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When I was a child one of the things I wanted to try so much was cotton candy. I saw it on TV, I suppose, and must have seen it at the fair when other people ate it. I don’t know if my mother never bought it for me because she thought it was bad or just didn’t want to spend the money. At the World’s Fair in 1904 a box of it cost 25¢, which was $6.75 in 2015 money, roughly the time my own son might have been asking me for such stuff. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have wanted to spend that much for it either.
To be honest, I have no idea how much it was, in my childhood or my son’s, but it couldn’t have been outrageous because when I was, I don’t know, maybe eleven or thereabouts, I managed to cobble together enough to go off on my own and buy some. In great anticipation I waded my way through the small-town fair crowd, seeing people with their own fairy fluff (as we called it, perhaps in error but at least retaining the desirable alliteration), looking so happy and having great fun. The masses of pink and blue fluffy goodness simply beamed happiness. And then…finally! I handed over my coin, reached for my sensational swirl and then bit in.
You know, I don’t recall anymore either what color mine was. That might be because my attention was rapidly focused on the reality that this was the most disgusting thing I’d ever tasted. Of course, there were some class of vegetables, but this, this had held so much promise. It was candy for crying out loud! It wasn’t supposed to taste horrible! For me, cotton candy was no longer it.
Still, millions of others love it, and so one day I decided to check out its history to see where this concoction came from. I was in for a few surprises.
- Fairy floss was invented by a dentist. A dentist! In 1897 Dr. William Morrison teamed up with candy maker John C. Wharton to invent the contraption that melted sugar and blew it through a fine screen.
- So yeah, cotton candy is literally made of colored sugar and air.
- One website, clearly marketing their product, states that cotton candy is “healthier than most desserts” because it contains no fat and has less sugar than a twelve-ounce can of soda. Also, the way it’s made—spun—means there is more air than sugar in it. What a relief!
- Before we go any further, because some of you will surely know this: cotton candy actually dates back to Renaissance Italy. “Chefs learned to melt and spin sugar, pulling it into thin strands using forks and draping it over broom handles.” This was labor intensive, which meant high cost, which meant it was a treat only for the wealthy.
- Nearly twenty years after Dr. Morrison’s confections made such a splash at the World’s Fair, another dentist, Dr. Josef Lascaux, improved the candy-making machine’s design and re-branded the sweet as “cotton candy.”
- Threads of cotton candy are thinner than human hair.
- Cotton candy comes in many flavors, including bubble gum, chocolate, watermelon and maple syrup.
- International versions have even more: In Iran, sesame is added to the sugar before melting to create pashmak (“wool-like); makers of ngathrek golop lhakpa in Bhutan spin sugar with butter tea and chili pepper; and in Turkey Pi˛smaniye is spun sugar blended with buttered flour.
- Other names for the treat include suikerspin, or “sugar spider” in the Netherlands. French children eat what is perhaps my favorite: barbe à papa, or papa’s beard, which actually seems like quite a correct name!
- There is such a thing as sugar-free cotton candy!
- You can learn a little more about Dr. Morrison here, as well as some other cool facts about cotton candy.
CBC Kids. “10 Sweet Facts About Cotton Candy.” CBC.ca, accessed November 12, 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/kidscbc2/the-feed/10-sweet-facts-about-cotton-candy1
Muscato, Christopher. “Cotton Candy: History and Facts.” Study.com: Chapter 6, Lesson 27, accessed December 12, 2020, https://study.com/academy/lesson/cotton-candy-history-facts.html
Portable Press. “8 Strange and Interesting Facts About Cotton Candy.” Blog, accessed December 6, 2020, https://www.portablepress.com/blog/2015/04/8-strange-and-interesting-facts-about-cotton-candy/