Cotton Candy. Fairy Floss. Spun Sugar. Whatever you decide to call it, be sure to include ‘delicious’. Cotton candy has been a popular treat at amusement parks, county fairs, and ball parks for the last hundred years – but do you know what really goes into making this magical treat?

The History of Cotton Candy

Although its distant cousin, Spun Sugar, was introduced as early as the 15th century as a treat reserved only for the European elite, modern cotton candy and its method of production are only a century old. In what can only be called ‘job security’, the modern cotton candy machine was developed in 1897 by a dentist named William Morrison and a candy maker John C. Wharton. They debuted their machine to the masses at the 1904 World’s Fair held in St. Louis – the same fair that introduced Americans to hot dogs and iced tea. They sold it as “Fairy Floss” and it was a hit that sold over 68,000 boxes (yes, it was originally sold in a wooden box) during the 7 months of the fair.

Cotton Candy Display

Joseph Lascaux created a similar machine in 1921 and patented it and the resulting product as “Cotton Candy” which was the first time that moniker was used. Ironically, Joseph was also a dentist. By the 1950s, during the heydey of the traveling carnival and small-town amusement park, cotton candy was a staple of the midway and several companies marketed machines. The largest company was Gold Metal Products, who dubbed their machine the “Whirlwind” and sold all the accessories to make and market the treat.

Today, cotton candy can be a substantial profit maker. The resulting product costs less than $0.20 per serving and startup costs are just a few hundred dollars. Surprisingly, a 1 oz. serving of cotton candy has less sugar than a can of soda and contains around 100 calories. That’s practically a healthy fair food!

How Cotton Candy is Made

Trust us, it is not magic (we looked it up). The modern cotton candy machine uses centrifugal force and a little heat to turn granulated sugar into the long glass-like strands of cotton candy. Machines consist of a spinning cylinder with hundreds of tiny holes surrounded by a large bowl (used to keep the candy from spinning into a huge mess). When the combination of sugar, food coloring and flavoring is poured into the center reservoir, it is gently heated to a liquid and forced through the holes, creating the fluffy, thin strands that quickly solidify into the sweet childhood pleasure we all crave. For serving, the ‘cotton’ is then collected from the edges of the bowl using a wooden or paper stick. There is a subtle art to collecting the candy with gentle sweeps and swirls of the cones around the bowl. Some operators collect the candy and place it into quickly sealed bags.
Cotton Candy Machine

The downfall of cotton candy is its quick absorption of moisture and surrounding humidity. While everyone loves the light and airy taste of fresh cotton candy, it can quickly turn back into a sticky, granulated mess. Keep your candy fresh and your customers happy.

What Makes Good Cotton Candy

Numerous companies make cotton candy mixes that are perfect for most machines. If you are looking to go more artisan in your recipe or flavor, keep these in mind:
  • Stick to 100% pure cane or beet sugar. Some commercial sugars include cornstarch (called free-flowing sugar) or are a blend of sugar and dextrose or corn syrup. These will damage your machine and produce a poor product.
  • Use a medium-coarse or ‘sanding’ sugar. Table sugar is usually too fine a grain and can create undesirable lumps in the end product.
  • Cotton Candy is 98% air, so dark colors are difficult. Use no more than 1 tablespoon of liquid coloring per 5 lbs. and mix well for even distribution.
View all Cotton Candy Machines and Supplies here.
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