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Mixing Your Own Marshmallows: Finding the Right Ratio of Sugar to Corn Syrup
Whether you’re sitting around a campfire, or drinking hot chocolate after a day in the snow, nothing says fun quite like a marshmallow! Even its name is soft and spongy! In this cooking and food science fair project, you’ll make your own marshmallows several different ways, and discover the three special ingredients that give marshmallows their unique texture. You’ll also find out why they melt so quickly. Explore the science of these sticky, spongy sweets!
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To determine the ratio of sugar to corn syrup that produces the best-tasting and best-textured marshmallow.
What’s your favorite way to eat a marshmallow? Melted in hot chocolate after a long day of sledding? Or roasted and squished between a slab of chocolate and graham crackers while you’re sitting around a campfire? However you like them, marshmallows are an unusual type of sweet treat—spongy, sticky, and a little bit chewy, with a melting point that is just a bit above body temperature, so that they start to change from a solid to more liquid state as soon as they reach the warmth of your mouth, or the warmth of your hot chocolate or campfire! They are also an ancient creation, originally coming from a tall marshmallow plant that grows in swampy fields and has a soft, spongy root. The root contains mucilage, a thick, gluey substance produced by some plants and microscopic animals to help with water and food storage, and seed germination. Some cultures used the marshmallow plant to make candy, while others used it to make medicine. The ancient Egyptians, for example, dried the root and mixed it with honey to make marshmallow treats, but the early French thought the root looked like lung tissue, and experimented with making medicine out of its gummy juice to soothe sore throats.
Difficulty Time required Prerequisites Material Availability Cost Safety 5 – 6 Average (about one week) None Readily available Very Low (under $20) Adult supervision is required.
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Figure 1. This photo shows a yummy marshmallow treat (called a s’more). (Larry D. Moore, 2006.) Does something not look right on your screen? Did you receive an error? Please take a moment and Let Us Know what isn't working so we can fix it!
Today’s modern marshmallows contain no parts of the marshmallow plant though, because the plant is considered a medicinal herb. Instead, modern marshmallows are primarily a mix of three ingredients: sugar, corn syrup, and gelatin, with the gelatin replacing the thick, gluey substance from the marshmallow plant. The sugar and corn syrup are heated together with a little water to make a solution. The solution is warmed and brought to a boil, turning it into syrup. Because of the sugar in the solution, the boiling point of the solution becomes higher than the boiling point of pure liquid water (212°F). The greater the concentration of sugar in a solution, the higher its boiling point. As the solution boils, water evaporates, and the solution becomes even more concentrated with sugar, and the boiling point gets pushed even higher. For example, an 85 percent sugar solution has a boiling point about 28°F higher than the boiling point of pure water. The final concentration of sugar in the syrup determines the structure of the candy that forms when the syrup cools. Think about the difference between the texture of caramels and lollipops—the caramel is softer and chewier, while the lollipop is hard and cracks when it is bitten. The syrup used to make caramels is cooked until it reaches 240–250°F, at which point it has an 87 percent concentration of sugar in solution and enters the firm ball stage (see the Exploratorium link in the Bibliography for more information about this). The syrup used to make lollipops, though, is cooked until it reaches a 99 percent concentration of sugar in solution (at a temperature of 300–310°F), which makes drops of the syrup turn into hard, brittle, easy-to-break threads when placed in cold water. When making marshmallows, the syrup is cooked until it reaches 235–240°F, or 85 percent concentration of sugar in solution, and corn syrup is added to the solution to help prevent crystals from forming in the cooled syrup. Nobody likes crunchy marshmallows!
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So, where does the gelatin come in, and just what is gelatin anyway? Gelatin is that wiggly, jiggly food that seems almost magical as it suspends fruits, forms shapes and sculptures, and transforms from a solid to a liquid as soon as it hits the warmth of your mouth. It’s not magic, but special gelatin molecules are responsible for these food tricks. Gelatin comes from collagen, the main protein in connective tissue, which is a specialized, fibrous tissue in animals that connects other tissues together, like tendons connect muscles to bone. The special quality of gelatin is that it is a protein that can coagulate (or come together) when it is beaten or whipped. So, to make marshmallows, hot concentrated syrup is beaten into gelatin with a mixer. The beating process forms bubbles in the syrup and protein mixture, and the gelatin coagulates at the point where the air in the bubble and the syrup-protein mixture meet, stabilizing the bubble walls so they don’t collapse. In this cooking and food science fair project, you’ll make your own gooey marshmallows, using different amounts of sugar and corn syrup to find out which ratio of sugar to corn syrup, makes the best-tasting and best-textured treat.
