Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Marshmellow, anyone?



    At a recent campout we dined with a group of people at a picnic shelter in the Mount Rogers Recreation Area (VA). I had brought along a bag of marshmellows and thought the kids there would "jump" at the chance to bite into one, and be raring to go into the woods to get sticks to put them on for roasting. I actually had all the ingredients for a s'more (which stands for "some more" -- you know, marshmellow that is melted and put between a piece of Hershey's chocolate and graham crackers), but no one bit, so to speak.
     Maybe their parents were total, extreme vegans. It's an interesting thing about marshmellows. You probably think, since they are white, that they are totally made from white sugar. Well, not quite. There is also some corn syrup thrown in and gelatin with water, whipped up and made into the cylindrical shapes you see in bags sold in the supermarket. And the gelatin can come from pigs! Yes, gelatin is processed protein from animals to help make things fibrous and strong. And you thought it was totally vegan -- surprise!
    Some people may think that if it is from an animal it must be from horse hooves -- no, those are used in glue, not gelatin, not marshmellows. 
     Many decades and centuries ago, Europeans used a specific plant, Althaea offincinalis, the marsh mallow plant. It is said parts of the plant could be used for a cough or sore throat, but then some people discovered that mixing ingredients, the plant's sweet sap, with  egg whites and sugar, could make a white sugary treat. In 1948 Frenchman Alex Doumak came up with a process using gelatin and creating long tubes of the stuff, then cut into the shapes we see today. According to "Candy USA," we spend $125 million a year on marshmellows. And fifty percent of them are roasted over an open fire in the summer.
    Does this fact make me less likely to eat marshmellows? Actually, the sugar content melting on my teeth does, not the gelatin background. So I took my bag of marshmellows home and turned on my electric burner, with a fork through my white dessert, for a really fast, sugar high!

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