Making marshmallow from marshmallow root

Making marshmallows from scratch is a lot of fun (and in my case makes my entire kitchen turn white…) and gives you unique fluffy white sweet pillows. I’ve made marshmallows and also analyzed them from a science point of view. Those cooking quests used the modern day marshmallow making method: boiling a sugar syrup, adding that to a whipped up egg white and then mixing in gelatin at the end.

However, when looking into the origins of marshmallows, I found out that they used to be made using marshmallow root. So, of course, I set out on a quest to make marshmallows without gelatin and with marshmallow root! In this post I’ll share with you my first findings, I’ve managed to make quite a decent marshmallow root marshmallow.

Quick recap

Let’s quickly recap on marshmallow and the science of marshmallows. We’ll need it to be able to make marshmallows using marshmallow root (scroll down if you’re just interested in the recipe!).

Marshmallows are made by boiling a syrup of sugar, glucose and water to a temperature of 121°C. The reason we boil to this specific temperature is because we want a limited amount of water in our sugar syrup. The temperature of a boiling sugar syrup is always related to the water content of the syrup (let’s not dive in the details of that one just now, but I’ve written about this before in my post on caramel!). In the meantime we whip up an egg white to incorporate air and thus make a light and fluffy marshmallow.

By pouring the hot sugar syrup in the whipped egg white (while continuously whipping!), we cook the proteins in the egg white. By cooking them they become more stable and better in holding onto the air. We keep on whipping until the bowl is not too hot anymore and add the dissolved gelatin. Gelatin will strengthen the structure further, preventing it from collapsing. We don’t want a marshmallow to collapse since the air will escape and it will loose all its lightness.

set up for making marshmallows using marshmallow root
My set up, ready to whisk up some egg whites. The brown paste in front is the marshmallow root powder. The sugar and glucose syrup are boiled on top of the stove. A stand mixer makes the whole process a lot easier (don’t try whisking a boil of egg whites by hand while at the same time pouring in a hot hot sugar syrup!).

The marshmallow root

In my marsmallow root marshmallow experiment I want to substitute the gelatin that is normally used for making marshmallows for marshmallow root powder. Why substitute gelatin? Simply because that’s the ‘old-fashioned’ method, extra advantage, this marshamallow is also suited for vegetarians! Why use the root? ‘s becuase I’ve read that especially this root has thickening properties and that’s what I need in my marshmallows. Gelatin stabilizes marshmallows, so my root should take over this role.

That led me to a search on the internet for marshmallow root powder. I had no idea whether this would actually be something that could be bought online.

Soon I ran into loads of websites on herbs and their healing powers. Marshmallow is considered a medicine for quite a lot of health discomforts and even used in shampoos! I’m not an expert on this topic, so wouldn’t know whether it actually works or not, just have a look yourself. Whether or not it is a benefit for your health, these types of websites do sell the marshmallow root powder you’ll need for this recipe. I found the powder in a local little shop selling all sorts of medicinal herbs, spices, etc.

The powder itself is a light brown colour and has a ‘healthy’ smell, it somehow reminded me of sweets you eat when you have a cough. It also reminded me of ‘drop’ a typical Dutch black candy containing liquorice.

Developing a recipe for marshmallow root marshmallow

I set out to come up with a recipe for making marshmallow with the marshmallow root. My first search on the internet for recipes gave a meagre score of two available recipes. Both which I didn’t really trust to make the marshmallow I wanted to make. One from learning herbs (which still contained gelatin, I didn’t want to use gelatin) and one from food.com (which uses gum arabic, that I don’t have in my cupboard).

So, I decided to start from scratch and I revisited the recipe I used to make the regular marshmallows with gelatin. I reasoned that if I would simply substitute the gelatin with marshmallow root powder, I could in essence make the same thing. That’s exactly what I ended up doing. The main trick was to find out how much marshmallow root powder I actually needed.

If you’re also planning to use this recipe, do realize that marshmallow root powder is not a mainstream ingredient, so the different powders can be pretty different. It might be that you need more or less of the powder to get the same consistency. Overall, I really liked using the root powder, it gave a better, smoother, more stretchy, less ‘plasticy’ marshmallow!

Thickening properties of marshmallow root powder

To test for the required quantity I took 1 tablespoon of marshmallow root powder and mixed it with some water. The powder quickly absorbed all water, already showing its thickening properties. By heating this mixture au bain marie (in a boil above a pot of boiling water) I found that by heating it slightly it thickened up a little more.

