state and then put them inside a graham cracker and chocolate bar sandwich." The name was soon shortened, and s'mores have been an American campfire tradition ever since.

The next leap for marshmallows came in the 1950s, when manufacturer Alex Doumak developed a process called extrusion that forced marshmallow mixture through metal tubes, shaping it into long ropes that were then cut to uniform size. The process gave marshmallows their cylindrical shape and it pumped even more air into them, giving them the soft-but-firm quality that we associate with the treat today. Kraft’s "Jet Puffed" tagline rebranded this process, which subjects the marshmallow mixture to gas blasts at 200 pounds per square inch.

Thanks to the wonders of industrial processing, Americans today consume more than 90 million pounds of marshmallows every year. Companies now make all-natural marshmallows using vegan gelatin and alternative sweeteners. You can also make your own marshmallows with some corn syrup, granulated sugar, gelatin, and a few other ingredients.

If you’ve got time and the right equipment, you can even make marshmallows the really old-fashioned way, using marshmallow root. Step one: "Make sure the marshmallow roots aren't moldy or too woody." Good luck with that!

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Bibo Barmaid
Bibo Barmaid Is Like a Keurig for Cocktails—and You Can Buy It Now
Bibo Barmaid
Bibo Barmaid

To make great-tasting cocktails at home, you could take a bartending class, or you could just buy a fancy gadget that does all the work for you. Imbibers interested in the hands-off approach should check out Bibo Barmaid, a cocktail maker that works like a Keurig machine for booze.

According to Supercall, all you need to turn the Bibo Barmaid system into your personal mixologist is a pouch of liquor and a pouch of cocktail flavoring. Bibo's liquor options include vodka, whiskey, rum, and agave spirit (think tequila), which can be paired with flavors like cucumber melon, rum punch, appletini, margarita, tangerine paloma, and mai tai.

After choosing your liquor and flavor packets, insert them into the machine, press the button, and watch as it dilutes the mixture and pours a perfect single portion of your favorite drink into your glass—no muddlers or bar spoons required.

Making cocktails at home usually means investing in a lot of equipment and ingredients, which isn't always worth it if you're preparing a drink for just yourself or you and a friend. With Bibo, whipping up a cocktail isn't much harder than pouring yourself a glass of wine.

Bibo Barmaid is now available on Amazon for $240, and cocktail mixes are available on Bibo's website starting at $35 for 18 pouches. The company is working on rolling out its liquor pouches in liquor stores and other alcohol retailers across the U.S.

[h/t Supercall]

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An Eco-Friendly Startup Is Converting Banana Peels Into Fabric for Clothes
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A new startup has found a unique way to tackle pollution while simultaneously supporting sustainable fashion. Circular Systems, a “clean-tech new materials company,” is transforming banana byproducts, pineapple leaves, sugarcane bark, and flax and hemp stalk into natural fabrics, according to Fast Company.

These five crops alone meet more than twice the global demand for fibers, and the conversion process provides farmers with an additional revenue stream, according to the company’s website. Fashion brands like H&M and Levi’s are already in talks with Circular Systems to incorporate some of these sustainable fibers into their clothes.

Additionally, Circular Systems recycles used clothing to make new fibers, and another technology called Orbital spins those textile scraps and crop byproducts together to create a durable type of yarn.

People eat about 100 billion bananas per year globally, resulting in 270 million tons of discarded peels. (Americans alone consume 3.2 billion pounds of bananas annually.) Although peels are biodegradable, they emit methane—a greenhouse gas—during decomposition. Crop burning, on the other hand, is even worse because it causes significant air pollution.

As Fast Company points out, using leaves and bark to create clothing may seem pretty groundbreaking, but 97 percent of the fibers used in clothes in 1960 were natural. Today, that figure is only 35 percent.

However, Circular Systems has joined a growing number of fashion brands and textile companies that are seeking out sustainable alternatives. Gucci has started incorporating a biodegradable material into some of its sunglasses, Bolt Threads invented a material made from mushroom filaments, and pineapple “leather” has been around for a couple of years now.

[h/t Fast Company]

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