As I mentioned in my previous review for Elyon Mini Marshmallows, I have long sought a halal version of small marshmallows for floating in my hot chocolate, among other things (I haven’t thought of what those other things might be, but maybe they would involve cupcakes, I’m not sure). I do have fond memories of being given small cupcake-papers full of colored mini marshmallows as a snack by my grandmother on various occasions, which more than once I remember sharing with random frogs caught in the creek.
So the other day at an international food market near my house which I like check on occasionally, I happened to pick up a couple of new varieties. I also happened to pick up a new kind of cocoa. When I got home, I realized that I also had another bag of mini marshmallows in the cupboard which I had purchased at a different store some time ago and never gotten around to opening. I had the makings of a showdown!
The standard: Ziyad Halal Marshmallows
Incidentally, my go-to standard of comparison is a full-sized halal marshmallow made by “Ziyad” which I’ve bought on many occasions. It tastes … well, exactly like you would expect a marshmallow to taste. Like a non-halal jet-puffed marshmallow you may once have toasted by a campfire or made into smores or floated in hot chocolate or used to hold together toothpick constructions. Exactly (as far as I can remember) like the Kraft jet-puffed kind, only better because it is halal! It’s pillowy and soft, powdery on the outside, silky on the inside, melts nicely in hot chocolate, toasts in a delightful way over flame or burner, and tastes like: marshmallow, no more, no less. I have no complaints whatsoever about it and was very happy to find it, though the first time I tried it, I had no idea what company it kept, so I perhaps didn’t give it the appreciation it deserved for simply being what I expected.
The only problem is the aforementioned lack of miniature options (also, it’s only available at one halal store I know of in the area, and that only some of the time).
So, back to the showdown extraordinaire, pitting mallow against mallow in an all out battle of whatever currently available bags I happened to grab when I thought of it.
I decided to give all the marshmallows the backdrop, if you will, of the new cocoa I bought, which was the real inspiration to haul out all the bags. This cocoa, which I’ve never tried before, gets a resounding “super!” rating from me. I’ve given up on various mixes as they always seem to include artificial sweeteners these days, which just aren’t palatable to me (some of them once were, but it seems the taste grows more prominent and unpleasant with each encounter). I’d been doing simply hot milk with chocolate chips dropped in and whisked, however, as I’ve been trying to cut calories lately, I was looking for some alternatives. Much as I love my milk, I have been trying to find an option that held up in water (for fewer calories, plus I already drink quite a bit of milk in lattes, soups, and other concoctions), or at least mostly water, while still being sufficiently chocolatey. The current option of dissolving a couple of tablespoons of Hershey’s unsweetened baking cocoa in water, required significant doctoring to make it drinkable, including, spoons of milk to cut the acidity, sugar since it’s quite bitter, added flavorings such as a smidgen of peanut butter, etc depending on how I was feeling. So it actually didn’t come out to much of a savings after all and still didn’t taste very good.
Basak Cocoa Powder / Hot Chocolate
Enter “Basak Cocoa”. The package was quite miniature but promised only 12 calories per tablespoon, and the instructions indicated only one tablespoon was necessary for a cup of cocoa. I’d heard THAT one before, but I still decided to give it a shot.
This cocoa is SO good I, pursuer of all things sweet and chocolatey, did not feel the need to add any sugar. It was just not bitter, though unsweetened! It was also VERY chocolatey despite my one tablespoon to more than 8 oz of water. (Update: I’ve since decided the best ratio is actually 1/2 tablespoon per mug- probably slightly more than 8 oz actually. This is still super chocolatey and delicious, and dissolves better when whisked–If you put too much you just find most of it later wasted at the bottom of the cup). Naturally, I recognized that anything this good could only be improved with the addition of milk or sweetener, but it stood extremely well on its own two feet without any embellishments, and I decide it would be an excellent time to test the marshmallows with this fortifying me. (In fact, I had another cupful after testing was complete to… uh… cleanse my palette). I do encourage you to try it in any venture involving cocoa! (Be careful with straight substitutions in recipes though, because the cacao and fat content of different cocoa powders does affect the texture). It’s so incredibly smooth and chocolatey though.
Anyway, once I got over the delight of the cocoa, I began my testing in earnest.
Dandies Air-Puffed Miniature Marshmallows
The first contender was a brand called “Dandies” with plain white mini marshmallows of approximately the normal mini size, in “classic vanilla flavor.” Now, I don’t think of marshmallows as being vanilla flavored, per se, they have their own sort of marshmallowey flavor to me. But, I decided to take the chance. They were also heavily advertised as being “air puffed” on the package, which seemed to be a good sign compared to the pellets I encountered last time. Like the Elyon variety, these were vegan. They were also gluten-free, gelatin free (kind of goes without saying, if they’re vegan, I thought), and “better for the animals, better for you.” It also advertised “all natural” and “made on dedicated vegan equipment in a peanut/tree-nut free facility”. There was no info about countries of manufacture.
