A light, spongy, very sweet confection made of corn syrup, gelatin, sugar, and starch and dusted with powdered sugar
Marshmallows are one of the earliest confections known to humankind. Todayâ€™s marshmallows come in many forms, from solid (soft pillows dropped in cocoa or roasted on a stick) to semi-liquid (covered in chocolate or formed into chicks for Easter) to the creme-like (used as a base in other candies or as an ice cream topping). In essence, all marshmallows are aerated candies.
Originally, however, marshmallows were made from the root sap of the marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) plant. It is a genus of herb that is native to parts of Europe, north Africa, and Asia. Marsh mallows grow in marshes and other damp areas. The plant has a fleshy stem, leaves, and pale, five-petaled flowers. The first marshmallows were made by boiling pieces of the marsh mallow root pulp with sugar until it thickened. After it had thickened, the mixture was strained and cooled. As far back as 2000 B.C., Egyptians combined the marsh mallow root with honey. The candy was reserved for â€œgods and royalty.â€
The marsh mallow root also has medicinal qualities. Marsh mallow roots and leaves can work as a laxative. It also was used by early Arab doctors as a poultice to retard inflammations. Marsh mallow roots were also used in treating chest pains, to soothe coughs and sore throats, and as an ointment. Whether used as a candy or for medicinal purposes, the manufacturing process of marsh mallows was limited to a small, almost individual, scale. Access to marsh mallow confections was limited to the wealthy until the mid-nineteenth century. Common people only tasted marsh mallows when they took pills; doctors sometimes hid the medicine inside the candy to cover the pillâ€™s undesirable taste.