March 29, 2018
Is there anything more nostalgic than a marshmallow? It brings back memories of just about every season of frigid snowstorms and piping hot cups of cocoa; of marshmallow bunnies and chicks dyed unearthly shades of neon in the Spring; and of late summer nights huddled around a campfire attempting to create that perfect s’more.
But what goes into creating a perfect marshmallow? If you’ve ever tried to make your own, you’ll know that it involves candy thermometers and sugar, water at just the right temperature, and of course, that very crucial final ingredient: gelatin. Gelatin, which is an animal-derived product, is the factor that takes hot sugar water and makes it gooey, elastic, soft, and spongy. It is what makes a marshmallow, a marshmallow.
So then how, you might ask, do we make our meringueshop marshmallows without any animal products at all?
One part miraculous aquafaba mixed with the harmonious synergy of two hydrocolloid gums you may, or may not, have heard of before: locust bean gum and agar-gar.
Back up: hydro-what-oids?
Hydrocolloids. We chatted about them last week in an article about the two gums we use in our vegan meringue powder, guar gum and acacia gum. Hydrocolloids are more commonly called “gums” by non-scientists. Check out the previous article to learn more about gums in general, then come back here for information about the two specific ones we’ve carefully selected for our magical marshmallow formula.
But you can just call it agar or kanten. It comes from red algae and, like many gums, is a great source of dietary fiber. In fact, alternative medicine practitioners use high supplemental doses for a variety of ailments, ranging from constipation to cholesterol – and it’s because of that fiber content that it seems to be so effective. Dietary fiber, like what’s found in agar, has been associated with increased feelings of fullness and satiety and decreased blood levels of cholesterol and glucose.
From a culinary standpoint, agar isn’t used in such high doses, but it’s nice to know that health practitioners use higher amounts with their patients without adverse effect.
Agar is most commonly used as an odorless, flavorless vegan substitute for gelatin. It comes in flakes, bars, and powders; the powder is three times stronger than the flakes, and the bar takes the longest to dissolve, so it’s important to know which form your recipe calls for, and which form you have purchased. If you do happen to buy a bar, you can turn it into flakes or powder using a high-powered blender or a food processor.
Once you have your agar, you’re going to need to dissolve it in boiling liquid. This takes some patience, especially if that liquid contains naturally-occurring fats. Believe us, you will learn quickly to channel your inner zen if you ever encounter a recipe that asks you to dissolve agar in full-fat coconut milk. Other tricky ingredients that need special preparation instructions when used with agar include citrus, enzymatic fruits like papaya and pineapple, and chocolate.
Basically, you’re going to simmer away, stirring frequently, until the liquid loses its iridescence, a sign that the agar has fully dissolved. Do not rush this, as inadequately dissolved agar will cause the final mixture to clump up.
Agar mixtures gel upon cooling. If you’re in a rush, use the refrigerator, but agar will set even at room temperature if you have the time.
Locust Bean Gum
Now, agar is great but it’s not the strongest gel all by itself. For marshmallows, agar benefits in combination with locust bean gum. You can follow the recipe without Locust Bean Gum, but it will enhance that true marshmallow texture when added.
Locust Bean Gum (LBG) sounds like a bit of a misnomer for the average person, as it is not, in fact, made from locusts. It comes from the seed of the carob tree, and it is sometimes referred to as carob bean gum. (As an aside, carob is the stuff that people claim is a great substitute for chocolate, though good luck convincing this to any die-hard chocolate lover.)
The way that LBG is extracted from carob seeds is similar to how guar gum is made (have you read our previous article yet?) – that is, it’s separated from the bran and germ of the seed and milled into powder. Like agar, it is also extremely high in fiber, and it, too, has been shown to safely and significantly reduce cholesterol levels when taken as a supplement in much higher doses than you would ever find in food.
In food, it’s used often to stabilize products. It prevents ice crystal formation in ice cream, thickens salad dressings, and has a few properties that make it a particularly good match for agar in our marshmallows.
