Posted in Food Safety on August 30, 2018
The school year may be upon us, but the official days of Summer continue for just a little longer. If you haven’t already experienced this Summer staple, what better day than National Toasted Marshmallow Day, celebrated this year on August 30th. According to National Day Calendar this “unofficial” national holiday is sponsored by the National Confectioners Association. Any excuse to celebrate this toasty, fluffy, warm, feel-good treat is a good one to me.
Where Do Marshmallows Come From?
Some say marshmallows originate in Ancient Egypt. It is believed that this ancient civilization harvested the sweet gooey extract of the mallow plant (known as Althaea officinalis) and made it into a candy. It was not something the typical Egyptian would partake of, as it was a treat reserved for gods and royalty. Thankfully that is not the case today, though I suspect primitive marshmallows are quite different than the packages of fluffy white, sugar coated cylinders we see today in the grocery store.
Before marshmallows went mainstream, they were probably used as a medicinal substance. Mucilaginous extracts, a common remedy for sore throats, is derived from the marshmallow plant. Other parts of the plant have medicinal properties as well. Who knew marshmallow were healthy?! Well, maybe not the modern marshmallow, but it’s distant ancestors.
The Science Behind the Perfectly Roasted Marshmallow
There really is no wrong way to roast a marshmallow. Everyone has a different preference and technique to achieve their own perfect version of the toasted marshmallow. If you aim is a perfectly “toasted” outside and warm, gooey inside, Cottage Life writer Colin Field has the perfect formula. He explains there are three components to the perfectly toasted marshmallow: the stick, the fire, and the technique.
The “stick” he says, is the most important tool needed to roast a marshmallow. This can come in many different shapes from a fancy metal manufactured marshmallow roaster available commercially to a good old-fashioned stick from the forest. This is where he and I disagree. Perhaps because I write a lot about people getting sick from foodborne bacteria and parasites. I have a personal history with using a wire coat hanger – like the kind you get from the dry cleaner. I will go into the a little more later. Colin reminds readers that the metal will be hot, so be careful when handling a metal roasting stick.
Equally important he says, is the “fire”. Field explains that “you want a fire that has burned well.” The sweet spot is where the coals are emitting heat without the full glow of the flame. This allows the marshmallow to heat without prematurely catching fire, which will inevitably catch the marshmallow on fire and produce a charred surface. He explains that in order to achieve the desired toast with a “golden, crispy crust” to wait until you have only the radiant heat from the glowing hot embers.
Now for the hardest part. The part that takes practice. Sweet, sweet practice. The “technique” required to toast the perfect toasted marshmallow. He explains the perfect distance from the coals is around six to eight inches. Turn your stick in a “slow, steady, and constant rotation” kind of like a rotisserie chicken roaster. The idea is to evenly heat the marshmallow without allowing it to catch fire. If your marshmallow should go ablaze, slowly move it away from the heat source and gently blow out the flame. Shaking it in an effort to extinguish the flame could result in a flying mass of gooey lava. The heated marshmallow can easily slide off the stick and come in contact with a fellow roasters skin. This is nothing to take lightly as second-degree burns are possible from this misstep. So be careful! Field explains that patience is a virtue in this venture. “The more time it takes, the gooier and more delicious the centre will be.” You will notice the marshmallow grow in size as the insides begin to expand and inflate. Field says that depending on the fire the entire process from marshmallow loaded onto stick to perfect toasted perfection is about four minutes.
Marshmallow Toasting Safety
Now that you are armed with a little history and some knowledge on toasting the perfect toasted marshmallow, this wouldn’t be MakeFoodSafe.com if I didn’t arm you with some safety tips to keep your family safe from foodborne illness while partaking of this delicious treat.
First, you will want to keep marshmallows and cooking tools stored away from raw foods. The cooking temperature used to toast marshmallows is not hot enough to sufficiently kill off the harmful germs that could be lurking in the porous confection if it is stored with the hotdogs or raw hamburger meat.
To stick, or not to stick. That is the question. While it might seem a little more authentic or rustic to select a stick from around the campsite and whittle a point as the author recommends, I cannot stress enough how dangerous that can be. Not only are you stomping your feet around the campsite, but other animals are too when you aren’t looking. This is their home after all. Feces from birds and other animals walking through the area could be lurking on the little stick. This translates to more than just dirt, but E. coli and other harmful pathogens that can cause major illness on you and your family. Do not use sticks found at the campsite. Stick to metal.
Whether you choose a commercially available metal toasting stick, or one fashioned from a metal clothes hanger, you are going to want to take a few steps to protect yourself from these as well. Metal can be sterilized in the fire. Hold the end of the stick in the fire until it glows red hot. This will help to sterilize your utensil to help keep the germs out of your food. Be careful, as metal conducts heat rather efficiently. You will want to protect your hand by holding the toasting stick with a glove, thick towel, or some other method of protecting you hands to prevent burns.
How clean are your hands? Before consuming any food with your hands, wash your hands. Even in the wilderness, a handwashing station is rather easy to assemble. All you need is a large water dispenser with a continuous flow handle, a catch bucket underneath, soap, and clean paper towels. Clean hands prevent self-contamination with any germs you might have picked up along the way.
Enjoy this day reserved to celebrate the Toasted Marshmallow and practice toasting the perfect marshmallow.
By: Heather Van Tassell, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)