Marshmallows, although quite easy to make, introduce many confectionery skills to the food product manufacturer. No one recipe will satisfy everyone’s requirements and for that reason the author is encouraging the would-be marshmallow producer to experiment. However, it is important to remember that the basic principles of food processing still apply, ie that the product is safe to eat over a time period which satisfies the marketing, transporting, storage, retailing and eating characteristics of the product. This is referred to as the shelf-life.
What is a marshmallow?
A marshmallow is a light, fluffy sweet made by beating air into a sugar solution containing (a type of) gum (eg gelatine), color and flavor. This mixture is then poured into moulds and allowed to set. To explain some of the science behind the process: beating air into the gelatine solution produces a structure not unlike that of bread, although with smaller air bubbles. The gelatine will eventually harden and in so doing will trap the air that has been added to the mixture. The resulting product is spongy and slightly rubbery.
Although the reason for making marshmallows may be that they are not already available in your area, and therefore have a good market potential, it would be a good idea to try and identify an existing supplier, if one exists, and take a good look at the product. Can you match or improve the quality at a competitive price?
How to make marshmallows
Originally ‘marshmallows’ were used for medicinal purposes and contained the root of the marshmallow plant, sugar, gum and egg-white. Since those times the basic ingredients have remained unchanged with the exception that marshmallow root is no longer used.
The basic ingredients and approximate proportions are as follows:
- Sugar = 40-48%
- Glucose = 0-25%
- Water = 24-30%
- Gelatine = 2-3%
- Flavors minimum
- Colors minimum
Some recipes include the use of albumen (egg-white). However, perfectly good marshmallows can be made without egg-white and more importantly, marshmallows made without egg-white are more stable and less prone to spoilage and therefore, the risk of food poisoning from contaminated egg-whites.
Other ingredients sometimes used for marshmallows are cream of tartar and/or citric acid. Both these ingredients can assist the inversion of sugar which can improve the keeping quality of the product by minimizing the chance for the sugar to form crystals. Crystal formation will give the marshmallows an unsatisfactory texture. In addition, cream of tartar gives a mild acid taste to the product which some consumers prefer.
The use of these ingredients may allow the amount of glucose, added in its pure form, to be reduced because the inversion process increases the overall amount of glucose in the recipe. (*See end note). Glucose is a hygroscopic substance i.e. it attracts moisture. Therefore, it is important to use the minimum quantity of glucose necessary to prevent crystallization of the sucrose. This will minimize the tendency for the glucose to attract water thus increasing the storage life.
If glucose is difficult to obtain in your area, then an alternative is to use cream of tartar to produce the invert sugar instead of adding pure glucose. The sugar is dissolved in the water with the cream of tartar. The whole mixture is then boiled until 116°C is achieved and then used as per the marshmallow recipe. This method cannot guarantee the amount of glucose produced during the inversion. For this reason once an acceptable procedure has been found the conditions of processing should be adhered to.
It is up to the producer to carry out the necessary product development to ascertain the most popular and optimum mix of ingredients.
Marshmallows contain a high proportion of water and therefore there is a danger of spoilage. To minimize this, it is important to use the correct amount of water in the recipe and also ensure, as with all food processing operations, that the ingredients are in a good condition and that a very high level of cleanliness is maintained throughout the entire processing operation. Packaging is also a very important factor with regard to the shelf-life.
In summary, packaging acts as a barrier to dust and dirt and insect contamination. In addition, certain types of packaging such as plastics are a good barrier against water and water vapor. Keeping the product free from excess moisture will extend the shelf-life. Polythene is a good barrier for most products. However, as a barrier against water vapor (significant in countries with humid climates) polythene is inferior to polypropylene or cellophane. In the case of marshmallows produced under tropical conditions, polypropylene and cellophane are the recommended packaging materials.
Typical method for making marshmallows at small-scale
Most of the equipment used for making marshmallows at small-scale is normal domestic equipment likely to be found in most households. However, there are some items of equipment for which special purchases may have to be made:
- Electric whisk
- Confectionery thermometer
- Packing materials
- Essences and colors.
- Very large icing bag and nozzle
As previously indicated, marshmallows need to have air beaten into them. Although this can be done using a hand whisk it is time-consuming, hard work and the quality of the product is often low. Furthermore, referring back to the section on water content, improved beating results in a drier product because the water particles are better dispersed on the inner surfaces of the marshmallow structure. Therefore for all these reasons, an electric whisk is recommended.
In the manufacture of sweets the temperature used in processing is very important. Generally speaking, the higher the temperature the harder the final product. Table 1 gives an indication of the different temperatures used and the type of sweet made. A sugar thermometer is a useful piece of equipment because these temperatures are clearly marked. In the case of marshmallow production the temperature of the sugar solution should be raised to 116°C.
Table 1: Temperatures used for different types of sweets
||Feather, soft ball
||Soft toffees, caramels
source: practicalaction.org, margomilne.com