Originally called fairy floss, cotton candy has an illustrious history going back to the mid-18th century. Today the smell and taste of cotton candy can transport most of us back to childhood memories of carnivals, circuses, fairs and amusement parks.
Cotton candy is made by melting sugar to a liquid state and then cooling the liquid, in small strips, back to a solid state. In the 18th century, this was a labor intensive procedure that required the cook to slowly pull long strips of liquid sugar into the air. The strips were woven into a fine web that was a beautiful and delicious addition to the banquet table.
Modern candy making machines simplify this process. Today, using centrifugal force, the liquid sugar is forced through tiny pin-holes, the thin strands dry into thread-like filaments that can be swirled up onto a paper cone. Adding food coloring and flavoring to the sugar creates multi-colored combinations that are a delight to the eye as well as the nose and mouth.
While flavoring and coloring may be used, the only necessary ingredient for cotton candy is sugar. A food made entirely from sugar is never going to be labeled as health food, however, cotton candy may not be as bad for you as many people think. A typical one-ounce serving of cotton candy contains more air than sugar and only 105 calories. Compared to other carnival food, such as candy apples at 290 calories, corn dogs at 350 calories or funnel cake at a whopping 730 calories, cotton candy is a much better choice.
For kids, using their tongues to pull in those sticky strands of sugar, and then experiencing the sensation of the sugar re-liquefying in their mouths is exhilarating as well as delicious. For adults, each bite of cotton candy contains the memories of every other time it has been eaten. The intricate interplay of smell, taste, and sensation bring back memories of simply pleasures and happy times.