Cotton Candy

Cotton candy is known around the globe by other names. In the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Ireland, and South Africa it is known as candy floss; in Australia as fairy floss.  Served at fairs, circuses and assorted events and activities around the world, cotton candy as well as funnel cakes have become staples of the sugary treats available at these types of venues.

Cotton candy, or spun sugar as it was originally called, came into existence in the 1400s.  Confectioners made desserts with spun sugar by using various utensils to make threads of melted sugar.  This was an arduous process and impractical for large scale production and took great skill to master; therefore, usually only the wealthy were privileged to the tasty treat.

This changed in 1897.  Candy makers William Morrison and John C. Wharton invented a cotton candy machine that would melt the sugar along with any flavoring or coloring added and using centrifugal force, push the sugar mixture through tiny holes to create strands. The strands were collected in a bowl and then twirled onto a cone of paper or cardboard or a small stick.

In 1904 at the St. Louis World Fair, Morrison and Wharton introduced their machine to the world. They charged 25 cents for a box of the “fairy floss” and though this was quite a high price at the time, the duo managed to sell 68,655 boxes of the sugary delight.  That equated to monies of $17,163.75.  A year later, at least one candy store had purchased a machine and sold cotton candy for five-ten cents a box.

 In 1920, the confection was officially called cotton candy in the United States.  In the 1970s the cotton candy machine was improved to allow mass production which also automatically packaged the confection. This provided stores with packaged cotton candy.  On today’s market small home variety cotton candy machines can be purchased for under $100.

 The Origin of Funnel Cakes

 Another tasty treat popular at fairs and carnivals and other venues of this type are funnel cakes.  The origin of this delightful pleasure is debatable.  The most popular theory is the funnel cake was brought over from Germany by immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania.  It is believed the funnel cake was served at holidays and harvest festivals and is derived from the oliebol, a dessert similar to today’s donut.

One of the oldest recipes of the funnel cake dates back to 1879 Germany.  The oldest known recipe in an English cookbook dates back to 1935.  The distinct feature of the funnel cake is the manner in which the batter is poured into hot oil—through a funnel; thus the name. Current equipment for making funnel cakes uses a pitcher with an elongated, small diameter spout.

Funnel cakes have become so popular many of today’s kitchens have funnel cake kits so the delicious treat can be made at home.  The internet abounds with funnel cake recipes and instructions on how to make funnel cakes.  Most recipes are simple as the funnel cake ingredients include, sugar, milk, flour, butter and eggs.  Oil is heated until hot enough to sizzle a pinch of flour without smoking; then the batter is poured into the oil through a funnel in a circular pattern to create a web of dough. The dough is cooked until crisp and golden, turned over to fry the other side, then removed and put on a paper towel to absorb the extra oil.  Most funnel cakes are dusted with powdered sugar, but many are served with jams, jellies or other confections on top.

Like cotton candy, funnel cakes are known by other names outside the United States.  The Funnel Cake in AustriaSpanish “churro” is similar to the funnel cake. In India a similar dessert is called jalebi and in Rippon, North Yorkshire it is called “Fennel Funnel Pie.”  Erroneously the funnel cake is called “elephant ears” by some, but elephant ears contain yeast which the funnel cake does not contain.

 No matter what funnel cakes and cotton candy are called, they are staples at most fair type events and are enjoyed by millions of people not just in the United States, but across the globe.


The copyright of the article “Cotton Candy and Funnel Cakes” is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.