What Is Candy Floss

Candy Floss, that magical fluffy treat from your childhood. But have you ever wondered exactly how it is made?

What Is Candy Floss?

Cotton Candy, Fairy Floss, Papa’s Beard, Ghosts Breath. Many names from around the world for the same thing. Spun sugar confectionary.

A mixture of sugar, with flavouring and colouring is poured into the centre of a floss machine. This central drum rotates at high speed and heats the mixture to around 186 degrees centigrade. This is the melting point of sugar.

As the sugar melts the liquid oozes through the mesh surrounding the central drum and is flung out at high speed. As it exits the drum it solidifies into long thin strands, thinner than a human hair.

Because of the speed at which it happens, you don’t actually see this happening. What you see is candy floss magically appearing around the perimiter of the bowl, almost like magic.

The operator uses a stick, or in some countries a thin paper cone, to collect the floss by winding it into a cone shape.

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An Early Candy Floss Machine

Who Invented It?

Spun sugar was found in Europe as early as the 19th Century (in fact, one claim is that it originated in Italy as early as the 15th Century). This early confectionary was labour intensive and out of the reach of the ordinary public.

In 1897 a dentist called William Morrison and confectioner John C. Wharton invented an electric machine to speed up the creation of floss. They introduced this as ‘Fairy Floss’ at the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. They sold 68,655 portions packaged in wooden boxes at the price of 25 cents a pop, which allowing for inflation is the equivalent of 7 dollars today.

In 1921 another dentist, Joseph Lascaux invented a similar machine, he patented the name Cotton Candy, and the original fairy floss name faded away (although it is still in use in Australia and New Zealand today).

Lady carrying a big candy floss

Calorific Value

It seems a little perverse, that a treat, made pretty much entirely from pure sugar would be invented by dentists.

In fairness, although it sounds bad, the fact is that most of the floss is air. The actual calorific value on a typical serving of candy floss gives it one of the lowest values of most treats you would find on the fairground. A mere 105 calories is all you would be eating.

Because the sugar cools so rapidly it doesn’t re-crystallize, instead it forms a disorganised amorphous solid, basically you are eating the sugar version of glass.

Branded Candy Floss

Modern Floss

Candy Floss today, is made pretty much exactly the same was as it was 100 years ago. The machines are more modern, quieter and more reliable, but pretty much work exactly the same as the early versions.

There is a wider choice of flavours available, including things like prosecco and gin and tonic. It’s also possible to add branding to the actual candy floss, along with additional decoration such as mini spiders for halloween, snowflakes for Christmas.

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