That led me to the conclusion that one: marshmallow root powder can indeed cause thickening of a mixture (especially if heated a bit) and two: marshmallow root powder can be mixed with water very easily, requiring only a very little bit to become a homogeneous paste.

Since I would be adding the marshmallow root powder to the whipped up egg white + sugar solution I though it would probably be important to make a paste out of the powder before whisking it in. I was afraid that adding a powder would cause it to fly everywhere or form lumps. My ‘ideal’ ratio for making this paste was decided to be 1 tbsp of marshmallow root powder with 1 tablespoon of water.

Making marshmallow root marshmallow

After boiling the sugars, whipping the egg white and whipping the two together (see below for recipe) it was time to add the marshmallow root powder. I only added the powder once the bowl had cooled down enough for me to touch it (not sure if that’s necessary though, didn’t get to test that out). I kept on whipping until everything had come to room temperature (a great advantage of using a stand mixer, your arm would have died from whisking in the meantime). To test the powder properly I decided to make three different recipes:

cutting marshmallow root marshmallows

  • Use no marshmallow root powder (to see whether it actually did something)

Adding no marshmallow root powder led to a very flat little marshmallow. It couldn’t keep its structure and just collapsed once I placed it on a try. It was by far the most dense marshmallow of the three and very sugary. Not a nice fluffly marshmallow. This ‘proved’ that I couldn’t simply leave out the gelatin, something would have to help keep it up.

  • Use 1/2 tablespoon of marshmallow root powder per egg white

This marshmallow was already a lot less runny than the first one. It kept its shape better, though still not very good. It tended to flatten out over time. The marshmallow was also very very sticky and had a very very long pull to it. That was actually pretty cool, you could stretch it out quite a bit. However, don’t even try to cut this one into cubes. All in all, better than the first, not perfect yet.

  • Use 1 table spoon of marshmallow root powder per egg white

What a nice, light and airy marshmallow this was. I couldn’t stretch this marshmallow as much as the previous, but it was still pretty flexible. Again cutting it into squares was hard, but the taste and texture really made up for it. This marshmallow also kept its shape best, it didn’t flow down all the time. For making marshmallows this really is the minimum quantity of marshmallow root powder you need. You might want to increase it a little more if you want firmer marshmallows that would look more like those using gelatin.

So, I ended up with a working recipe!

Marshmallow root marshmallow
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Sweet snack
Ingredients
  • 75 ml water (if, by accident, you've added more, no worries, it will just take a little longer for all the extra water to boil off again)
  • 125g sugar (regular granulated sugar)
  • 75g glucose syrup (or corn syrup)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tbsp marshmallow root powder
  • Cornstarch + icing sugar
Instructions
  1. Boil the water, sugar and glucose in a pan to 121C.
  2. When it's close to getting to that temperature, start whipping up the egg white until it has nice firm peaks.
  3. Keep on whisking while adding the boiling hot (HOT!) sugar syrup (it's easiest with a stand mixer).
  4. Keep on whisking at a high speed until the bowl has cooled down to body temperature.
  5. In the meantime, mix the marshmallow root powder with 1 tbsp of water. Once the mixture in the bowl has cooled down, add the paste. Keep on whisking for a little while until it has been incorporated.
  6. Pour out onto a sheet of baking paper and coat with corn starch (or a mixture of corn starch and icing sugar, depending on how sweet you like it). Leave to set for a couple of hours.

A little note here, cornstarch is your best friend during cutting and pouring stage! Make sure to coat your marshmallow straight after making with cornstarch. If not, it’ll attract moisture and become one big sticky mass…

Why does marshmallow root thicken?

In conclusion I can say that I managed to make nice tasting marshmallows using marshmallow root powder instead of gelatin. The last thing I did want to investigate though, is the working principle of this powder. This proved to be harder than I thought and I still don’t have a complete answer I’m afraid. Here’s my best guess, if you know more details, I’d be happy to hear!

The first challenge was to find out which molecules are present in marshmallow root, luckily I found one website with such a list. I wasn’t too sure whether this was all that accurate, since once I started searching on, I found various websites with the exact same text. Was the text copied from somewhere? And if yes, what’s the source? I wasn’t too sure. However, in the list I saw one ingredient that could cause the thickening, which is ‘mucilage’. When looking into this further, I reasoned this could well be the substance causing the thickening.

Mucilage is a pretty common substance and can be found in various plants, for example okra and cacti. It is a mix of complex carbohydrates, proteins and sugars, which exactly, will differ per plant. Mucilage is used by the plants to hold on to water. It seems as if the more well known thickening agent agar-agar also contains quite a bit of mucilage. So, this mucilage seems to be able to cause quite some thickening of moisture containing substances (you could also see this when adding water to the marshmallow root, it simply all disappeared).

