a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pass the meaty marshmallows, please

Gourmet offerings from Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory, not of the vegan variety. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH – The conversation with the gourmet marshmallow saleswoman went like this:

"So what exactly is a vegan marshmallow?" I asked her at Pittsburgh Public Market, a great new place where local food producers sell their goods in the city's Strip District.

"It's made without any animal products," responds this cook at Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory.

I visited this market curious about a Tweet from this start-up company that it had manufactured a marshmallow for vegetarians, while wondering which meat traditionally went into the making of this fluffy and gooey candy.

So I first called a friend, a scientist with a background in laboratory work for her opinion.

"Here's the story:" she said. Marshmallows are concocted with gelatin made from bones, tissues and sometimes intestines of domesticated farm animals, she thought. The vegetarian recipe calls for the gelatin to be replaced by agar-agar, a gelling agent made from sea weed on which lab workers grow bacteria, she adds. (Yuck on both accounts)

"Are vegetarians that particular when it comes to eating marshmallows?" I ask the woman selling them Saturday in Pittsburgh.

"Oh yes," she answers. "They have been asking for them ever since we opened."

"What flavor do they come in?" is the next question out of my mouth.

"Just vanilla," she said.

That was not appealing when before me were animal-based marshmallows in flavors including chocolate, mint and Orange Creamsicle.

Tiny samples on the table at this Smallman Street market proved this company knows how to make top shelf marshmallows, which are about the size of 2-inch squares and sell for a buck apiece.

There even is a marshmallow here made with hot peppers, and word has it, this company owned by Debbie Steinberg and Chris Momberger of Creighton have flavored others with bacon.

I decided to buy an assortment of non-vegan marshmallows before heading over the South Side for a cheeseburger at Birmingham Bridge Tavern.

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