The sweet and fun story of Cotton Candy

The sweet and fun story of Cotton Candy

Cotton candy is a spun sugar resembling cotton that is basically sugar and air, usually containing small amounts of flavouring and/or food coloring. The source material for candy mesh today is usually both colored and flavored but originally, cotton candy was just white. In many parts of the world, cotton candy is available in a wide variety of flavors, but the two most popular and commonly found are the “blue rasberry” and “pink vanilla” flavors. Cotton candy can also be made purple by mixing the two. Cotton candy is made and sold globally and is called fairy floss in Australia and candy floss in South Africa, Ireland, New Zealand, Egypt, India, Sri Lanka and the UK. Similar candies include the Indian soan papdi and the Persian pashmak.

Pashmak – Persian Fairy Floss
Image source : Essential Ingredient

Soan Papdi
Image source : Indian Recipe Info

Cotton candy has a very interesting back story as it has been around for a very long time with several places claiming its origin. Some sources trace cotton candy to a form of spun sugar found in Europe in the 19th century while others suggest that versions of spun sugar originated in Italy as early as the 15th century. Until the late 1800’s, cotton candy wasn’t very popular because before then, it had to be made by manually spinning sugar until it became fine and airy making it a very expensive and labor-intensive treat. The process has become relatively simple with candy floss machines but long before they existed, confectioners were still trying to get something like this to happen to sugar. One recipe in The Complete Housewife (1773) begins, “Take a quarter of a pound of treble refined sugar, in one lump, and set it before a moderate fire.” Once the sugar has liquefied in its dish and begins to “run clear like water”, you are instructed to dip a knifepoint in it and – quickly, quickly – draw out a long thing strand of sugar that you wrap swiftly about a mold. Then you return with the knife to pick up another strand, continuing as long as the sugar remains molten – hopefully long enough for you to get enough sugar threads wrapped around your mold to make a nice web or nest to put delicacies in. Luckily, two Americans applied for a patent for a candy floss machine and it was a hit so those of us who do not possess that much patience and dexterity can easily acquire cotton candy without all the hassle.

In 1897, machine-spun cotton candy was invented by William Morrison who, ironically, was a dentist, and John C.Wharton. It was first introduced to a wide audience at the 1904 World’s Fair in St Louis as “Fairy Floss”. It was a huge hit and they sold 68 655 boxes. Eventually, improvements to the machine followed as it apparently had a problem with vibration but the machine described by the original patent is similar to the one used today.

In 1921, a similar cotton candy machine was invented by Joseph Lacaux who was also a dentist and the Lascaux patent named the sweet candy “cotton candy” and the “fairy floss” name faded away. In 1978, the first automated machine was used for the production of cotton candy.

Ever since, the creations and innovations of this machine have become greater and greater with machines ranging in sizes from counter-top accessible to party size. Machines made for commercial use can hold up to 1.4kg of sugar and have compartments for storage of extra flavors.

Cotton candy begins as a solid sugar, which is then poured into a little hopper. The hopper has a heating element which heats and liquefies the sugar. A motor sets the whole contraception spinning centrifugally through minute holes, finally allowing sugar to rapidly cool and re-solidify into fine strands. While the mass of sugar starts out molten, being split into so many little pieces gives it much greater surface area than before and much more of it is exposed to the cooler air. So it goes from being liquid to being solid in an instant. The sugar cobweb which results from this, then collects all around the inside of the bowl. Cotton candy is served on either a stick, paper cone, or in a plastic bag. Learning how to gather the strands of cotton candy in an even, airy bundle takes practice. The trick is to let the floss came to the cone or stick and then to rotate the cone or stick to catch the streams of floss as they spin.

Machines used to make cotton candy typically include a spinning head enclosing a hopper – a small “sugar reserve” bowl – into which a charge of granulated, colored sugar is poured. Heating elements near the rim of the head melt the sugar, which is squeezed out through tiny holes by centrifugal force. The molten sugar solidifies in the air and is caught in a larger bowl which surrounds the spinning head. As the hopper empties, it needs to be recharged with more sugar.

It is very important to use the correct sugar as colored sugar packaged specially for the process is milled with melting characteristics and a crystal size optimized for the head and heated holes. Granulated sugar used in baking contains fine crystals which spin out unmelted while rock sugar crystals are too large to properly contact the heater, slowing the production of cotton candy. Cotton candy is sensitive to humidity, and in humid summer locales, the process can be messy and sticky.

Interesting facts about cotton candy

The longest cotton candy was created in July 2009 and measured 1400m long – about the same length as 13 football fields! It took six hours to make the gigantic treat.

Longest cotton candy
Image source : Guinness World Records

Street vendors in China sell cotton candy artwork. They create edible masterpieces that resemble flowers and animals, using nothing but cotton candy.

Colorful Cotton Candy Flowers From China
Made in Four Minutes
Image source : Sora News24


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