Making old fashioned gelatin free marshmallow using marshmallow root

Good luck making the marshmallow root marshmallow! If you’ve managed to make something, let me know, I’d be so curious!

Further reading

Having trouble finding the translation for marshmallow root to your own language? Use the latin name in your search: Althaea officinalis. For the Dutch readers, marshmallow root is heemstwortel in Dutch.

Just a little warning here, as far as I could find the quantities I’ve used in my recipe do not pose any health risk. However, do check whether your supplier is trustworthy and whether you might have any allergies, etc. I’m not an expert on this topic, I focus on the science of its use and am not liable for the recipe/information given here, always use an expert’s advice.

25 Comments

  1. Pingback: Marshmallow: A Sweet Treat + Treatment - The Open Oak

    • Scienchef

      Hi Nick, thanks for the suggestion. I’ve never tried cream of tartar myself (I should though, I’ve put it on my try-out list straight away!), but have definitely read about a lot of examples where it’s worked. It will surely help in forming an airy structure that is more stable and less prone to breaking apart.
      If you want to use it instead of gelatin or marshmallow root though, I’m afraid it won’t be strong enough. Cream of tartar will help the proteins hold on to moisture on the short run, but the forces of moving air and moisture will win from the cream of tartar.

  2. Matt

    A couple questions about your receipe:
    – Can you translate the amount of granulated sugar and glucose syrup in to other measuring units (cups, oz, tbls, etc)?
    – What brand marshmallow root powder did you use? Or where did you get it?
    I tried using a marshmallow root powder (Microingredients Organic Marshmallow Root Powder) that turns out to be made of marshmallow extract 5:1. Considering my first attempt didn’t turn out, among all of what I could have done wrong, I wonder if the marshmallow root powder I used was not appropriate for the recipe.
    Thank you for publishing this! I’m looking forward to getting it right.

    • Scienchef

      Hi Matt, great that you’re trying out the recipe, curious to hear how you’re managing.
      The amount of sugar in this recipe will be 1/2 cup and the amount of glucose syrup is 1/4 cup.
      It was a challenge to get a hold of marshmallow root powder, in the end I found in a small natural foods store. The product wasn’t branded, they had clearly packed it in-house. It wasn’t an extract though, it was actual milled marshmallow root. On amazon I did find a few similar looking powders. That said, marshmallow root is by far not as standardized as gelatin is. In other words, when you buy a same type of gelatin you can expect it to behave similarly every time. With marshmallow root I do not think that’s the case.
      A useful test to do at the start is to mix some with some water and try and see how it binds and thickens. It will give you some sort of indication of how it works. If the marshmallow doesn’t hold its shape at the end, try adding some more to thicken it up.
      Good luck and hope these few tips help you to get it better!

  3. Shauna

    Have you tried it with aquafaba? I might. There’s a really expensive seaweed that the lady who wrote marshmallow madness used but I will take your recipe and use the cooking water for garbanzo beans. Thanks!

    • Scienchef

      Trying aquafaba has been on my to-try list for a long time, but unfortunately, it’s still there, didn’t get to try it yet. I’d love to hear how it went and don’t see why it wouldn’t work. Good luck!

  4. Éilis

    Having gone to the trouble to make the digestive biscuits for the rocky road bars, the least I could then do was make the marshmallows but it took a bit of research before I find your recipe and can’t wait to try it. One question though. would the resultant marshmallow mix go thought a biscuit press?

    • Scienchef

      Hi! That’s sounds like a fun project and great ambition! Yes, you can use this marshmallow for rocky road bars, I would give it a pre-test, the main trick will be to make them firm enough to indeed withhold a press or mixing process. In order to get it firm enough I would advise increasing the amount of marshmallow root powder. This type of powder can be quite finicky and you might need to adjust your quantities compared to the recipe given above.
      Another alternative is to use gelatin which makes it a little easier to create a consistent firmness, for example in this recipe.

      • Éilis

        Thanks a million for getting back to me. The gelatin option isn’t really viable since I am a vegetarian so will do your basic recipe first to get comfortable with the process before I start experimenting. One other thing though, When I went researching marshmallow root, quite a few of them were unpeeled if that makes sense and here in Dublin, I could only find what looked like marshmallow bark, which I put through the coffee grinder followed by a very fine sieve and hopefully I will find out this weekend if it works! Éilis

        • Scienchef

          I found the marshmallow root powder in a store selling all sorts of health ingredients, but indeed, it’s not easy to get your hands on some! Since you’ll be using the marshmallow in Rocky Road using agar agar could be a back up option as well. It does give a slightly firmer marshmallow, but since it’s part of the rocky road, that shouldn’t bother that much.
          Very curious how it will work out, good luck!