On the reverse were some cheerful kid heads, with either big grins or marshmallows stuck to the roofs of their mouths, clustered around 3 possible uses of the marshmallows (or such was implied): floating in hot chocolate, a smore, and what looked sort of like a rice krispie treat. I am not a fan of the latter but I did want these to perform well in the other two tests, so this seemed like a good sign.
The ingredients for “Dandies” are: Corn syrup, Vegan Beet Syrup, Corn Starch, Corn Dextrose, Water, Carrageenan, Soy Protein, Natural Vanilla Flavor, Titanium Dioxide (natural mineral) (their words, not mine). This is not to me a list which screams health food, though they appeared to be trying to target healthy eaters on the package, but then again, we’re talking about marshmallows here.
Learning from my previous experience with Elyon, I decided to sample each type of marshmallow first before adding it to the hot chocolate. As soon as I opened the bag, I was put on my guard. The texture and size of the Dandies marshmallows was very inconsistent: some were largish, others small and compact. More disturbingly, some were hard little rocks (like Elyon…) while others were soft and squishy. A little too squishy, in fact.
The texture of both kinds was immediately gritty, not silky. The hard ones were especially bad (dry, compact, and gritty all the way through). The soft ones were a slight improvement, but they had the consistency of slightly gritty raw bread dough once in the mouth. They were faintly sweet, without much flavor at all (the “natural vanilla” was not evident), the texture was much more off-putting than the flavor, though.
Once in the hot chocolate, they were much more unpleasant, transforming into slimy balls of grit with an off-flavor that I couldn’t quite place. I didn’t allow them to fully dissolve in the cocoa, as I feared the worst.
On the whole they were not *quite* as bad as Elyon, but a close second. I feel like they would be better for snacking on if you did not think of them as being marshmallows, but something else altogether. As marshmallows, they are failure. No stars.
Second contender: Wellmade Colored Marshmallows
These ones were very colorful and enticing looking, and had a prominent halal logo. I had high hopes for them. The bag contained white, blue, pink, and yellow multicolored marshmallows, and not only that, each marshmallow had a core of a different color (not all combinations were featured: blue and yellow were paired, as were white and pink). I have to admit these were not of the miniature variety, I bought them because they were unique and pretty. After all, some of my fond mini marshmallow memories are of colored mini marshmallows. However, they weren’t really full-sized either, they were sort of an in-between marshmallow size, so I figured if none of the mini ones held up these still might be able to stand in for them.
The ingredients list for Wellmade read: Corn Syrup, Sugar, Water, Beef Gelatin (Halal), Corn Starch, Dextrose, Artificial Flavor: Vanilla, Potassium Sorbate, Artificial Colors: FC&C (Red #40, Blue #1, Yellow #5). It’s “packed for” U.B.C. Food Distributors in Dearborn, MI, but is stamped as a product of Guatemala. The ingredients are almost exactly the same as Ziyad (minus the colors, and plus some order changes).
Out of the bag, the outside of the marshmallows was surprisingly wrinkly, with a dry texture, altogether reminiscent of old skin in the way they creased. Not a great first impression, even with the colors dazzling my eyes. However, they felt soft and squeezable, which was a good sign.
The taste of the Wellmade was good and marshmallowey, including the typical inner silkiness. However,they were much denser than expected, a bit heavy and solid rather than fluffy clouds. When introduced to the hot chocolate, the outsides bubbled a bit as regular marshmallows do, which I took to be a positive sign. Although they softened in the hot chocolate, they were still surprisingly lumpy when eaten. It seemed like they melted a bit, but not evenly. The color, as it turned out, was not really so good for pairing with cocoa. I have a feeling now that this would be a “problem” with any colored marshmallows no matter their caliber… for some reason the brown staining of white marshmallows in cocoa feels normal, while the brown on the colors looks more unappetizing.
Overall, while the flavor was good, they seemed not as “authentic” as Ziyad, not as silky or pillowy (or as large of course, if they were playing as regular marshmallows, nor small enough to get squarely in the mini category), and they were reluctant to fully dissolve. The biggest selling point of these marshmallows, I think, is their unique color. If I had that as a goal in terms of marshmallow purchase for some specific project, I wouldn’t be afraid to use these, and they were not bad for eating out of hand if you wanted to do that, though again, somewhat “thicker” than what I consider normal. Also I very occasionally ran into sugary bits when chewing them (not unpleasant exactly, just a little crunch here and there of a sugar grain, signaling inconsistent texture).
