It’s fluffy, it’s bright, it’s sticky, and it’s delicious. Obviously, I’m talking about cotton candy. This quintessential fair food is also, to me, one of the most puzzling of them all, because by all accounts it’s… kind of weird. It’s sugar, but it’s an airy cotton ball of sugar. We’ve all seen it being made, and as kids it looked like some kind of magic trick. And now, as an adult, it still looks like a magic trick. How does it get that texture? Why is it pink (or blue?) So many questions. Let’s look at some answers.
Even though cotton candy is just sugar, let’s be real here, it has a super unique flavor. That’s why cotton candy flavor as been infused into all kinds of other non-cotton candy items, like gum, flavored milk, ice cream, and even a special variety of grapes (which is clearly one of nature’s finer gifts to mankind). In the world of candy, this treat is a star player, but how is it even made?
A little history is in order, here. In 1904, the World’s Fair took place in St. Louis. Everyone who was anyone was there, and numerous new inventions were rolled out. One of those inventions just so happened to be a contraption that whirled a tub very fast, resulting in a centrifugal force that, that when met with heated sugar, produced an oddly bulbous, air-filled and fluffy thing. That thing was simply pure sugar that had been liquified, fluffed with air, and spun out to form into sticky fibers, just like a web. The web of fibers was then rolled around a stick or a cone and given to visitors of the fair who marveled at this ingenious sugar transformation.
At that point, cotton candy went by a few different names, such as fairy floss or candy floss (in many parts of the world, it still goes by those names). And speaking of floss, ironically the inventor of the cotton candy machine was actually a dentist by the name of William Morrison who was aided by a confectioner friend, John Wharton. While these men manufactured the first modern cotton candy machine, the puffy sugar treat had actually been around for much longer than that, dating back to the 1500’s, although making it was a painstaking process. The original confection was known as “spun sugar” and was almost exclusively enjoyed by the wealthy. Only the most skilled confectioners could produce it as the laborious process involved boiling sugar and then little by little pulling out spun fibers one at a time.
Since the birth of the cotton candy machine, this fluffy treat has been enjoyed en masse at basically every sporting event, carnival, and fair. The popular colors of light pastel pinks and blues are simply a result of dyed sugar that carry different flavors, such as blue raspberry or vanilla. This iconic treat is a sticky sweet reminder of all of the foods your parents didn’t want to buy for you as a kid, much like funnel cakes, fried Oreos, and churros. But hey, now that you’re a grown ass adult, you can fully revel in even all of the childhood nostalgia by whipping up your own DIY versions of your fave indulgences from back in the day, like pixie sticks, toaster pastries, and more.