Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Marshmallow vs. marsh mallow

I know you have all been wondering about why marshmallows (pronounced marshmellows by everyone I know) happen to be called marshmallows, the same name as a lovely weed. This came up as a discussion in work when someone brought in a jar of an artisanal marshmallow fluff.

(No, that’s not the artisanal one in the pic, that is the fluff I remember as a kid. Who even knew you could buy it in a 5-lb pot?)

I thought for sure, if this other one was so special and artisanal that it would have some form of mallow in it, but that was not the case. So I did a little research for you, knowing that you would want me to.

Word Origin and History for marshmallow
Old English mersc mealwe “kind of mallow plant (Althea officinalis) which grows near salt marshes;” from marsh + mallow. The confection (so called from 1877) originally was made from paste from the roots of this plant.The Greek word for the plant, althaea, is from althein “to heal.”
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

A Noble History
Yes, the marshmallow has roots in ancient Egypt, dating back to about 2000 BC, when the sap from the root of the marsh mallow plant [althaea officinalis] was mixed with honey to create a special confection available only to the Pharaohs and assorted Gods who needed dessert.

If you weren’t a Pharaoh, you had to wait until the mid-19th century, when French candy makers combined the sap with egg whites and sugar, whipping all by hand into a tasty treat.

So the word comes from the mallow plant roots having been used in the “confection” back in 2,000 BC (if you believe Mitch) but it seems that everyone has forgotten about that, even the fancy schmancy artisanal marshmallow makers. (Mitch didn’t forget, but I don’t think he uses any mallow roots either.)

And then I found that the pretty mallow flowers that grow all around our property are a common mallow, not even the true marsh mallow. (see the Wikipedia definition in the post below this one).

And I thought I was being so smart because I knew what a marsh mallow was...I was just so wrong!

Even so, here are 3 mallows from my backyard garden. The stripy one at the top is actually “Zebrina”, a version of hollyhock. The white and pink ones are everywhere in our weedy yard, but I like them enough to let them come up in my garden.

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