Homemade Marshmallows, and why I made them myself

There was a time, not that long ago, when I would have never even considered making my own marshmallows.  Why go through the trouble when you buy a bag for less than $3.00?  Well, I’ll tell you why I changed my mind.  Here are the ingredients in a bag of marshmallows from my grocery store:  corn syrup, sugar, dextrose, modified corn starch, water, gelatin, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, artificial flavor, and artificial color.  See those last three ingredients?  Those are the difference between having a day full of smiles and family fun, and having a day full of battles and pounding my head against a wall.  All because my daughter is highly sensitive to chemicals, especially petroleum based chemicals, in her food.

It seems like we’ve always struggled with Sophie’s behavior. I mean seriously struggled, to the point of near exhaustion.  We’ve always tried to chalk it up to the fact that she’s just 5, and has a lot of energy and will eventually grow out of it.  Around December though I became increasingly concerned about ADHD.  Sophie will start kindergarten in the Fall and I felt that if we couldn’t find a way to get a handle on things, her teachers might try to steer us in a direction that I definintely didn’t want to go.   

I’ve always believed that a healthy diet can take care of most of the diseases Americans are facing, so I immersed myself in articles, books, and blogs about nutrition and wholesome foods.  I started weeding our pantry of anything that wasn’t organic, and focused on more natural foods.  Then, as I continued to research, I found the Feingold Association.  As I read their website, and the success stories of people who have used the program, I was stunned.  I was moved to tears actually – it was like they had written that entire website just for us.  Every single one of Sophie’s symptoms could be explained by one word – petroleum.  Sophie didn’t have ADHD, she had a chemical sensitivity to all the artificial ingredients in her food!  Her constant motion, continuous talking, inability to follow directions, lack of self-control, even her weird sensivity to light and accident proneness were symptoms that are very commonly caused by a chemical sensitivity.  I learned that the amount of petroleum in the food we eat is massive.  The more I learned the more uncomfortable I became.  Once I knew what those weird words in the list of ingredients really meant I was shocked – Shocked that anyone in the food industry can sleep at night knowing they are adding petroleum to literally everything my child eats, drinks, or touches.  I made it my mission to eliminate the synthetic additives from our house – food, detergent, shampoo, even toothpaste was a potential problem.  (By the way, I discovered that the children’s toothpaste my daughter was using contained a dye that was not even approved for use in food!  She’s five, she swallows that stuff like it’s candy!  Mostly because they make it look and taste just like candy!)  

Throwing away all our stuff wasn’t an easy thing to do, but there’s no way I could let my family continue using products with that kind of damaging potential.  And now I can say that it was unequivocally the best decision I have ever made.  Within 36 hours of getting rid of all the “junk” my daughter sat at the table and ate her dinner.  She didn’t stand on her chair, she didn’t crawl under her chair, she didn’t run circles around the table or wander into the living room because something caught her attention.  She sat there, ate her food, and talked to me about her day, for the first time EVER.  Amazed doesn’t even begin to describe the way I felt.  My husband came home that day from a 3 day business trip and within an hour said “It’s like she’s a different person from when I left.”  And the improvements have grown exponentially since then.  I would have never in a million years predicted how drastic the before and after picture of our family would be.  Even Sophie herself says that she feels better and tells me how much easier it is to do things now.  I was sure to involve her in our implementation of the program at every step and explained why we were making these changes.  Now she really understands that eating “junk” is just not something she wants to do.  I wish I could personally tell each and every parent that if you suspect your child has any issues with ADHD symptoms, take a look at what you’re feeding them.  Chances are it’s the chemicals that are the problem, not the child.  