          • Éilis

            Hiya, just to let you know that our first attempt failed, but not entirely. It looked like marshmallow on the outside but resembled meringue on the inside so figured that I may have over whipped it and knocked all the air out of it. I’m hoping it will be better if I whisk in the syrup followed by the marshmallow for less time on a slower setting? It is a juggling act in trying to maintain the airiness of the whipped egg white whilst trying to incorporate the rest of the wet ingredients. Will give it another go though as not such a disaster as to put me off experimenting! Also wonder if it was partly because I had to use golden syrup instead of corn syrup, but given that they are similar in consistency I thought I could substitute it as corn syrup is not the easiest of ingredients to find. Éilis

          • Scienchef

            Hi again! Great to hear from you again, it feels like we’re doing the experiment together ;-). I’ve been thinking about the whipping, hope these few tips might help:
            – When whipping the egg whites before adding the sugar, whip them until they have formed a nice consistent foam. Indeed, don’t overwhip them.
            – If you’re sugar syrup isn’t ready yet when the egg whites are, stop whipping the egg whites. Just before you start adding the syrup, turn on your mixer again to whip them back if (if they sunk in a little).
            – You should keep whipping at at least a moderate speed while pouring in the syrup, if you don’t, the syrup won’t mix in properly and you might end up with pieces of sugar spread around. Certainly whip and pour in at the same time (ask for someone to help, or use a stand mixer).
            – While pouring the syrup, the syrup should be cooking the eggs and as a result they should be less prone to overcooking. That said, once the sugar syrup has been incorporated completely, you may turn down the speed of the whisk if you’re afraid it’s too fast. Do keep it whipping to ensure and even product. Only stop once the mixture has reached room temperature.
            – Last but not least, really take care you’re cooking that syrup to the right temperature (121C or 250F). If you don’t it will be too watery and the foam won’t be strong enough to hold onto itself anymore!

            Then you’re second question on corn syrup (or glucose syrup) vs. golden syrup. In the Netherlands, none of the two are very common, I haven’t used golden syrup before to be honest. There does seem to be a difference though. Golden syrup is essentially inverted sucrose (regular) sugar and contains mostly fructose and glucose. Corn syrup on the other hand contains a lot more larger carbohydrates which will mostly likely make it better at stabilizing a foam such as marshmallow. That said, I’ve read online that it worked well for others. If you think your syrup might still be too thin, it might be worthwhile to try and boil it to a slightly higher temperature (just a few degrees will do it).

            Last but not least, marshmallow root can be highly variable, some are stronger than others. You might have to give to increase that, but that’s only if you see the foam is nice and foamy in your bowl and only loses its consistency at the end, when pouring it out.

            Hope that helps, good luck!

  5. Ginger

    Thank you for the post. I have been trying to find a marshmallow recipe that used just the marshmallow root and not the gelatin. I know marshmallows were originally made from marshmallow root and not gelatin. It had medicinal uses before the marshmallow root was replaced with gelatin. Plus I love marshmallows but I know most ingredients put in them now are really bad for you. I am looking for more natural ways to make them for my family.

    • Scienchef

      Hi Bob, thanks :-)!
      They actually tasted just like marshmallow, they were somewhat less overly sweet, I think the marshmallow root did that but it did not give any off-flavour!

  6. kirsten

    hi – nice reading….
    having a question – do you thing this powder was an ingredients in the old time “negro kisses” – so you could form the foam by hand, place the foam on a biscuit and cover it all with chocolate?

    in other words – i seek something making the foam form able and still be soft and smoothy.

    anybody any ideas???

    • Scienchef

      Hi Kirsten,

      Great question. I wouldn’t recommend forming the marshmallows by hand. Instead, I would recommended using a piping bag to pipe the marshmallow onto your cookie. That way you don’t have to touch the marshmallows by hand which would guarantee plenty stickiness! If you want to pipe the marshmallow you might have to add a little bit more marshmallow root (or use gelatin, the nowadays ‘regular’ way to make marshmallows) to make them a little more firm and hold their shape. I must say, I haven’t tried this myself, so you might need to adjust as you go!

      Hope that helps, good luck!

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