A typical cotton candy cone contains about one hundred calories.
Cotton candy is a light and fluffy sugar candy, which resembles cotton wool. It is made by heating sugar to a very high temperature and then spinning the melted sugar to produce fine sugar threads. Cotton candy has a fibrous texture that makes it unique from other sugar candies. The fibrous threads have many of the same characteristics as cotton fibers, which is how cotton candy got its name.
Cotton candy is a popular food at amusement parks and carnivals and is typically sold individually as a large mass wrapped around a cardboard cone. When the threads are collected on a cone, they are packed loosely so that a certain amount of air gets trapped between the fibers. This increases the volume of the candy, giving it a light and fluffy texture. Cotton candy remains a favorite among people of all ages. Today, it is also sold in malls, video shops, movie theaters, toy stores, grocery stores, and sports arenas.
Sugar, the main ingredient in cotton candy, was not known during ancient times. Many early cultures made candies using honey mixed with such ingredients as fruit, nuts, and spices. Other sweeteners used included date syrup, fig syrup, and sugar cane juice. The ancient Hindus and Chinese grew sugar cane and extracted the juice for sweetening. There is evidence that when Persia (now called Iran) invaded India during the early 500s b.c.e., the conquerors found what they described as plants that produced honey without bees. In later years, Persia cultivated sugar cane and refined it to produce cane sugar, some of which was used to make candy.
The Arabic people who invaded Persia during the seventh century discovered sugar cane, which subsequently was introduced to Spain, North Africa, and Sicily in Italy. Sugar cane did not reach England until the eleventh century, and even then, it was scarce. Some of it was made into candy, which for many years was a luxury item available only to the wealthy.
In 1747, German scientist Andreas Marggraf (1707–1782) discovered sugar in beet juice. Fifty years later, in 1798, his student Franz Achard (1753–1821) produced the first beet sugar. These accomplishments and the invention of candy-making machinery contributed to the growth of the candy industry in Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
In the United States, the invention of candy-making machines also contributed to the growth of the candy industry. These machines were semiautomatic and allowed production on a large scale. In 1897, William J. Morrison (1860–1926) and John C. Wharton, candymakers from Nashville, Tennessee, invented the first electric machine for making cotton candy. The machine consisted of a spinning bowl with tiny holes. Sugar that was heated in the bowl melted and was forced through the tiny holes, forming fine strands of sugar. They called the feathery candy "Fairy Floss" and first introduced it to the world at the St. Louis World's Fair (Missouri) in 1904.
The portable machine soon became very popular. Operators could transport the machine to circuses, carnivals, and ball parks and sell individual servings of the candy. At some point, the name became cotton candy. Mass production of cotton candy occurred after 1972 when an automatic manufacturing machine was invented.
Sugar is the main ingredient used in the manufacture of cotton candy. Its chemical name is sucrose, and it is obtained primarily from sugar cane and sugar beet. Sucrose is commonly called cane sugar. In cotton candy, sugar is responsible for the candy's physical structure, as well as its taste and mouthfeel (physical sensation of food in the mouth).
Other ingredients are needed to produce the popular characteristics of cotton candy. Color additives, or dyes, are added to white sugar to produce the different colors that make cotton candy appealing to the eye. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the use of color additives in food. Cotton candy can be made to be almost any color by combining FDA-approved color additives, including Red Dye #40 (commonly called allura Red AC), Yellow Dye #5 (tartrazine), Yellow Dye #6 (sunset yellow), and Blue Dye #1 (brilliant blue FCF). In addition to the standard pink and blue colors, cotton candy can be found in other colors, such as purple, red, yellow, and brown.
CERTIFIABLE COLOR ADDITIVES
Some of the colors used in cotton candy are the result of color additives. Color additives, or dyes, are manmade and require approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before they can be added to food. Seven certified colors have been approved for use in food. Color additives are popular among cotton candy manufacturers because they are stable (do not undergo changes), provide a uniform color, and mix well with other colors to provide a variety of colors and shades. In addition, color additives generally do not give undesirable flavors to foods.
Along with color, natural and artificial flavors are added to give the sugary treat extra appeal. Cotton candy is available in a variety of flavors, including bubble gum, chocolate, banana, raspberry, watermelon, cherry, mint, vanilla, grape, cherry, and piña colada (pineapple and coconut).
Different packaging materials are used in cotton candy manufacture. Clear, cellophane bags are typically used because they are moisture-proof. Moisture can make cotton candy rubbery and sticky.
