Is it a typo? No. It’s a plant.
The scientific name is althaea officinalis. It grows wild in Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa, along river banks, salt marshes, and swamps. Althaea Officinalis likes damp. The six-foot tall flowering plant was used over two thousand years ago by ancient Egyptians, Arabs, Greeks, and Romans.
Technically, it’s the marsh variety of the mallow family. Get it? Marsh-mallow?
The ancient Greeks drained the marsh-mallow sap and used it as medicine to heal wounds and soothe sore throats, toothaches, and bee stings. Arab physicians ground up the leaves to use as an anti-inflammatory. It was also taken to heal gastric ulcers, coughs, and as a natural diuretic.
According to Lauren Cabral in BACKTHEN, “The ancient Egyptians were the first to turn the marsh-mallow plant into a sweet treat . . . reserved for nobility and the gods.” They drained the sap, mixed it with nuts and honey, and served it.
Centuries later the marsh-mallow evolved.
French doctors in the mid-1800s combined the sap with egg whites and sugar to make a sweet candy/lozenge that eased sore throats and coughs.
Not to be outdone, French candy-makers tweaked the recipe into the yummy sweet we know today. Since the plant was not always available, they substituted the marsh-mallow sap with a mixture of gelatin, corn syrup, starch, sugar, and water. Confectioners whipped everything together and sold it as a bar or individual sweet. It was so popular they developed the “starch mogul system” of using cornstarch molds to speed up production.
According to Cabral, “even though the ingredients changed, and the treats no longer contained sap from the marshmallow plant, the name stuck.”
Marshmallows were brought to the U.S. in the early 1900s. They were an instant hit. However, production was slow, labor-intensive, and limited.
Until Alex Doumak.
Alex was the son of the founder of Doumak, Inc. – the company known for Campfire Marshmallows. In 1948 Alex invented an extrusion process where the marshmallow mixture was pressed through tubes, cut into equal pieces, cooled, and packaged. They were sold in tins or as penny candy and used in a variety of recipes.
Marshmallow USA described it as a “new process [that] allowed enough marshmallows to be produced [to] become an everyday sweet treat and staple for favorite family recipes.”
The kings finally had to share with the kids.
Today, the National Confectioners Association estimates that 90 million pounds of marshmallows are sold every year just in America. They’re also available around the world, from Japan’s candy animal marshmallows to Israel’s kosher delights like raspberry twists, puffs, and toasted coconut.
In the 1970s, Kraft claimed that A marshmallow a day keeps your freckles on straight.
That’s a lot of Rice Krispies Treats and straight freckles.
These days marshmallows come in different colors, flavors, and sizes. There are records galore like the World’s Largest Marshmallow, a 1,429-pound giant made in Mexico by Mazapán de la Rosa. It took 100 people and 53 hours to produce. You can build your own marshmallow catapult, paper tube marshmallow launcher, or sing along with preschoolers in 10 Little Marshmallows.
We all love s’mores – the delicious combo of roasted marshmallow, chocolate, and graham crackers. The recipe came from the Girl Scouts in 1927. The name probably stands for “gimme some more.” The largest s’more weighed 1,600 pounds and included 20,000 toasted marshmallows and 7,000 chocolate bars.
Marshmallows mean smiles. You find them in cookies, ice cream, fudge, and cold cereals. Try them DIY (Do It Yourself), from a supermarket bag, frozen, or even in a jar. Recipes like marshmallow sweet potato pie, fruit salad ambrosia, marshmallow pops, and Mississippi Mud Brownies are delicious.
What is a cup of hot chocolate without marshmallows?
According to Abie Greenbaum in Dandelion, “luxury gourmet marshmallows are now a thing.”
That includes creations like cookies and cream, birthday party, chocolate caramel, rose . . . there’s no end to what’s next. Who can resist Marshmallow fluff or marshmallow crème – especially over ice cream or on a fluffernutter sandwich?
Even the marshmallow peeps heartily agree.