Roasting marshmallows around a cozy campfire with friends and relatives makes for many fond memories that can be cherished for a lifetime. As anybody who has previously done this knows, everyone has preferences when it comes to their marshmallows – some people like their marshmallows barely toasted, and some prefer them completely burnt.
However, there has been some concern in recent years that charring these tasty sugar squares may be detrimental to one’s health.
While eating marshmallows isn’t exactly healthy anyway, it’s still okay to eat them in moderation – when they’re served plain, that is. But is it safe to eat burnt marshmallows? Today, we’re going to answer that question and potentially help you find a safer way to enjoy your favorite campfire snack.
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Long-Term Safety Concerns: Cancer
The most prevalent concern over eating toasted or burnt food is that in many cases, it can increase your risk of developing cancer. This statement alone is enough to send anyone into a panic, but it does not give you the full picture of the safety of eating specific charred foods.
The risk of developing cancer may, in fact, increase when you burn some foods – but is it a cause for serious concern? Let’s discuss.
The Maillard Reaction and Acrylamide
In some cases, toasting or burning food will cause it to brown, forming a golden crust. This happens mainly when burning foods high in starch like potatoes, though it has been linked to other foods. This is called the Maillard Reaction.
The Maillard Reaction releases a chemical compound called acrylamide, which has been tenuously linked to an increase in cancer risk. Acrylamide has been labeled a “probable carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
This chemical is released when glucose reacts to the amino acid asparagine. The reaction happens when food is browned or burned.
Marshmallows do happen to contain both glucose and asparagine, but this does not guarantee an increased risk for cancer. A quick look at some facts about acrylamide tells us that what has often been exaggerated by the media may not be cause for panic, after all.
Acrylamide Cancer Link Facts
Even if food does contain acrylamide when burned, this does not guarantee that you’ll be at a much higher risk of developing cancer. While research is still being conducted about this, several important discoveries have been made that may assuage your fears.
- Acrylamide has not concretely been linked to cancer risk in humans. The studies done on the subject have exclusively used rats and mice in their tests. While the chemical was shown to cause cancer in these animals, it should be noted that the dosages that they were given were far higher than any that a typical person would be exposed to.
- Your risk of cancer through the consumption of acrylamide is only significantly increased when you consume much more than is normal. Even if you eat foods containing this chemical compound often, you would need to eat over 100x as much to be at the level considered unlikely for even mice to develop tumors.
- Recently, California shop owners have been told that they do not have to label acrylamide as a cancer-causing chemical in coffee. The risk has not been ruled significant enough to be a concern for consumers, according to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. (OEHHA)
Long-Term Health Risks of Eating Burnt Marshmallows
Cancer is not the only thing that you should be worried about when considering eating burnt marshmallows. There are some long-term health concerns, but these, too, depend on your individual situation.
As most people know, marshmallows are largely made of sugar. Consuming too much sugar too often can lead to obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, and even cancer. These ailments cause multiple problems within themselves.
However, the key is to eat these snacks in moderation. Eating marshmallows, even burned ones, is not inherently bad. It becomes a problem when you do not know when to stop.
In short, will eating burnt marshmallows have a negative long-term impact on your health? Only if you let it. For the most part, you can control any negative effects that could be gained from them.
Short-Term Health Risks of Eating Burnt Marshmallows
The long-term negative impact of eating burnt marshmallows is low, but your risk is higher in the short-term. Again, this can be controlled as long as you practice common sense and safety.
The biggest risk that you take when eating burnt marshmallows is getting burned. If you do not let the treat cool first, you may burn your mouth or fingers. If the heated goo inside drips onto your lap, you may get a minor burn where it fell.
If you are a diabetic and you do not control your consumption, you risk raising your blood sugar levels and suffering the consequences of that.
Safe Ways to Eat Marshmallows
If you are still too afraid of the cancer risk chanced by eating burnt marshmallows or you don’t know how to safely eat them around the campfire, you are in luck. There are safe ways to enjoy this tasty treat while reducing the risk of harm done!
- Eat them slightly toasted
Instead of outright burning the marshmallows, toast them for a few seconds over the fire right as they begin to brown. This will still produce a tiny amount of acrylamide. If your concern is cancer, you can avoid this. For people who just can’t wait to eat them, this is a way to enjoy marshmallows without waiting a while for them to cool.
- Eat them cold
Avoiding acrylamide altogether? Don’t toast the marshmallows at all. You can eat them as is and still enjoy them, though your s’mores may be more difficult to eat. There’s nothing wrong with eating marshmallows straight from the bag.
- Bring marshmallow fluff instead
Want to make s’mores without roasting marshmallows at all? You can buy premade marshmallow fluff at nearly any supermarket. Now you can spread the goo on graham crackers for easier consumption without involving fire.
- Wait for them to cool
If your concern is purely for the heat, then all you have to do is wait. After you burn your marshmallow, the goo inside will be very hot for a while. Though the exterior may be cool and crunchy, the inside is significantly hotter. Give it 15-20 seconds, and your little puff of sugar should be safe to eat.
Immediately put it onto a plate or graham cracker
Oftentimes, burning marshmallows results in a gooey mess that falls off of your stick unless you jam it into your mouth immediately. As we’ve discussed, this can lead to burns and blisters that are best avoided if you can help it.
If you find yourself facing this sticky situation, simply slide your (extinguished) mallow onto a plate or graham cracker for easy handling until it’s cool enough to eat.
Eating burnt marshmallows is safe and delicious overall. Your health risks are low as long as you exercise caution and eat them in moderation. Indulge during your camping trip if you can; this is your vacation and you deserve to enjoy it!