The Manufacturing Process
Two types of machines are used to produce cotton candy. One machine is semiautomatic and is used to make single servings that are sold at carnivals and amusement parks. The other is a fully automated machine that produces large volumes of cotton candy for widespread distribution. Both machines are similar and are discussed below.
1 Powdered sugar is put into a large, circular, stainless steel hopper (a bin). Color additives and flavors are then added to the sugar, and the three ingredients are mixed. The hopper is fitted with a tapered bottom that feeds the sugar mixture into an extruder. The extruder is a spinning metal cylinder with a heating element and holes along its sides. Manufacturers may also use a ready-mixed sugar mixture called floss sugar, which comes in a variety of colors and flavors.
2 Inside the extruder, the sugar is heated, melting into a very hot liquid. The extruder spins, forcing the liquid sugar through the holes in its side. As the sugar leaves the extruder, it encounters air and cools, forming a delicate web of very fine threads. The threads are collected in a large circular pan surrounding the extruder. To prevent the threads from thickening into a semisolid mass, the workers make sure little, or no, moisture is present.
3 If the machine produces a small amount of cotton candy, such as machines found at fairs or malls, the machine operator collects the threads of cotton candy. The operator takes a cardboard cone and passes it around the sides of the circular pan. As the cardboard cone is passed around, the sugar fibers stick to it, forming a fluffy mass. It is immediately sold to the consumer.
Cotton candy produced in large quantities undergoes a different collection process. After exiting the automated machine, the cotton candy threads are pulled onto a conveyor belt and transferred into a sizing container. Here, the cotton candy threads are combined into a continuous bundle.
4 In the sizing container, the bundle of cotton candy is formed into a consistent shape. Devices called rollers are positioned on the top and sides of the conveyor belt to perform the shaping with a minimum of force so as not to change the texture or characteristics of the cotton candy. The rollers are typically coated with a nonstick substance, such as Teflon®. As the candy leaves the sizing container, it has the shape of a continuous block with a fixed height and width.
5 After the shaping process, the cotton candy is transported by conveyor belt to a knife blade. The knife is mounted above the conveyor belt and slides down to cut the cotton candy into segments of a specific length. The knife is drawn back, and the cotton candy moves to another area where another roller maintains its shape.
6 The completed cotton candy is transferred to a packaging machine. It is automatically put into a cellophane bag or other type of packaging and sealed. Moisture-proof packaging is used to prevent spoilage, as well as changes that moisture may bring on, such as causing the candy to get sticky. The sealed bags are passed under a coding device where they are marked with information, such as batch number and date of production. The bags are carefully put into boxes. The boxes are stacked on wooden pallets, transferred to trucks, and shipped to the local supermarkets. The entire process from loading the sugar into the cotton candy machine to putting the finished candy into boxes takes only a few minutes.
Quality control begins with checking the incoming ingredients. The ingredients are tested in a laboratory to make sure they meet specifications. Tests include analyzing an ingredient's physical properties, such as particle size, appearance, color, and flavor. Certain chemical properties of the ingredients may also be evaluated. Manufacturers generally have their own tests to ensure that the ingredients will produce a consistent, quality batch of cotton candy.
The packaging is also inspected. The odor check is an important quality control, because bags that have acquired off-odors during processing may pass on these undesirable odors to the cotton candy. The packaging is also checked for its moisture-vapor transmission rate. Other properties checked are the grease resistance and physical appearance of the packaging. Cotton candy that is manufactured properly, using quality ingredients and packaging, will remain fresh for about six months.
Manufacturers also monitor the characteristics of the finished products. As with the raw ingredients, the finished cotton candies are tested for their appearance, texture, color, and flavor. A newly prepared batch may be monitored by comparing its characteristics against established standards. A panel of specially trained personnel also performs sensory tests of taste, texture, and odor. Finally, standard industry instrument tests that measure certain product properties may also be done.
The basic cotton candy has not changed much since it was first introduced. However, as the popularity of cotton candy continues, manufacturers experiment with new flavors and colors.
Most of the improvements in the manufacture of cotton candy have to do with improving the design of machines in order to make more candies. For example, some machines have bigger hoppers for holding more powdered sugar. It is expected that future improvements will involve computer-controlled machines that will produce cotton candy more efficiently, economically, and safely.
- automated machine:
- A machine that operates and regulates itself without human intervention.
- A thin, transparent material made from wood pulp used as a moisture-proof wrapper.
- color additive:
- Any dye or substance that gives color when added to a food.
- Physical sensation of food in the mouth.
- semiautomatic machine:
- A machine that partly operates itself and partly needs a person to run it.