Making a commitment to a diet free from petroleum is easy, especially when you see the difference it makes in your child the way I have.  But it does mean you have to be a little more creative and resourceful from time to time.  I used to buy a lot of pre-made convenience foods for breakfast.  Now I spend most of my Sunday nights baking muffins.  Our health is much more important to me than saving time these days, and honestly, once you get into a routine of making most things from scratch it doesn’t seem like a daunting task at all.  So when we planned our very first family camping trip last May the first thing that came to mind was marshmallows, naturally.  Without even pausing to consider what I was getting into I decided to make the marshmallows myself — I wasn’t at all willing to skip them entirely.  Turns out it was one of the best times I’ve ever had in the kitchen.  It was a little bit like a science experiment – with each step I kept saying to myself ‘there’s no way this is going to work’.  But amazingly it did, and my very first batch of marshmallows were not only beautiful, but they were fabulously delicious.  So full of sweetly flavored vanilla – they were miles beyond any store-bought marshmallow I’ve ever tasted.  Don’t be afraid to try this at home, and get the kids in there with you.  Explain to them why making things yourself is healthier than buying processed food.  Yes, you will get a little sticky, and you will probably be covered head to toe in powdered sugar.  So be sure to have the camera ready to catch all of that on film.  

Homemade Marshmallows

1 cup confectioner’s sugar, divided
3 1/2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
2 cups cane sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon high quality vanilla

Generously grease the bottom and sides of a 13×9 rectangular metal baking pan.  Dust inside of pan with about 1/4 cup of the confectioner’s sugar.  

In the bowl of an electric mixer pour in 1/2 cup water and add gelatin.  Let stand about two minutes.

In a medium sized heavy sauce pan cook cane sugar, corn syrup, remaining water, and salt over low heat.  Stir constantly with a wooden spoon, scraping the sides and bottom well.  When sugar is dissolved increase heat to medium and bring mixture to a low boil – do not stir this time.  Let boil for about 14 minutes.  Remove pan from heat and very gently pour sugar mixture into the gelatin mixture.  Stir with a wooden spoon until gelatin is dissolved and fully incorporated.  

Turn on the mixer and beat on high speed until mixture becomes thickened and turns white.  This should take about 6-8 minutes.  Mixture will triple in volume (kids love this part).  

In a separate mixing bowl add egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form (I used my handheld mixer for this part).  Add vanilla and continue beating until just combined.  Add this egg mixture to the sugar mixture until just combined.  

Pour the combined sugar and egg mixture into prepared baking pan.  This can get a bit messy, as the contents of the mixing bowl are extremely sticky.  I found that coating my spatula with confectioner’s sugar helped to keep it from sticking so much.  It’s not likely that you’ll be able to get every bit of the mixture out of the bowl, and in fact it’s not really required.  Just get as much as you can without needed a shower afterwards.  

Sift 1/4 cup of confectioner’s sugar over the top of the marshmallows in the pan.  Chill in the fridge for at least three hours, up to overnight.  

Run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan to loosen marshmallow slab.  Place a piece of parchment paper on your worksurface, making sure it’s about 6″ longer than the size of your pan.  Invert pan onto parchment paper and gently nudge marshmallow slab out of pan using your fingers.  Using the sharp knife, cut marshmallows that are about 1″ cubed.  Sift about 1/4 cup confectioners sugar into now empty baking pan.  Add marshmallows to pan and gently shake to coat all sides.  Shake off excess sugar and store in air tight container.  Will keep up to one week.  

recipe from Smitten Kitchen
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  1. The Jongejans says

    I read up on the fiengold diet about a year ago when my son kept getting in trouble in school. we eliminated a bunch of junk from our diet but unfortunately its crept back in. today he talked non-stop for 20 minutes all the way home after dropping his daddy off at work. this article has reminded me of what I need to do. thanks for sharing it!! it makes me so happy to know it has helped your daughter and i know it will help my son too

  2. Our Family Eats says

    The non-stop talking is certainly something we struggle with too It's amazing to see the difference after removing the chemicals from our food though. I'm glad to meet someone else who feels the same! Hope you have great success as you get things on track again!

