Cotton candy and its Turkish cousin, Pismaniye

Cotton candy and its Turkish cousin, Pismaniye

Cotton candy has a longer history than you would think, it dates back to the 15th century, when both Italian and Middle Eastern master chefs created wool-like texture sweets mainly from pure sugar.

Sugary air

Like it or not, eating “fluffy sugar” is not the unhealthiest thing you can have at street festivals. Cotton candy is entirely from sugar but it contains fewer calories than it seems. A fluffy cotton candy that is as big as our head surprisingly consists of less sugar than a bottle of coke. It can be explained very easily: cotton candy is mostly just air. Cotton candy is created by a simple but very creative machine. There is a spinning part with teeny-tiny microscopic holes at the centre of a metal bowl. A heater melts the sugar into syrup while a centrifugal force pushes the liquid sugar through the holes. The sugar is hardened into long thin strands that are the body of cotton candy. During this process the liquid sugar cools down fast enough to prevent re-crystallization. Scientifically said, what we call cotton candy is the “sugar version of glass”. 

History of cotton candy

The cotton candy we know today was invented in the last decade of the 19th century by, surprisingly enough, a dentist called William Morrison and confectioner John Wharton. Their cotton candy machine was introduced to the public at the St. Louis World’s Fair with great success. Later, during the 1920s the name “cotton candy” was created by Josef Lascaux, another dentist who actually failed to improve the machine of Morrison and Wharton that was not durable enough and had a tendency to fall apart. This issue was solved during the 50s by the company Gold Medal Products from Cincinatti. The main mechanics of the machine are still the same nowadays and Gold Medal Products is the main producer of cotton candy machines. 

Early history of spun-sugar

As we said in the introduction, cotton candy is not entirely a modern invention. Thin spun sugar was very fashionable in Renaissance Venice although just accessible for the richest group of the society because sugar was a niche product. They made interesting edible “sculptures” from thin strands of melted sugar with a wooden stick. The use of spun sugar was also known in France during Napoleon’s rule. According to anecdotes, the famous chef Marie Antoine Careme was able to make amazing decorations from spun sugar such as miniature temples, palaces and fountains. 

Pismaniye: “If you don’t try it you would regret it a thousand times”

Pismaniye is similar to cotton candy but it also contains butter and flour. The history of this Turkish delight dates back to the middle ages or even to ancient times. The texture of pismaniye is different than cotton candy because it is denser and the strands of sugar are thicker. Traditionally pismaniye is made thanks to the hard work of a group of men. The three stages of making pismaniye are the following: (1) flour and butter are stirred over heat for hours, (2) sugar is melted into syrup and cooled down just until it is still able to be molded, then it is shaped into a 20 centimetres ring, (3) the sugar ring is placed on a huge circular tray together with the cold butter-flour mixture and 3-4 strong men simultaneously pull it into a widening loop, folded onto itself and stretched again. This continuous stretching- folding process is repeated 25-30 times that result in a wool-like textured outcome. 

Pismaniye can be served just by itself or coated with chocolate, topped with walnuts or pistachios and even flavoured with cocoa or vanilla. In Turkish language pisman means ‘to regret’. According to the Turkish saying about the beloved pismaniye; “Try it once and regret it once, don’t try it and you’d regret it a thousand times.