Cotton candy

Cotton candy is a spun sugar confection that resembles cotton. It usually contains small amounts of flavoring and/or food coloring.[1]

Cotton candy
Spinning cotton candy at a fair
Alternative namesCandy floss, fairy floss
Created byWilliam Morrison and John C. Wharton
Main ingredientsSugar, food coloring

The candy is made by heating and liquefying sugar, spinning it centrifugally through minute holes and finally allowing the sugar to rapidly cool and re-solidify into fine strands.[2] It is often sold at fairs, circuses, carnivals, and festivals served on either a stick, paper cone or in a plastic bag.[3][4][5]

Cotton Candy is made and sold globally as fairy floss in Australia[6] and candy floss in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Egypt, India and Sri Lanka. Similar confections include the Indian sohan papdi and the Persian pashmak.


Several places claim the origin of cotton candy, with some sources tracing it to a form of spun sugar found in Europe in the 19th century. At that time, spun sugar was an expensive, labor-intensive endeavor and was not generally available to the average person.[7] Others suggest versions of spun sugar originated in Italy as early as the 15th century.[8]

Machine-spun cotton candy was invented in 1897 by dentist William Morrison and confectioner John C. Wharton, and first introduced to a wide audience at the 1904 World's Fair as "Fairy Floss"[9] with great success, selling 68,655 boxes at 25¢ (equivalent to $6.97 in 2018) per box. Joseph Lascaux, a dentist from New Orleans, Louisiana, invented a similar cotton candy machine in 1921. In fact, the Lascaux patent named the sweet confection “cotton candy” and the "fairy floss" name faded away, although it retains this name in Australia.[10][11] In the 1970s, an automatic cotton candy machine was created which made the product and packaged it. This made it easier to produce and available to sell at carnivals, fairs, and stores in the 1970s and on.

Tootsie Roll Industries, the world's largest cotton-candy manufacturer, makes a bagged, fruit-flavored version called Fluffy Stuff.[12]

The United States declared National Cotton Candy Day to be on December 7.[13][14]


Typical machines used to make cotton candy include a spinning head enclosing a small "sugar reserve" bowl into which a charge of granulated, colored sugar (or separate sugar and food coloring) is poured. Heaters near the rim of the head melt the sugar, which is squeezed out through tiny holes by centrifugal force. Colored sugar packaged specially for the process is milled with melting characteristics and a crystal size optimized for the head and heated holes; granulated sugar used in baking contains fine crystals which spin out unmelted, while rock sugar crystals are too large to properly contact the heater, slowing the production of cotton candy.

The molten sugar solidifies in the air and is caught in a larger bowl which totally surrounds the spinning head. Left to operate for a period, the cotton-like product builds up on the inside walls of the larger bowl, at which point machine operators twirl a stick or cone around the rim of the large catching bowl, gathering the sugar strands into portions which are served on stick or cone, or in plastic bags. As the sugar reserve bowl empties, the operator recharges it with more feedstock. The product is sensitive to humidity, and in humid summer locales, the process can be messy and sticky.

Modern innovations in cotton-candy equipment include vending machines which automatically produce single servings of the product, developed in Taiwan,[15] and lighted or glowing sticks.


The source material for candy mesh is usually both colored and flavored. When spun, cotton candy is white because it is made from sugar, but adding dye or coloring transforms the color. Originally, cotton candy was just white. In the US, cotton candy is available in a wide variety of flavors, but two flavor-blend colors predominate – 'blue raspberry' and 'pink vanilla', both originally formulated by the Gold Medal brand (which uses the names 'Boo Blue' and 'Silly Nilly'). Cotton candy also comes out purple, when mixed, making a significant favorite at fairs. Cotton candy machines were notoriously unreliable until Gold Medal's invention of a sprung base in 1949, and since then, they have manufactured nearly all commercial cotton-candy machines and much of the floss sugar in the US.[16]

Typically, once spun, cotton candy is only marketed by color. Absent a clear name other than 'blue', the distinctive taste of the blue raspberry flavor mix has gone on to become a compound flavor that some other foods (gum, ice cream, rock candy, fluoride toothpaste) occasionally borrow ("cotton-candy flavored ice cream") to invoke the nostalgia of cotton candy that people typically only get to experience on vacation or holidays. Pink bubble gum went through a similar transition from specific branded product to a generic flavor that transcended the original confection, and 'bubble gum flavor' often shows up in the same product categories as 'cotton candy flavor'.


In 1978, the first automated machine was used for the production of cotton candy. Since then, the creations and innovations of this machine have become greater and greater. They range in sizes from counter-top accessible to party and carnival size. Modern machines that are made for commercial use can hold up to 3 pounds (1.4 kg) of sugar and have compartments for storage of extra flavors. The rotating bowl at the top spins at 3,450 revolutions per minute.[17]

See also


  1. "In Coney Island, Weaving a Confection That Tastes Like Long-Ago Summers". New York Times, July 27, 2014, Rachel L. Swarns.
  2. "Food Science: Cotton Candy".
  3. "Best Of Worst -- July 4th Foods". July 1, 2008. Archived from the original on October 5, 2008. Retrieved September 13, 2009. Cotton Candy (1.5 oz serving) 171 calories, 0 g fat, 45 g carbs, 45 g sugar, 0 g protein
  4. Carter, Darla (August 21, 2009). "Enjoy the fair, but don't wreck your diet". Louisville Courier-Journal. Archived from the original on January 31, 2013. Retrieved September 13, 2009. A 5½-ounce bag of cotton candy can have 725 calories.
  5. "Cotton candy on a stick (about 1 ounce) has 105 calories, but when bagged (2 ounces) it has double that number: 210". Pocono Record. September 27, 2006. Retrieved September 13, 2009.
  6. "Fairyfloss | Define Fairyfloss at". Retrieved 2017-03-16.
  7. Lynne Olver. "history notes-candy". The Food Timeline. Retrieved November 30, 2011.
  8. Linda Fri (August 11, 2010). "Cotton Candy History". Retrieved June 28, 2015.
  9. "Cotton Candy". The Straight Dope. February 7, 2000. Retrieved November 30, 2011.
  10. "History of Cotton Candy". Retrieved June 28, 2012.
  11. "Cotton Candy Fun Facts". Archived from the original on July 8, 2011. Retrieved October 24, 2010.
  12. "Welcome to Tootsie – Product Information – Fluffy Stuff Cotton Candy". May 22, 2010. Retrieved November 30, 2011.
  13. "Breakfast buffet: National cotton candy day". CNN. December 7, 2011. Archived from the original on July 4, 2015. Retrieved July 3, 2015.
  14. "National Cotton Candy Day is Dec. 7". THV11. December 7, 2011. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved March 13, 2013.
  15. "VendEver Rolls Out Cotton Candy Machine" (PDF). Vending Times. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-04-26. Retrieved 2012-12-17.
  16. "Who invented cotton candy?". The Straight Dope. 2000-02-07. Retrieved 2017-03-16.
  17. Venzon, Christine (December 3, 2009). "How Stuff Works Inc. "Cotton Candy Machines and Marketing Today." Web. 14 Sept. 2011". Retrieved November 30, 2011.

Further reading

  • The complete Confectioners, pastry, Cook And Baker by M. Sanderson (Lippincott: Philadelphia)
  • Cotton Candy Express, . "History of Cotton Candy." Cotton Candy Express. N.p., n.d. Web. Sep 14, 2011.
  • Cotton Candy. N.p., Aug 11, 2010. Web. Sep 14, 2011.
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