I suspect that, for many of you reading this, baking for friends and loved ones is an enjoyable pastime. But as a regular giver of edible gifts, I was caught off-guard when I offered some crispy rice bars and a vegetarian friend kindly reminded me that the gelatin in marshmallows is animal-derived. Feeling a bit daft, I set the treats aside and made an immediate mental note to try my hand at a vegan version. And this is it! Now those s’mores and other marshmallow treats can be enjoyed by all with this vegan recipe.
Forget everything you know about the regular way to make marshmallows. For vegan marshmallows, each component must be considered anew. These luxurious marshmallows fall on the firmer side, so keep that in mind if you’re comparing those that come from the store.
Aquafaba and Agar-Agar: Key to Vegan Marshmallows
After many, many trial-and-error recipes, it seemed I’d hit a dead end. Nothing was quite right! Until I figured out a winning combo: aquafaba and agar-agar.
Egg whites and gelatin in standard marshmallows are what stabilizes the meringue. In our vegan recipe, we substitute with aquafaba as an egg white alternative and agar-agar as a stand-in for the animal-derived gelatin.
What Is Aquafaba?
Aquafaba, which translates to “bean water”, is just that! Bean water! The cooking liquid from chickpeas can be used as a replacement for egg whites in recipes to make the dish vegan.
I’ve tested both methods for aquafaba: using the liquid from homemade chickpeas (just make sure you’ve cooked them in plain water as opposed to a flavorful broth, unless you’re looking to make savory marshmallows), and by using the liquid from canned, store-bought chickpeas, and both will whip up into stiff whites, no problem. If you’re having trouble finding “chickpeas” in your grocery store, they might also be listed as garbanzo beans.
You can freeze leftover aquafaba. I measure mine out in ice cube trays, freeze, and then pop them into freezer storage containers for pre-measured projects.
Agar-Agar: A Vegan Gelatin
Agar agar is derived from algae, making it suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Agar-agar comes in powder, flakes, and bars. 1 teaspoon of agar-agar can be substituted for 1 teaspoon of unflavored gelatin granules with much the same effect when called for in a recipe. However, keep in mind that the strength of agar-agar is more powerful and whatever you are gelling will be firmer.
The powder also incorporates better into liquid compared to the other two. For this recipe I have only used the powdered form of agar-agar and would suggest you do too.
The Key to Cooking With Agar-Agar
Agar-agar doesn’t behave like gelatin—its presence in sugar syrup will disrupt chemical reactions necessary for creating a proper marshmallow texture after they’ve set. Only by adding the simmered agar-agar to the whipped aquafaba can you create a stable structure that will combine with the hot sugar syrup, and ultimately create a marshmallow base similar to store bought or animal-derived marshmallows.
It might seem like a hassle to dirty an extra pan, but believe me, it’s way less of a hassle than trying to clean congealed sugar syrup from your pan and mixing bowl.
Tips for Making Vegan Marshmallows
Stay calm, keep your eyes on the clock, and don’t leave your stove. Oh, and here are a few more tips and tricks for making vegan marshmallows.
- Have absolutely everything measured out and ready. Your sugar can reach 245°F rapidly or slowly depending on your stove, the weather, etc. (You don’t want to be stuck with a syrup ready to go, and the pan not dusted, or you’re missing the vanilla.)
- Your sugar syrup will bubble up as it cooks. To avoid a very sticky mess make sure your saucepan is large enough to accommodate those big bubbles.
- Do not bring the agar-agar to a rolling boil, as it will solidify it into a massive jelly. 3 minutes might not seem like a lot of time, but it’s enough to activate the agar-agar to make it set later, and it will still be in a state where it will pour easily into the whipped aquafaba.
- If you’re worried about an errant fruit fly getting into your marshmallow mixture while it’s setting up, keep it in someplace that is dry but closed, like a toaster oven, or the actual oven. Just make sure everyone in the house knows it’s there and doesn’t turn it on (I unplug our toaster oven so my husband doesn’t unknowingly turn it on to use it for toast early in the morning).
Amazing Marshmallow Variations
Marshmallows provide a blank canvas for flavors, and colors! Try a few of these combos after you’ve mastered the vanilla version.
- Peppermint: 2 teaspoons of pure peppermint extract, and optionally, a few drops of red food coloring added at the end of combining everything together, will give you a dessert made for holiday gifting.
- Coffee: 2 teaspoons of coffee extract. Extract, as opposed to brewed coffee, will give a more intense coffee flavor without adding too much liquid to the final product.
- Tie-dye: Swirl multiple colors into your marshmallows by adding a drop of food coloring, one at a time, and then mixing once around the bowl. Then move the bowl around the pan as you pour into your prepared tray to create a swirled color effect.
- You can even make mini marshmallows. Instead of an 8×8 pan, transfer the mixture to a lipped cookie sheet and spread evenly. Let set at least 4 hours and then, using a sharp knife, cut into small pieces. Roll into more powdered sugar mix and allow to continue to set up another hour before moving to an airtight container.