Marshmallows - Sweet Potatoes Origin
Why do people put marshmallows on or in sweet potatoes?
Many people outside of the USA, and within, wonder why anyone would want to "mess up" naturally sweet perfect sweet potatoes by putting marshmallows on them or in them.
While others wouldn't dare make a marshmallow sweet potatoes dish, my family, with its southern roots, has eaten them that way for many decades. One of the most requested side dishes for special occasions and holiday meals is a pecan sweet potato casserole topped with those "oh so familiar" toasted white lumps with melted gooey centers.
We love that burst of sugary sweetness on top of more sweetness. It satisfies our southeastern-bred "sweet tooth", and we never have any leftovers.
But, why do I and others combine marshmallows with sweet potatoes? I don't know for sure, but I have a theory that draws from the concept of "supply and demand", coupled with great marketing and promotion. You see, at one time, marshmallows were hard to get. As they became more readily available, they were still considered a special treat, and were used to "dress up" dishes and desserts made with staple ingredients. So, by topping a staple vegetable like sweet potatoes with marshmallows, home chefs were able to make a "special dish" for their families.
Marshmallow candies have been around since about 2000 B.C. when the ancient Egyptians, combining the root's sweet sap with honey, made them for their gods and the Pharoahs. Up until the mid to late 1800's only the wealthy could afford them because the manufacturing process was slow, expensive and costly: the candies were hand-made. Marshmallows weren't mass-produced until about 1900 when a faster less expensive manufacturing process, the "starch mogul system" which was invented in the late 1800's, became available.
Sweet potatoes with marshmallows is a tradition that some believe started in the 1920's and 30's when, what had been a treat accessible only to the wealthy, became a massed-produced staple ingredient that could be used for cakes, desserts, candies, salads and side dishes prepared by everyone for family gatherings, special occasions and parties. During the same time, people started to top off their hot cocoa with marshmallows, and they roasted them around campfires and at cookouts.
Although marshmallows eaten today are no longer made from the Marsh Mallow plant's root sap, they have had a long wonderful impact in history, both medicinally and sweetly. Below are some additional key facts and links for marshmallows.
Marsh Mallow plant (Althaea officinalis); perennial herb, pale-pink 5-petaled flowers
Found in marshes, damp areas and river banks
Native to northern Africa, Asia and Europe; common in eastern USA
One of the earliest confections made (Egyptians - 2000 B.C.)
Arabs, Romans and Greeks used roots and leaves to soothe sore throats and chest pain; ease indigestion; make ointments
The French were the first (mid 1800's) to make the modern molded candies
Late 1800's - "starch mogul system" was developed
Massed-produced and sold as penny candy in tin boxes (1900)
1948 Alex Doumakes invented new manufacturing system "the extrusion process" - still used today
1955 (more than 50 manufacturers); 2010 (less than 5 large-scale manufacturers)
Today's candies don't use the plant's root sap, and have two main categories of ingredients: sweeteners and emulsifying agents
Doumak, Inc. - Campfire Marshmallows
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