All About Marshmallows

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

Marshmallows have been a long-loved food for many, and today is still seeing evolution. But how did the marshmallow come about and where are these fluffy confections heading to? By Frank Van Riel, sales manager, Tanis Food Tec

Every couple of years the taste of consumers tends to change. Driving these kinds of changes are various reasons including worldwide trends, an increasing focus on health, and competitive price points in retail supermarkets.

For many years the traditional filled (chiffon) cake type products have been very popular in the Middle East and Asia, but the last few years have seen a significant change towards confectionery, and this is especially visible with marshmallow.

Food producers see this growing popularity and have started to produce the products themselves instead of buying and shipping the highly aerated product halfway around the globe. In other words, marshmallow is here to stay!

The History Of Marshmallow

The first evidence of marshmallow being made has been found in Egypt, where a type of marshmallow was produced by cooking sugar in combination with plant roots that gave the product stability. After this, the process was finished by chilling the syrup, whipping it and finally shaping it into ropes.

Between the 19th and 20th century, marshmallow production changed significantly. The plant root was traded in for gelatine, which gave the product a much more stable candy over time with better texture and sensory properties. In the mid-1940s, an ancestor of the modern marshmallow was created by American confectioner Alex Doumak, who invented the extrusion techniques to form endless ropes of candy in all sorts of shapes and sizes.

Marshmallow production has since further evolved, production capacities have increased, and the production process has been optimised. Many changes to the recipe and extensive experimentation finally bore the marshmallow as we know today. It now consists of sugar, fructose or glucose syrup, water and gelatine.

Marshmallow Production

It all comes down to reducing the water content of the sugar syrup. Sugar, water and glucose are therefore cooked in a fully automated vacuum cooker to the required specifications. Cooking is done under pressure to reduce cooking time and reach the desired moisture content.

Industry uses terminology such as ‘level of dries’ and ‘level of solids’ expressed in ‘degrees Brix’. When the syrup is cooked to the required solids, vacuum is applied to a cooker to reduce the temperature to 80 deg C within seconds. This is then dumped into a buffer tank, after which the whole process is fully continuous up to the extrusion of the candy.

In two separate mixing tanks, gelatine and water are mixed together until fully hydrated. The syrup is pumped towards the first of two scraped surface heat exchangers (SSHE). Just before entering, the gelatine mixture is dosed into the syrup.

To have full control, this process is typically controlled by flow meters and the amount of injected gelatine is calculated as a percentage of the main flow.

The first SSHE cools the marshmallow to 55 deg C. After this cooling process, the marshmallow enters a mixing head. The syrup and gelatine solution are aerated in the mixing head to the desired density. The quantity of air is measured by means of a mass flow meter and is dosed as a percentage of the main syrup and gelatine flow. The product outlet temperature will be around 55 deg C.

After the aerator, the aerated marshmallow passes through the second SSHE where it is further cooled from 55 deg C to 38 deg C. After this, the product is pumped towards a colour and flavour injection system via a booster pump. For the whole marshmallow production system, cold and warm water circuits are necessary. These form an integrated part of the equipment.

The main product stream is then divided into different streams, and colour and flavour is injected into every stream. From this point, the product is pumped to the different extruder manifolds positioned on the extrusion line, to produce the marshmallows everyone likes that can come in different colours, shapes and sizes.

Continuing Evolution Of Marshmallow

Marshmallows are continuously evolving to incorporate the latest trends of the confectionery industry. Once eaten only at campfires as S’mores (toasted marshmallows), in chocolate fondues or at parties, marshmallows are finding their way into wedding favours (gifts for wedding guests), ‘marsh-kebabs’, or ‘smore-bites’, which are sold in a box of segmented compartments much like one would see in a luxury chocolate box.

The gluten-free trend is also spurring food business owners to explore other ingredients to provide unique desserts for those who do cannot or do not want to consume gluten. Marshmallow cakes and other confectionery desserts are seeing an increasing appearance on the market.

Marshmallows are also seeing increasing popularity in the café scene. Due to a spreading café culture especially amongst millennials, hot chocolate and coffee are more popular than ever before. Marshmallows suit these perfectly, and what is more, create perfect ‘instagrammable’ visual appearances for the social-media-savvy millennial.

Marshmallows are used as toppers in coffee and hot chocolate, and can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and even cute characters like snowmen, reindeer, animals, and more. There are also ‘blossoming’ marshmallows that bloom once placed in a steamy hot drink, making for a unique drinking experience. Even alcohol like martinis, or “S’moretinis”, or Irish Cream is seeing integration of marshmallows for a better sensory experience.

With these trends driving innovation with marshmallows, it is likely that the love for these will only grow, and I think we can expect the fluffy confection to stay for a long time more to come.