For More Information
Alikonis, Justin J. Candy Technology. Westport, CT: AVI Publishing Company, Inc., 1979.
"Food Color Facts." U.S. Food and Drug Administration.http://www.cfsan.fda.gov./~lrd/colorfac.html (accessed on July 22, 2002).
"Sugar Facts: Growing and Processing Sugar." The Sugar Association.http://www.sugar.org/facts/grow.html (accessed on July 22, 2002).
Cotton candy is a light and fluffy sugar confectionery which resembles cotton wool. It is made by melting a sugar composition and spinning it into fine strands. The strands are then collected on a cardboard tube or bundled in a continuous mass. First developed over 100 years ago, cotton candy remains a favorite summertime candy at carnivals, amusement parks, and baseball stadiums. With the development of more efficient, automated machines it is expected that the market for cotton candy will substantially increase in the coming years.
Cotton candy is a popular food at carnivals and amusement parks. Typically, it is sold as a large mass wrapped around a cardboard cone. It has a fibrous texture that makes it unique among sugar confectioneries. This texture is a direct result of the sugar used to make the candy and the method in which it is processed. At the start of manufacture, the sugar is a solid material supplied as individual granules. When it is melted the individual granules become intermixed and form a thick, sticky syrup. This syrup is then spun out to create thin strands that harden. These hardened strands have many of the same characteristics as cotton fibers, which is how cotton candy got its name. When the strands are collected on a cone, they are not packed close together and a certain amount of air gets trapped between them. This increases the volume of the candy, giving it a light and fluffy texture.
Sugar confectioneries have been known for thousands of years, however the development of cotton candy is a relatively recent event. Evidence shows that the first sugar confectioneries were used during the time of the ancient Egyptian civilization. True candymaking began only after a sugar refining process was developed during the fourth century. For many years candy was a luxury item available to only the privileged. Eventually, sugar became more widely available and candy could be enjoyed by all.
The modern candy industry developed during the nineteenth century. At this time, special candymaking machinery was invented. These machines were semi-automatic and allowed production on a large scale. The first cotton candy machine was created during the late nineteenth century. This machine consisted of a large pan with a rotating heating core in the middle. Operators could make individual servings, and since it was portable, it became a popular confection at circuses, carnivals, and ball parks.
Prior to the 1970s, cotton candy was only produced on a small scale. This was due to the fact that there were no automated machines that could produce enough product for widespread distribution. Then, in 1972, an automatic cotton candy manufacturing machine was patented. This machine provided an efficient for automatic manufacture and packaging. It led to the mass production of cotton candy.
Sugar is the most important ingredient used in the manufacture of cotton candy. Chemically, sugar is known as sucrose, which is a disaccharide, made up of glucose and fructose units. It is obtained primarily from sugarcane or sugar beets via an extraction process. In cotton candy, sugar is responsible for the candy's physical structure as well as its sweet taste and moutlifeel. The sugar used for cotton candy production, called floss sugar, is specially treated to promote the formation of fibers.
To produce the well-known characteristics of cotton candy, other ingredients such as dyes and flavorings must be added. Since sugar is naturally white, dyes must be added to produce the different colors typical of cotton candy. Usual dyes include Red dye #40, Yellow dye #5, Yellow dye #6, and Blue dye #1. By using only these federally regulated dyes, cotton candy can be made to be almost any color desired. The most popular colors are pink and blue, however purple, yellow, red, and brown cotton candy are also sold.
Cotton candy is available in many different flavors including bubble gum, banana, raspberry, vanilla, watermelon, and chocolate. To produce these flavors, both artificial and natural flavorants may be used. Natural flavors are obtained from fruits, berries, honey, molasses, and maple sugar. Artificial flavors are mixtures of aromatic chemicals produced synthetically via organic reactions. Some important artificial flavoring compounds include materials such as methyl anthranilate and ethyl caproate.
In addition to the cotton candy ingredients, different packaging raw materials are required. Since moisture can make cotton candy rubbery and sticky, the packaging is designed to inhibit interaction with air. Typically, a plastic bag made out of a highmolecular weight polymer is used.
There are primarily two types of machines used to produce cotton candy. One of them is semi-automatic and is used to produce the single serve helpings that are immediately sold at carnivals and amusement parks. The other is a fully automated machine that is used to produce large volumes of cotton candy for widespread distribution. Since these machines are very similar, both will be described below.
- 1 The first step in making cotton candy is converting the granular sugar into fine filaments. To do this, solid sugar is placed in a large, stainless steel hopper. This hopper has a tapered bottom, which funnels the sugar into the extruder. The extruder is a rotating metal cylinder, which has holes along its sides and is equipped with a heating element.