Terms, Concepts and Questions to Start Background Research
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depending on tests you choose to run on your marshmallows.exploratorium. Pour a small amount of powdered (confectioner’s) sugar in the strainer and dust the inside of the cake pans. (n.sciencebuddies. or gallon-size sealable plastic bags (3) Additional materials may be needed. numbered from 1 to 3. See Testing Your Marshmallows. available at grocery stores (1 box) Fork Small saucepan with lid Measuring spoons Corn syrup.cookingforengineers. Preparing Your Cake Pans 1. small Large mixing bowl Gelatin. and gently tap out the excess.com/recipe /106/Marshmallows Materials and Equipment Square foil cake pan. Solution Boiling point Concentration Protein Coagulate Ratio Force Questions From where did ancient marshmallows come. below. 2009. Retrieved December 16. and how were they used? What are the main ingredients in modern marshmallows? What happens to the boiling point of a solution as the concentration increases? Why is corn syrup added to marshmallows today? Why is gelatin important in making marshmallows? Bibliography Exploratorium. 2009. 2. oz) Granulated sugar (10 cups) Pure vanilla extract (5 tsp. like canola or safflower oil. for more details. December 19). Wash your hands.html#softcrack Cooking for Engineers. a.). hold the pan upside-down over a sink. http://www. Pour a small amount of vegetable oil on a paper towel and lightly oil the three cake pans. 8 or 9". and set them out so they are ready to go and easy to access. 3. 2010. for greasing pans Paper towels (1 roll) Powdered or confectioners sugar (3 cups) Strainer. pan 2 will contain recipe 2. (n..edu/cooking/candy/activitymallows. plain. 3. The Cold Water Candy Test. round foil pie pans are a possible substitute (9) Masking tape Vegetable oil..d. Retrieved December 18. Science of Candy: Monster Mallows. from http://www. glucose syrup is a possible substitute (32 fl. Marshmallows by Michael Chu. (2009. 2 of 7 1/14/11 11:07 AM . from http://www. and pan 3 will contain recipe 3. This is the traditional temperature used to make marshmallows. 2. Retrieved January 21.edu/cooking/candy/sugar-stages.d...Mixing Your Own Marshmallows: Finding the Right Ratio of S. from http://www. like light corn syrup. Graph paper Experimental Procedure Preparing to Cook 1.) Dry measuring cups Candy thermometer Lab notebook Electric mixer or beater Timer Pizza wheel Spatula Ruler Large air-tight containers. unflavored. If you get too much powdered sugar in the pan.html Exploratorium.exploratorium. Each recipe contains a different ratio of sugar to corn syrup. Pan 1 will contain recipe 1.org/science-fair-projects/project_ide. Get out all cooking tools and ingredients. Identify the 240°F mark on your candy thermometer.). Label the bottoms of three cake pan with masking tape pieces.
This will give the gelatin time to "soften" or "bloom. unflavored gelatin over the cold water. 2. according to which recipe you are currently making.5 3 of 7 1/14/11 11:07 AM . Pour 1/6 cup of cold water into the large mixing bowl a.. Sprinkle one packet of plain. http://www.5 Recipe 2 2/3 cup 1/4 cup 2/3:1/4 2." Figure 2. Preparing Your Gelatin 1. Mix the gelatin and water together for about 5 seconds (sec. To get 1/6 cup.) with a fork and set the bowl aside. This photo shows the gelatin "blooming" in a small amount of water. Preparing Your Syrup 1.7 Recipe 3 3/4 cup 1/6 cup 3/4:1/6 4. just fill up the 1/3 measuring cup up halfway with water.Mixing Your Own Marshmallows: Finding the Right Ratio of S. Add ¼ cup of cold water to the saucepan.. add granulated sugar and corn syrup to the water in the saucepan. 2.sciencebuddies. 3.org/science-fair-projects/project_ide. written as a decimal Recipe 1 1/2 cup 1/3 cup 1/2:1/3 1.. Recipe Table Ingredients Sugar Corn syrup Ratio of sugar to corn syrup Ratio. Using the table below as a guide..
5. so use extreme caution when working around the pan..sciencebuddies. Begin to measure the temperature of the syrup in the saucepan using the candy thermometer. try to put the tip below the surface.org/science-fair-projects/project_ide. WARNING: The syrup will be very hot. ready to be warmed on the stove to form a syrup. immediately turn off the stove and move to the next section.Mixing Your Own Marshmallows: Finding the Right Ratio of S. This photo shows the small saucepan containing water. When the temperature reaches 240°F.. When using the thermometer. Continue heating your syrup solution until the temperature reaches 240°F. until it just comes to a boil. 6. http://www. Instead. 7. Making Your Marshmallows 1. This photo shows the hot syrup slowly being poured into the gelatin while the mixer is operating on low. Turn the mixer on low. Figure 3. and slowly pour the hot syrup solution into the gelatin and water in the large mixing bowl. Does it go up quickly at first? What happens as the solution becomes more concentrated? Record your observations in your lab notebook. An adult should closely supervise all work from this point on. 4. a. a.. Turn on the stove to medium-high heat.. Observe how the temperature rises. 3. Figure 4. and corn syrup. Lift the lid and check the solution in the saucepan about every 30 sec. 4 of 7 1/14/11 11:07 AM . b. Put the lid on the saucepan. Remove the lid and set it aside. do not let the tip of the thermometer touch the bottom or sides of the pan. 9. closer to the middle of the pan. sugar. Making Your Marshmallows. 8.
