2009-10-08 / Features

Marshmallows Not Just Plain Vanilla Any More

By Michelle LockeI ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) – If you’re still using plain old vanilla marshmallows at your campfire or in your cocoa, you’re out of touch.

The next generation of marshmallow lovers is amping the flavor of their puffy confections, taking their s’mores to new heights with tricks like slicing and stuffing them. And the marshmallow industry is taking notice.

Long a fixture in the baking aisle, marshmallows have been making their way back to candy land lately, thanks in large part to swirled, flavored, stuffed and otherwise jazzed up versions intended to appeal to consumers ever on the prowl for new tastes.

Like chocolate with your marshmallow? Consider the chocolate-drizzled marshmallows called Zebras launched last year by Doumak Inc., the Chicago area-based maker of Campfire brand marshmallows.

“I gotta tell you, people are going bananas over it,’’ says Mark Schuessler, vice president of sales and marketing for Doumak

Prefer your chocolate _ or jelly _ on the inside? Try Keith Baskett’s creation, stuffed marshmallows that he modestly declares “the best thing that ever happened to a marshmallow.’’

Retail marshmallow sales (excluding Walmart) totaled about $146 million in 2008, up from $141 million the year before, according to market research firm Information Resources Inc.

That’s a fraction of the billions spent on chocolate, “but there are opportunities because we’re back to looking at marshmallows less as a baking ingredient and more as a treat,’’ says Bernard Pacyniak, editor-in-chief of Candy Industry, a Deerfield, Ill.- based trade magazine.

Baskett says his stuffed puffs, sold under the GudFud label, were inspired by mochi, a Japanese rice cake often stuffed with a filling such as sweetened red bean paste.

Baskett, who has “loved marshmallows since the early days of being around campfires,’’ decided to make the concept a little fluffier, then stuffed them with chocolate or grape, orange or strawberry jelly.

Launched in 2007, the stuffed marshmallows are sold in brightly decorated packaging that combines Japanese-style graphics – each product has a different face – and Germanic type. There are umlauts over the “u’s’’ in GudFud.

Reaction to GudFud seems to depend on how mad you are for marshmallows says candy blogger Rosa Li of Rochester, N.Y., who tried out some samples on her friends.

“I thought they were OK,’’ she said. “For a lot of my friends that I shared with, some of them loved them and most of them didn’t seem to think that highly of them. But the ones that liked them really liked them.’’

According to candy lore, marshmallows date back to ancient Egypt with a sweet made from the sap of the mallow plant – yes, it grows in marshes – that was deemed fit for pharaohs.

“This was not like they were selling it out on the street corner; this was a real delicacy,’’ says Schuessler.

In the 19th century, French confectioners took the sap and whipped it with other ingredients, making a fluffier version. Eventually, gelatin replaced mallow root sap, though the name endured.

The “foodie’’ movement also has brought a renewed interest in homemade marshmallows and gourmet versions.

Ann Hickey-Williams, president of Sherman Oaks-based Plush Puffs Gourmet Marshmallows, sees the marshmallow’s rise as part of a general interest in revisiting and reinventing comfort food classics.

Adding a gourmet touch, like the caramel swirl and chocolate chipetta versions sold by Plush Puffs, catches the consumer eye, she says. “They go, ‘Huh, look what somebody did with marshmallows.’’’

Even that down-home delight, the s’more, has gone upscale. Recchuiti Confections in San Francisco sells a kit featuring handmade vanilla bean marshmallows and a bittersweet 85 percent chocolate bar.

The origin of s’mores (as in some more, please) aren’t clear, but the first known recipe for the treat came in a 1927 publication “Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts,’’ says Michelle Tompkins, spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of the USA.

It was the beginning of gooey, chocolatey history.

“Marshmallows bring joy and happiness to everyone,’’ Tompkins says.

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