Cotton candy

From Academic Kids

Missing image
A young child enjoys a healthy dose of cotton candy while donning some funky-looking early-90s clothing.

Cotton Candy (also known as candy floss or fairy floss) is a form of spun sugar that is produced in a special machine and sold at fairs. Many people consider eating it, along with toffee apples, part of the quintessential experience of a visit to a fairground. Eating cotton candy is only part of the attraction, however - watching it being made often fascinates children and adults alike. It is sweet and sticky, and though it feels like wool to the touch it readily melts in the mouth. It does not have much of an aroma although the machine itself has a cooked sugar smell when in operation.



Spun sugar has been a culinary staple for many years. It was popular in Italy in the fifteenth century [1] ( but making it involves dipping a fork in molten sugar, pulling the fork out and allowing the sugar thread to solidify. The fork is rapidly moved back and forth above an oiled upside down bowl and the resultant mass of sugar threads is removed from the bowl and squashed up into a ball before putting on a plate with other desserts such as ice cream.[2] ( This form of spun sugar is popular in restaurants and at dinner parties but is too labour intensive to be used in situations where whole crowds of people are potential customers. A candyfloss machine is thus imperative to selling the product commercially.

One machine was invented by two Nashville candy makers, William Morrison and John C. Wharton, in 1897. They invented an electric machine that allowed sugar to be poured onto a heated plate, which melted it. The plate spun very quickly and so pushed the molten sugar through a series of tiny holes by centrifugal force.[3] ( The text of their patent read:

"To all whom it may concern; Be it known that we, William J. Morrison and John C. Wharton, citizens of the United States, residing at Nashville, in the County of Davidson and State of Tennessee, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Candy-Machines, of which the following is a specification. Our invention relates to improvements in candy-making, or, as commonly called, "candy-machines," in which a revoluble or rotating pan or vessel containing candy or melted sugar causes the said candy or melted sugar to form into masses of thread-like or silk-like filaments by the centrifugal force due to the rotation of the vessel. The object of our invention is to obtain an edible product consisting of the said filaments of melted and "spun" sugar or candy."
— U.S. Patent #618,428 January 31, 1899. Application filed December 23, 1897.

They first used the machine in public at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. They called the product "fairy floss" and sold portions of it in cardboard boxes for 25 cents per serving. This was very expensive that the time; the price was half the admission cost of the fair itself. Nevertheless, they sold 68,655 boxes. The term "cotton candy" was not used to describe the spun sugar for at least another fifteen years, while the term "fairy floss" continues to be used in many parts of the world.

Some sources, including The Dictionary of American Food and Drink, report that a different inventor, Thomas Patton, invented the machine in 1900 at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. However this appears to be an error as Ringling Brothers didn't buy Barnum & Bailey until 1907 and they didn?t tour as a single circus until 1919.[4] ([5] (

Modern times

Cotton candy was fantastically successful in 1904 and is still very popular at fairs today. Modern machines work in much the same way as the original. The centre part of the machine consists of a small bowl into which sugar is poured and food coloring added. Heaters near the rim melt the sugar and it is spun out through a myriad of tiny holes into a large bowl which catches it. The operator twirls a stick or a cone around the rim of the large catching bowl and picks up the candy. Because candy floss consists of mostly air portions, servings are large. A typical candy floss cone will be a little bigger than an adults head, and they look enormous to a child. However, although they are bad for the teeth as are all sugary snacks, they are not particularly high in food energy because they contain a fairly small amount of sugar. A typical candy floss contains less sugar than a can of most (non-diet) soft drinks.


  • "Spun Heaven," Bruce Feiler, Gourmet, February 2000.

External links

ja:綿菓子 sl:Sladkorna pena sv:Spunnet socker


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