What Are Marshmallows Made Of, Anyways?

If you've ever wondered why marshmallows are so fluffy, read on.

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September 13, 2021
White fluffy marshmallows in a bowl on rustic wooden board over white wooden surface, side view. Close-up.

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White fluffy marshmallows in a bowl on rustic wooden board over white wooden surface, side view. Close-up.

Photo by: Liudmyla Chuhunova/Getty Images

Liudmyla Chuhunova/Getty Images

By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen

Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.

If you grew up in the U.S., you’ve probably had a s’more or two and you’ve experienced the perfectly toasted marshmallow. If you’ve ever wondered how that marshmallow was made, read on.

Homemade Sweet Square Marshmallows Ready to Eat

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Homemade Sweet Square Marshmallows Ready to Eat

Photo by: bhofack2/Getty Images

bhofack2/Getty Images

What Are Marshmallows Made Of?

Marshmallows are made of sugar, corn syrup (sugar), water and gelatin. They can have other things added for flavor and color, but that’s it. The magic is how the ingredients are combined. Marshmallows are a scaffolding of sugar and gelatin that stays rigid enough to become a network of stable air bubbles. It’s like they’re merengue, where the gelatin takes the place of the egg whites, creating a stable structure that doesn't collapse.

How Are Marshmallows Made?

Marshmallows are made in factories using the same method you use at home: a sugar-gelatin scaffolding is created to hold air in place, then air is whipped in. The marshmallow mixture is then extruded through pressurized pipes into long fluffy ropes, which are cut crosswise into individual marshmallows.

Women's hands prepare delicious dessert from strawberry marshmallows

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Women's hands prepare delicious dessert from strawberry marshmallows

Photo by: Yury Sevryuk/Getty Images

Yury Sevryuk/Getty Images

Are Marshmallows Vegetarian or Vegan?

The standard marshmallows you buy at the store are neither vegetarian nor vegan. That's because gelatin is derived from animal protein. There are vegetarian and vegan marshmallow options that use agar, a seaweed-based gelatin that it is completely vegan, and therefore also vegetarian. Their flavor is similar to that of mass-produced marshmallows, but they’re not quite as fluffy.

What Is Gelatin Made From?

Gelatin is the food word for collagen. Collagen is the protein in mammals and fish that makes up cartilage, skin, tendons and bones. When you roast a chicken and juices collet in the pan and then firm up in the fridge? That’s the natural collagen/gelatin that you extracted from the chicken as it cooked. Gelatin is made from a similar process on a grander scale with many more steps.

Big mixing Whisk full of white cream

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Big mixing Whisk full of white cream

Photo by: RG-Photography/Getty Images

RG-Photography/Getty Images

How To Make Marshmallows

Here, the basic recipe for marshmallows. You can add fruit powders or extracts to the mix and color them with food coloring. Peppermint is a nice add for holiday mugs of cocoa.

  1. Combine 3/4 cup cold water and two 1/4-ounce packets powdered gelatin in a small bowl.
  2. Mix 1/2 cup each confectioners' sugar and cornstarch in a separate bowl.
  3. Sprinkle half of the cornstarch mixture in an 8-inch square pan.
  4. Cook 1/2 cup corn syrup, 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar, 1/2 cup water and a pinch of salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat until 235 to 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer, 6 to 8 minutes.
  5. Combine the syrup and gelatin mixture in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer on medium high until thick and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and whip 1 minute longer.
  6. Scrape into the pan and spread evenly with a buttered spatula. Sprinkle with the remaining cornstarch mixture.
  7. Let dry overnight, then slice into squares.

How To Melt Marshmallows

There are two ways to melt marshmallows: in the microwave or on the stove in a pot (we recommend nonstick).

For microwave, add two tablespoons water to a large bowl, then add the marshmallows. Microwave on full power for 30 seconds, then stir. Keep microwaving and stirring in 30 second intervals until melted. If you’re making rice crispy treats, you put the butter in the bowl and skip the water. Be sure to use a big bowl; they really puff up when they start melting.

For stovetop, put the marshmallows and the water in a large saucepot and stir while they melt. Just like in the microwave, you can skip the water if you’re using butter.

Marshmallow Recipes

Here, homemade chocolate cake for cookies, and the for the filling: just a marshmallow, nothing else needed.

Food   Network   Kitchen’s   Giant   Chocolate-Coated   Marshmallow   Cookie.

Food Network Kitchen’s Giant Chocolate-Coated Marshmallow Cookie.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

Making something really giant or really small makes it really awesome.

Food Network Kitchen’s Extra Marshmallow Crispy Rice Treat.

Food Network Kitchen’s Extra Marshmallow Crispy Rice Treat.

Photo by: Matt Armendariz

Matt Armendariz

These marshmallow treats are so big they really are EXTRA.

FNK Development;
Thanksgiving Cupcakes;
Sweet Potato Mini

FNK Development;Thanksgiving Cupcakes;Sweet Potato Mini,FNK Development; Thanksgiving Cupcakes; Sweet Potato Mini

Photo by: Armando Rafael; Armando Rafael ©2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Armando Rafael; Armando Rafael, 2015, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

We won’t tell anyone if you justify serving these as a snack by saying they’re a vegetable.

Classic Coco With a Lump of Vanilla Cream on Top in a Glass Mug

FNM-Classic Coco

Classic Coco With a Lump of Vanilla Cream on Top in a Glass Mug

Photo by: Capture One PRO ©Hearst Communications Inc., 2009 Food Stylist: Brett Kurzweil Marko Metzinger/Studio D

Capture One PRO, Hearst Communications Inc., 2009 Food Stylist: Brett Kurzweil Marko Metzinger/Studio D

Homemade Marshmallows are way easier to make than you think. Try it.

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