Since these marshmallows were of larger size, I decided to push it some more with the experimentation and try two other aspects of marshmallowness, along with a Ziyad marshmallow. The first thing I did was to cook it in the microwave for a few seconds. This is handy in terms of making homemade instant smores. You can put a graham cracker on a plate, add the piece of chocolate, and place the marshmallow on top. Normally, the marshmallow will start to swell and grow to enormous size in the microwave, and instantly become hot and melted (another alternative is to put the chocolate piece in the middle of the hot marshmallow after pulling it out, which ensures quick melting, before capping it with the other piece of graham cracker). Drawbacks to this smore method include: the marshmallow is perfectly melted but it has none of the crust and toasted taste that comes from traditional roasting, and the graham cracker tends to soften slightly in the microwave. However on the plus side, the chocolate is much more likely to melt properly, which is often a problem “in the field.”
At the time of this test, I did not have any graham crackers on hand, and it turned out to be just as well. The marshmallow swelled in the microwave, but when I took it out and actually tried it, I found it had decomposed into melted lumpy goo, sort of like superheated chewing gum might be. The mouthfeel was revolting.
My experiment with toasting it (in this case over a burner), though a broiler would probably be a safer bet for authentic “home smores”, went considerably better. It toasted up almost on par with the Ziyad marshmallow. For once the inside had the proper melted silky texture that had been lacking in both microwave and hot chocolate experiments. The outside also crisped suitably (although the browning, again, looked somewhat unappetizing against the blue of the marshmallow I chose, unlike the tan that appeared on the white standard Ziyad mallow).
All in all, this is not the top of the list, and will not replace Ziyad for me, but it is an okay alternative, better than many I’ve tried, and it has the fun colors, if that is what you are looking for. Also this would be suitable on cookouts and performed best in that area out of all the areas I tested it.
Third contender: Lieber’s Marshmallows (miniature)
This type of marshmallow I placed into the mini category, but it was a rather unusual shape that I have not seen before in the marshmallow world. Each marshmallow was sort of rod-shaped, 2-3 times as long as it was wide. The overall appearance reminded me a lot of those biodegradable packing peanuts made of cornstarch. I found the fact that they were not “marshmallow shaped” to detract slightly in my mind, however, this is only a perceptual fact which could have been blown away by their taste.
Unfortunately, it was not.
This type of marshmallow had two things going for it, both the mini size AND they were also colored, at least half the bag was, what looked to be an even mixture of white and pink. So these factors outweighed the odd shape in my initial purchase.
Their ingredients listed are: Sugar, Potato Syrup, Water, Potato Flour, Kosher Fish Gelatin, Artificial flavors & Colors red #3 (if pink mallow), yellow #5 (if yellow mallow), yellow #6 (if orange mallow). No color in the white mallow. Incidentally, there was no evidence of yellow or orange, so I suppose these referred to other product options. The food is “distributed by” Lieber’s Chocolate & Food Products Co. of Maspeth, NY, but the bag is marked Product of Israel, for those of you who factor this. This was also the only marshmallow which contained fat in its nutrition list (6 mg per serving), somewhat unusual I think, in a marshmallow.
Out of the bag, they had a solid, wrinkly look which did not make them more appealing. The worst thing about these ones were their taste. They were a lot sweeter than the other options, to start with, but they also had a certain perfumey flavor which didn’t care for, I guess you could call it some type of artificial vanilla flavor, but it was off-putting. All in all I did not like the taste, and they also left sort of a bitter aftertaste/tongue coating in my mouth, one that I’ve tasted before in certain candies (the only one that comes to mind was a “sweet hearts” imitator, I’ve always connected it with a certain type of coloring but I don’t know if that’s actually what I’m tasting). At any rate, it wasn’t good.
In the hot chocolate, they bubbled a bit promisingly but did not develop either a slimy coating or melted feel, instead the outside remained rough and sandpapery while the inside mushed a bit. Due to their various unpleasant properties, I wouldn’t eat these out of hand, or any other way. They’re bad. Bad in different ways than “Dandies” (I would recognize Lieber’s more readily as belonging to the marshmallow kingdom), but still with a nasty edge to them. In fact I think both of these rate an “ugly” in the end.
Ziyad’s is still the undisputed standard, with Wellmade gaining comments of “tolerable” and “not entirely without merit” for use in certain settings, but not as an all purpose marshmallow. And still no minis! The search continues… the searcher indomitable, and buoyed by one excellent discovery of the day, anyhow, in Basak Cocoa!