- 2 Inside the extruder, the sugar is heated such that it melts and becomes a molten liquid. The spinning extruder then throws the strands of liquid sugar out in all directions through the holes in its sides. As it exits the extruder, the liquid sugar cools and forms solid strands. These strands, which are the fibers used to make cotton candy, are collected in a large circular pan surrounding the extruder. To prevent coagulation of the strands, moisture is minimized during this phase of manufacture.
- 3 In machines that produce a small amount of cotton candy, such as those found at carnivals, the strands of cotton candy are then collected by the machine operator. He takes a cardboard cone and passes it around the sides of the collection pan. As the cardboard is passed around, the sticky sugar strands adhere to it. When enough is collected on the cone, the cotton candy is sold to the consumer immediately. The situation is slightly different for automated cotton candy machines. In these machines, the strands of cotton candy are pulled onto a conveyor belt and transferred into a sizing container. Here the candy strands are combined into a continuous bundle.
- 4 In the sizing container, the bundle of cotton candy is molded into a consistent shape. This is done by rollers that are spaced on the top and sides of the conveyor belt. To prevent the cotton candy from sticking to the rollers, they are typically coated with a non-stick substance such as Teflon. As the candy exits the sizing container, it has the shape of a continuous block with a fixed height and width. This forming process is done with a minimum of force so the candy is not compressed so much that it changes its character or texture.
- 5 After the shaping process, the cotton candy is conveyored to a knife blade where it is cut into segments of a set length. The knife is mounted vertically above the conveyor, and as the candy passes by, it slides down to make the cut. The knife is then retracted and the segmented candy is conveyored away. To help the candy maintain its shape and prevent it from sticking to the knife, it is then passed under another roller immediately after it is cut.
- 6 The cut mass of cotton candy is next transferred to the packaging machine. Here, it is automatically put into a plastic bag or other type of packaging, and sealed shut. It is important that the package is sealed so moisture is prevented from spoiling the candy. The bags are passed by a coding device where they are marked with information related to the date of production, batch number, and other information. The bags are then carefully put into boxes. The boxes are stacked on wooden pallets, transferred to trucks via forklifts, and shipped to the local supermarket. The entire process from loading the sugar to putting the candy in boxes takes only a few minutes.
As in all food processing facilities, quality control begins with a check of the incoming ingredients. These ingredients are tested in a quality control laboratory to ensure they meet specifications. Tests include evaluation of the ingredient's physical properties such as particle size, appearance, color, odor and flavor. Certain chemical properties of the ingredients may also be evaluated. Each manufacturer has their own tests that help certify that the incoming ingredients will produce a consistent, quality batch of cotton candy.
In addition to ingredient checks, the packaging is also inspected to ensure it meets the set specifications. An important property that is routinely examined is the odor of the packaging. Many times plastics can acquire off-odors during processing. These odors can be passed on to the food products and hence must be found before the packaging can be used. Since excessive water vapor can ruin a bag of cotton candy, the packaging is also checked for its moisture-vapor transmission rate. Other properties that are checked include grease resistance and physical appearance. Correctly produced cotton candy has a shelf life of about six months.
After production, the characteristics of the final product is also carefully monitored. Quality control chemists perform many of the same tests on the final product that they did on the initial ingredients. These include tests of the candy's appearance, flavor, texture, and odor. The usual test method involves comparing the final product to an established standard. For example, to make sure the color is correct, a random sample may be taken and compared to some set standard. Other qualities such as taste, texture and odor may be evaluated by sensory panels. These panels are made up of a group of specially trained people who can determine small differences. In addition to sensory tests, other standard industry instrumental tests may also be performed.
Cotton candy has changed very little since it was first introduced. Most of the improvements have come in the design of machines that are used to make the candy. It is expected that future improvements will continue to be found in this area. For example, machines will be developed which are more automated with computer controls. These machines will be able to produce the candy more efficiently, economically and safely. In addition to new cotton candy machines, new colors and flavors will also be introduced to make the confection more appealing.
Where to Learn More
Alikonis, J. Candy Technology. Westport, CT: AVI Publishing Co., 1979.
Kirk Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1992.
Mathlouthi, M. and P. Reiser, ed. Sucrose: Properties and Applications. London: Blackie and Sons, Ltd., 1995.
Pennington, N. L. and C.W. Baker, ed. Sugar, A User's Guide to Sucrose. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1990.
Cotton Candy ★★ 1982
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