The History of Marshmallows

Toasting marshmallows over a BBQ
Diane Macdonald/ Photographer's Choice/ Getty images

The marshmallow candy originated in ancient Egypt. In its beginning, it started out as a honey candy that was flavored and thickened with Marsh-Mallow plant sap.

Herbal Properties of the Marsh-Mallow Plant

The Marsh-Mallow plant was harvested from salt marshes and on banks near large bodies of water. According to the book Viable Herbal Solutions: 

"Nineteenth century doctors extracted juice from the marsh mallow plant's roots and cooked it with egg whites and sugar, then whipped the mixture into a foamy meringue that later hardened, creating a medicinal candy used to soothe children's sore throats. Eventually, advanced manufacturing processes and improved texturing agents eliminated the need for the gooey root juice altogether. Unfortunately, that eliminated the confection's healing properties as a cough suppressant, immune system booster and wound healer."

Making Marshmallow Candy

Until the mid-1800s, marshmallow candy was made using the sap of the Marsh-Mallow plant. Today, gelatin replaces the sap in the modern recipes. Today's marshmallows are a mixture of corn syrup or sugar, gelatin, gum arabic and flavoring.

The candy makers needed to find a new, faster way of making marshmallows. As a result, the "starch mogul" system was developed in the late 1800s. Rather than making marshmallows by hand, the new system let candy makers create marshmallows in molds made of modified cornstarch, similar to how jelly beans, gummies, and candy corn are made today. At about the same time, mallow root was replaced by gelatin, allowing marshmallows to stay in their "stable" form.

In 1948, Alex Doumak, a marshmallow manufacturer, began experimenting with different methods of marshmallow making. Doumak was looking for ways to speed up production and discovered the "extrusion process," which revolutionized marshmallow production. Now, marshmallows can be made by piping the fluffy mixture through long tubes and cutting its tubular shape into equal pieces.

The Peeps Marshmellow Candies

In 1953, the Just Born candy company bought the Rodda Candy Company. Rodda produced a handmade candy marshmallow chick and Bob Born of Just Born loved the way the marshmallow chick looked. A year later in 1954, Bob Born had a machine made that would mass-produce marshmallow chicks, which he trademarked Peeps.

Just Born soon became the largest marshmallow candy manufacturer in the world. In the 1960s, Just Born started manufacturing seasonally-shaped Marshmallow Peeps. In the early 1980s, Just Born released the Marshmallow Peeps Bunny.

Until 1995, Marshmallow Peeps were only produced in pink, white and yellow colors. In 1995, lavender colored Peeps were introduced. And in 1998, blue Peeps were introduced for Easter.

In 1999, vanilla flavored Peeps were produced and a year later, a strawberry flavor was added. In 2002, a chocolate Peep was introduced.

Today, Just Born produces more than one billion individual Peeps per year. In a year, more than 700 million Marshmallow Peeps and Bunnies are consumed by men, women, and children throughout the United States. Strange things people like to do with Marshmallow Peeps include eating them stale, microwaving, freezing and roasting them as well as use them as a pizza topping. Marshmallow Peeps and Bunnies come in five colors.

Marshmallows have also become a versatile ingredient in other confections. For instance, they've been put to use as a marshmallow fudge named for Mamie Eisenhower, which is alternatively called Never-Fail Fudge. They're also used in a sandwich fit for a king called the Fluffernutter.

According to the book The History of Fluff: "In the early 1900s, Archibald Query of Somerville made the first Fluff in his kitchen and sold it door to door. However, Query was not successful due to sugar shortages at the time. He sold the secret Fluff formula to two enterprising confectioners, H. Allen Durkee and Fred L. Mower, for $500. These two renamed their product "Toot Sweet Marshmallow Fluff" and in 1920 made their first sale of three gallons of Fluff to a vacation lodge in New Hampshire. The price was a dollar a gallon."

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Your Citation
Bellis, Mary. "The History of Marshmallows." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 26). The History of Marshmallows. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The History of Marshmallows." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).