  3. momma-lana says

    Whenour youngest daughter was 16 she was diagnosed with early onset schizophrenia. Terrifying for us but more terrifying was her behavior and her suicidal thoughts. We put her on the same diet as your daughter and she was fine in 2 days. She is 20 now and a 4.0 college student. Thank God we were able to help her and she is not living a life of drugs to control her thoughts and behavior. She was helped trmendously by going to a kinesiologist who found that she had massive amounts of viruses and bacteria in her body. After being treated for those problems she is able to eat all those foods again without a problem. We are very thankful for that as she was having breakthrough reactions if she accidentally ingested something she could not have in the college dining room. She would do things like go out and drive wildly through the mountains near her college. Such peace of mind to know these things will not happen anymore. I know where you are! Whole Foods carried an all natural marshmallow but they are pricey!

  4. Our Family Eats says

    Momma-lana, what an amazing story – thank you for sharing! That gives me great hope for the future. You'll have to share with me how they found and treated the viruses – very interesting stuff. Funny, I found the all-natural marshmallows at Whole Foods about 2 weeks after our camping trip!

  5. momma-lana says

    A kinesiologist tests the body using the electrical impulses and checking for muscle weakness in the body. Googling kinesiology gets all kinds of strange results and new age stuff. The one we took our daughter to does all the scientific part of kinesiology and not the new age part. It still seems like voodoo or something but it worked for our daughter I talk about here and our older daughter who was severely gluten intolerant. The premise is that heavy metals, viruses, bacteria, fungal growth, molds and chemicals overload the immune system and then it malfunctions. I had very severe food allergies for 27 years and the treatment has given me those foods back and I am off all my asthma drugs. I don't know how to tell you to go about finding one in your area. The one we go to works only by word of mouth referals and is not even in the phone book. You might start by asking anyone you know who does alternative medicine if they know of a good kinesiologist in your area. Heavy metals are the real problem with immunizations. The serum has heavy metals in it to make it stay in the tissues of the body. Some just cannot handle it as was the case with our oldest daughter. One thing I had worked on ws aspartame deposits in the body. I have not consumed diet drinks since I was a teen and I am 51! So you can see how far reaching the consequenses of our choices are and how they just pile up and overload the immune system. I hope you can find help in your area. Seven months of going has completetly changed our health. (Sorry this is so rambling!)

  6. Tracy says

    How did you narrow it down to petroleum? Just wondering, because now that I read this, I'm realizing my daughter does the same things your used to!

  7. Crystal says

    This is an interesting first thing to try, however, it should also be noted that some children do actually have ADHD that is caused by a chemical imbalance of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain that can only be counteracted by stimulant medication. That said, I admire your persistence to help your child and I am SO GLAD that this worked for you.

  8. momof5 says

    wow! i am SLOWLY reading ALL of your posts on food and ADHD, and I am amazed! first, thank you for posting this! I have a 10 year old, that I watch on a daily basis, TRYING to play with the kids in the neighborhood, and breaks my heart to watch them shun away from him, because he is so out of control! I am going to go at this full force, (I was told to medicate him, but telling our kids to say no to drugs, then, turning around drugging them, seemed contradictory)…I truly believed that food does play a big role in behavior, (I have already cut out #40 red dye) but I really did NOT think it was this big..on your advice and testimony of others as well, I am doing this,..for him…I have a "sophie" (and maybe another one in the making), and I cant watch in pain, as my babies are suffering! Thank you..again, for being a brave mom, and posting this…I will keep you posted, on how all this works..fingers crossed..we get our son back…thanks!

  9. Our Family Eats says

    Thank you so much! So nice to find someone else trying to spread the word about this stuff! So glad you stopped by!