. 2. http://www. This photo shows how the mixture will look as you begin to operate the mixer at high speed. Write down the total time that you beat the recipe in your lab notebook. b. Turn on the timer. 5 of 7 1/14/11 11:07 AM . Figure 5.. Continue to beat for approximately 11 minutes. glossy. 3. Pour a thin layer of vegetable oil on a spatula and scoop out the marshmallow mixture from the mixing bowl and into the prepared cake pan with the masking tape piece that matches the recipe number. 5. and lukewarm.Mixing Your Own Marshmallows: Finding the Right Ratio of S. Use the spatula to gently smooth down the top of the marshmallow. Gradually increase the speed of the mixer until it is operating at full (high) speed.sciencebuddies. 4. or until the mixture starts to become very thick.. Add ½ teaspoon of vanilla. and beat for another minute. Try to beat each recipe for approximately the same amount of time. 7. so that it is pretty flat. a.. 6. This photo gives an example of how the mixture will look at the end of 11 minutes after you have added the vanilla. and before you beat for the final minute.org/science-fair-projects/project_ide. Figure 6.
after at least 4 hours or overnight. Variations Develop other ways to test your marshmallows. Start a timer and see which one melts first. so that you have a total of three trials for each recipe. 3. and plot the decimal ratio of sugar to corn syrup on the x-axis. For taste tests. a. and last. http://www.sciencebuddies. Preparing Your Marshmallows for Testing 1. You may want to do this step on a different day. and the number of people who thought it had the best texture on the y-axis. graduated cylinder. melting time. using a scale. For more science project ideas in this area of science. so you have around six days in which to make and test all the trials. 4. For example. average your coin counts from the three trials (to get a measure of the force required to cut through the marshmallow). Vary the final cooking temperature (deviate from the traditional 240°F) to see how that affects the taste. Which one do they prefer? Read this Science Buddies article about sample size to determine how many volunteers you will need. Cutting tests: See which marshmallow is the toughest using a cheese cutter and coins. Dust the marshmallows on all sides with a little powdered sugar. If the marshmallow sticks to the bottom of the pan.. This photo shows the three finished recipes cooling and becoming more firm. and plot the decimal ratio of sugar to corn syrup on the x-axis. or use a spatula to help lift it out. being sure to label the container or bag with the trial number (remember. one at a time. to see if there are gender or age differences in marshmallow taste or texture preferences. and then repeat the entire Experimental Procedure two more times with clean materials..org/science-fair-projects/project_ide. Figure 7. like the test described in the Science Buddies cooking and food science fair project Tough Beans. whatever you prefer. Analyzing Your Results 1. a. Be sure to conduct repeat trials at each temperature you test. toughness. average the results of your time tests from the three trials. a.. Plot the ratio of the sugar to corn syrup on the x-axis and the density on the y-axis. and the number of people who thought it had the best taste on the y-axis. using the strainer. turn the pans over. 2. you will be performing three trials) and the recipe number from the masking tape pieces. 8. 2. and then use it to cut up your marshmallow into ½-inch or 1-inch pieces. you should try to pick three that are of the same size and shape. 3.7 for the sugar to corn syrup. until all three recipes have been prepared. so that you know which recipe was used for each bag or container. uncovered. and Archimedes’ principle. Testing Your Marshmallows There are many ways you can test your marshmallows. For cutting tests. and/or density. Choose the recipe that has a decimal ratio of 2.Mixing Your Own Marshmallows: Finding the Right Ratio of S. on a counter for at least 4 hours. push on the bottom of the pan a bit. Perform each test one trial set at a time. 9. You could do: 1. and coin counts (or cutting force) on the y-axis. so that they can become firm. For melting tests. Melting tests: Drop three marshmallows (one from each recipe) in a pan of hot water. see Cooking & Food Science Project Ideas. measure the density of the marshmallows from each recipe. Taste tests: Gather your family and friends and give them three samples of marshmallows. Allow the three marshmallow "pies" to sit out. Because of slight variations in marshmallow sizes. Make a second bar chart showing the decimal ratio of sugar to corn syrup on the x-axis.. second. or up to overnight. or by age. 2. one from each recipe in a trial set. Science Buddies Last edit date: 2010-03-01 12:00:00 Career Focus 6 of 7 1/14/11 11:07 AM . Once the marshmallow pies have become firm. An alternative to the pizza wheel is to use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes. Place the marshmallows in the air-tight container or plastic bag. Wash and dry all cooking utensils. Use a ruler to help measure where to cut. Break up your taste-testing volunteers into male and female. texture. 3. onto a cutting board. Repeat the test at least three times per trial set to make sure your results are repeatable and accurate. Repeating the recipe makes sure that your test results are accurate and repeatable. and the melting time on the y-axis. make a bar chart showing the ratio of sugar to corn syrup on the x-axis. The marshmallows will keep in an airtight container for up to a week. Have them evaluate the samples for taste and texture. Roll a pizza cutter in some powdered sugar. Credits Kristin Strong.
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