Cotton candy is a rite of passage for any kid. The pink and blue sugary clouds are the unmistakable harbinger of fast rides, loud noises, and sometimes, if you’re very lucky, pony rides. Did a dentist really invent it? And why do we have grapes that taste like it? Join us as we explore the wonderful world of the classic carnival sweet.
To make it, we first heat coloured sugar down to its liquid form. This is then squeezed or spun out of little baby holes, a process that occurs so quickly that it causes the sugar to turn back to its solid state – but in the form of thin and delicate strands that are collected in the shape we’re familiar with today. Sometimes you can witness the process in person at a fair or festival, and sometimes you have to use another name for it; candy floss is the common one in places like the UK, India, and South Africa, but way down in Australia, they call it fairy floss!
But did a dentist really invent it? Yes and no. To be honest, the actual pre-machine origins of the fluffy food are hazy and can be tracked to Europe as early as the 15th century. But once we start looking at spinning instruments from various places between 1897 and 1921 we do, in fact, see the names of not only one, but two dentists.
First we have William Morrison, a dentist who worked with confectioner John Wharton to develop a machine that creates the airy confection. It was first introduced to new audiences at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair with great success, selling close to 70,000 products in 8 months. Later, Albert Robinson would design a device that would better manage the heat efficiency in the machine. Then New Orleans dentist, Joseph Lascaux, eventually created the first automatic machine. This would allow the clouds to be spun in person at every carnival and fair. Of course, in pandemic times, we are all longing to visit an amusement park or a fair and munch on this sticky dessert.
If you don’t already know, the blue flavour is actually blue raspberry. Contrastingly, the pink can be either vanilla or bubble gum flavour. When combined,we see purple cotton floss. Interestingly, the first cotton floss was plain white.
But what about the cotton candy grapes (see video 4:26 min), are they real? Yes, they’re real. Developed in 2001 and non-GMO, no artificial flavoring is added to give the grapes a candy-like taste. Fruit geneticist David Cain at the California-based fruit breeding company, International Fruit Genetics (IFG) wanted to create an improvement on the taste, size, and texture of the concord grape, which was too delicate. He performed plant breeding from multiple grape species and managed to create a grape type that has about 12% more sugar than regular table grapes but far less tartness. It is now grown and distributed by Grapery, a third generation vineyard that uses science to introduce new natural grape types.
Have a craving for the fairy floss dessert? See what’s available near you. It’s worth having a look if you feel like having cotton candy right now. It’s sure to make you feel like a kid at the carnival again, minus the scary clowns.