17 January 2014

There's a lot to love about vegan marshmallows

Have you ever wondered where marshmallows got their name? They were originally made from, you guessed it, marshmallow, a pretty flower related to hollyhocks that grows wild in marshy areas. The consumption of marshmallow goes all the way back to ancient Egypt, but back then, the plant's mucilaginous roots and leaves, which are naturally emollient and anti-inflammatory, were used medicinally to treat sore throats and gastric ulcers.

The fluffy modern-day confection dates back to 19th-century France, where candymakers whipped up sap from the plant's root and mixed it with sugar. Voilà, the storied history of s'mores and Peeps was begun.

The original marshmallows were almost certainly vegan, but at some point, the plant's root was replaced with gelatin (and sometimes egg whites), and that is how most marshmallows are made today. Not an improvement, in my opinion. Marshmallow is rich in iron, calcium, iodine, zinc, pantothenic acid, and B vitamins. Gelatin is rich in, well, yuck.

Gelatin is made from the bones, skin, and connective tissues of cowspigschickensfish, and even horses who have been slaughtered for their meat and skin. These animals are sometimes butchered while still conscious if the stunning methods don't work, which happens all too frequently on today's fast-moving, factory-like slaughter lines. "They die piece by piece," one slaughterhouse worker told TheWashington Post.

To produce gelatin, the animals' body parts are soaked in hot water to remove the fat (after the "rotten and unusable parts" are removed, of course). The body parts are then washed with acid and lye to remove minerals and kill bacteria, soaked in a lime (the caustic chemical compound, not the fruit) bath to loosen the collagen, after which they are boiled to convert collagen into gelatin. Yum-eeeek … ?

Vegan marshmallows are sounding better by the minute, aren't they? Fortunately, several companies, including those listed below, now make marshmallows out of plant-based starches and gelling agents. Vegan marshmallows are available at Pangea, Vegan Essentials, and other websites, in addition to natural foods stores.

Sweet & Sara: In addition to marshmallows in a variety of flavors, including vanilla, strawberry, and toasted coconut, this all-vegan company makes its own s'mores and rice crispy treats.

Dandies: Award-winning Chicago Vegan Foods makes vegan cheese and ice cream in addition to its popular Dandies large and mini vegan marshmallows. Perfect for toasting or sprinkling on hot cocoa.

Kerfluffles: Want to get adventurous? Try Kerfluffles' chai tea–, gingersnap-, and mint chocolate chip–flavored vegan marshmallows.

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is the largest animal rights organization in the world, with more than 3 million members and supporters. PETA focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: on factory farms, in the clothing trade, in laboratories, and in the entertainment industry.