Welcome to Super Food Nerds, a column written in alternating installments by Rupa (food and beverage editor, culinary staff) and Jonathan (research librarian, same place). Each installment will be dedicated to a particular topic — how to DIY something you don’t normally DIY, how to perfect a dish usually taken for granted, plus best techniques, underlying chemistries and a handful of inexplicable preferences. Basically, if they can overthink it, they’re on it.
Confession time: I have a culinary degree and have worked at Food Network for almost a decade, and I have never given marshmallows a second thought. Sure, my favorite ice cream flavor is Rocky Road (mini marshmallows? Yes.). And I like s’mores as much as the next former Girl Scout, but I’ve never stopped to think about how marshmallows come into being.
It turns out, the process is shockingly easy. The marshmallow’s trademark springiness comes from egg whites that are beaten till airy and stiff, then whipped together with hot sugar syrup until the mixture is thick and ribbon-y (bakers call this Swiss meringue). It’s all then bound with a stabilizer, like gelatin. When they’re homemade, marshmallows come out creamier and richer than store-bought ones, with a more delicate sweetness. (Plus, they are even more amazing in s’mores.)
If you search online, there’s no shortage of recipes and ways to make marshmallows; most call for light corn syrup or golden syrup (if you’re British) because it’s a little easier to work with than just sugar alone, but having tried it both ways, I found the difference in difficulty to be marginal and the flavor of the all-sugar treats to be brighter.