LBG itself does not form a gel, but when added to an agar mixture, it helps to increase the agar gel’s strength and elasticity. It also acts to bind water and prevent syneresis (when droplets of liquid “weep” out of a confection), which agar gels are sometimes known to do. Together, the two hydrocolloids accomplish all that gelatin does in a marshmallow, giving you the taste and texture of your favorite childhood treat, without the animal-derived gelatin.
Hungry for More?
Check out these hydrocolloid resources, and scroll down for a delicious springtime marshmallow recipe, just in time for the holiday weekend!
https://www.modernistpantry.com/locust-bean-gum.html (You can even chat with a live person if you have questions!)
Guest contributor, Jessica Serdikoff
Jessica has been driven all her life by a passion for food. Getting her informal start in her grandmother’s kitchen many years ago, she took a brief culinary hiatus to become a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer. Her curiosity and enthusiasm for food, recipe development, and kitchen creativity never left her, though, leading her most recently to graduate from the chef’s training program at the Natural Gourmet Institute of NYC. Now she has the know-how to geek out about food and the science behind it!
Marshmallows with Aquafaba
Getting ready for the spring holidays? Tinting these with plant-based dyes makes for a great, all-natural and plant-based alternative to decorating Easter eggs, and being grain-free, they make equally beautiful treats to serve at your Passover Seder!
For the dusting sugar:
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
2 Tablespoons freeze dried fruit powders (optional)
For the marshmallows:
¾ cup (180g) aquafaba
½ tsp (2g) guar gum (see note below)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 ¾ cup (400g) superfine sugar
2 tsp (5 g) agar ‘powder’
½ tsp (1.5g) locust bean powder
½ cup (120g) glucose syrup (see note below)
½ cup water
plant-based food colors (optional)
Prepare marshmallow pan. Combine cornstarch and confectioners sugar and sift half of this over parchment lined sheet pan and set aside. If you are adding fruit powders, add this into the dusting sugar mix.
In a stand mixer, beat guar gum and aquafaba on medium high to form stiff peaks.
Meanwhile, dissolve sugar, agar powder , and locust bean powder with the water in a medium sauce pot. Add the glucose syrup and bring the mixture to a boil until it registers 250F on a candy thermometer.
Once the syrup mixture has come to temperature and the aquafaba has formed stiff peaks, reduce the speed on the mixer to low. Remove syrup from the heat and carefully pour it down the side of the aquafaba foam. Take care not to catch it on the beater attachment. Continue to beat until the mixture cools. Add vanilla extract and colors, if using.
Pour onto dusted sheet pan and sift remaining half of the dusting sugar on top and allow to set at room temperature. Once set, cut with a round cutter and toss in additional confectioners sugar.
Store marshmallows in an airtight container.
Glucose syrup prevents the sugar from crystallizing, which is important. You can make your own if you don’t have any in your kitchen: Combine 2 cups sugar, ¾ cup water, ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar and a squeeze of lemon juice. Bring to a boil to dissolve. Lower heat and cook for 5 to 7 minutes until the soft ball stage is reached, 240F on a candy thermometer. Pour cooled syrup into a bottle and store at room temperature as needed.
Guar gum helps to stabilize the aquafaba foam. However, it can be omitted if the aquafaba is reduced as follows: begin with 1 ½ cup aquafaba and reduce it down to ¾ cup by simmering on low heat on the stove.
Plain marshmallows are delicious, but consider making a few flavor varieties! Make sure to plan for your flavor combinations before you begin your marshmallows by setting up a clean bowl for each unique flavor. Here are some of our favorites:
Add to the marshmallow mixture before pouring it onto the sheet pan to set:
Add to the confectioners sugar for coating the finished marshmallows:
rose water and powdered, freeze-dried raspberries
powdered, freeze-dried raspberries
orange extract and powdered freeze-dried orange
fresh vanilla bean seeds
ground cacao nibs or grated coconut
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