  10. Lynnette says

    Wow, this is a fantastic website! Just found it today. My oldest was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 7, thanks to an episode of Dateline that happened to run that same week and a pediatrician who wasn’t so quick to write a script, we figured out that, for him, it was sleep deprivation! He had never been a great sleeper as a baby, and as a young child he had lots of dreams (not nightmares) and would sleepwalk often. Imagine a seven year old who had sleep deprivation like we do when we have a new baby…..can’t exactly expect them to control themselves can we? My pediatrician gave us a script for a non-addictive medication also used for kids with seizures that would relax him, not knock him out. Whenever he started going through a restless sleep pattern, we gave it to him for 3-4 days and that fixed it!
    I now have 3 step-children who were all diagnosed with ADHD. I am always trying to do what I can to reduce the amount of processed foods that we eat, this just gave me even more modivation! I subscribe to an organic produce organization. We also have started raising our own “backyard chickens” for fresh eggs and meat. It is so easy!

  11. Lucy says

    Just made these marshmallows! What a fun recipe! I’ve made many of your recipes and also am trying to elimate the ‘junk’ out of my children’s diet. Wow, it’s difficult. Thanks for the inspiration!

  12. Holly says

    I just wanted to thank everyone for their stories…it really helps me out! My daughter is three and we’re having a lot of behavior issues. We went to Trader Joes and got her back on all organic and no junk (Pop Tarts!!!) and she’s done a 180. It stinks that people want to go straight to medicating kids instead of trying to change their diet first.

    • says

      Yes Holly, I agree 100%! If you are ever so inclined I’d love to add your experience to my list of “success stories”. There are still people who are skeptical that diet changes will work, so the more people I have backing me up the better! I’m so glad your daughter is doing well!

  13. Krystal says

    We are a feingold family too! We’ve only been on the diet for about 5 months but what a difference it has made in our son! We were struggling with the decision of holding our son back and having him repeat kindergarten. He was severly behind in reading and his teacher suspected both ADD and dislexia. But I just didn’t feel good about retention. I decided to get him a private tutor for the summer and then decide his placement. After our first tutoring session his tutor told me about feingold so I decided it couldn’t hurt to try. WOW!!! It’s crazy how fast a kid can learn when their brain is working correctly! He just started first grade and tested too high to be in the reading resource program at school. His first grade teacher had talked to his kindergarten teacher and was expecting a kid who would need lots of help. About 2 weeks after school started his teacher grabbed me to ask what I did with him this summer. She says he is right where is should be academically and she is very impressed on his ability to stay on task. Eliminating the chemicals in our food can sometimes be hard, but it is SO worth it!!!!!

  14. Kenzie says

    This might have just changed my life. My Two year old son sounds exactly like you described you’re daughter. We are at our wits end with him because he NEVER slows down. Its to the point where its unbearable to take him anywhere because he acts up and behaves so terribly. We were leaning towards adhd but do not want him on medication at such a young age (or at all for that matter) this chemical allergy thing might the answer. I would love to learn LOTS more about this!!!

    • says

      Hi Kenzie! You definitely need to check out the Six Week Challenge tab on my site – it will take you through the process of cutting out artificial ingredients from your diet in easy, manageable steps. It can change lives – I hear it every day! Good luck, and if you have any questions I’m here for you!

    • says

      I haven’t made these in a while, mostly because I’ve been meaning to research a corn syrup alternative for myself. I’ve been thinking about trying agave nectar or honey but I haven’t tried it yet. Sorry, I wish I had a better answer for you.

    • Amy says

      I try to avoid corn based products for my children and I have a recipe. I’ll post soon!

  15. Susan says

    Hi! Attempting to make the marshmallows tonight and I don’t think it’s coming out right. First of all the mixture didn’t turn white. Could this be due to not using enough gelatine sheets/leaves?? We do not have the powder and I’ve done the math. Please help. Really wanted to give this a go!!

    • says

      Oh no! I haven’t heard of this problem before – the confectioner’s sugar should make them a nice shade of creamy white. Did you use light corn syrup? It should be almost clear. If it is the darker variety of corn syrup then it might cause them to be darker. I hope the color doesn’t affect the taste too much.