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INTRODUCTION:

I was making rice krispie treats when I was suddenly struck with a desire to investigate the weird qualities of marshmallows.  They’re soft, squishy, stretchy, and sweet (which all coincidentally start with “s”).  They are also made of sugar, which I know dissolves in water.  So would marshmallows dissolve in water or would other stuff in the marshmallow change its solubility?  It was a question with absolutely no practical scientific merit, but I was curious, and exploring such silly questions is the purpose of the fun experiments series.  And if not in water, then what else would dissolve it?

 

MATERIALS:

  1. Kraft Jet-Puffed Miniature Marshmallows  (x20)
  2. Tap water  (~100 ml)
  3. Sake (16% ethanol)  (~100 ml)
  4. Cooking oil  (~100 ml)

 

METHODS:

I made 4 cups for this experiment: control (no solvent), water, sake, and oil.  I added 5 mini marshmallows to each cup and covered the cups with plastic wrap (to avoid spillage and to minimize evaporation of solvent like the alcohol).  I left them for about 3 days to see whether marshmallows dissolved.  The samples were removed from solvent and dried over another 3 days.

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RESULTS:

At t=0 day, this is how everything looked.  The Water sample and Sake sample turned a bit foggy relatively quickly (within minutes).

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Control (t=0)

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Water (t=0)

Sake (t=0)

Sake (t=0)

Oil (t=0)

Oil (t=0)

 

At t=3 days, the Control sample looked normal as expected; Water sample looked significantly squishier; Sake sample looked similarly squishier; and Oil sample looked unchanged.  Water sample also had a little black speck growing… either I am growing microbes or I discovered spontaneous generation of life.

Control (t=36)

Control (t=3)

Water (t=72)

Water (t=3)

Sake (t=72)

Sake (t=3)

Oil (t=72)

Oil (t=3)

 

I also realized that marshmallows in Water and Sake have increased in volume.

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From top left corner, clockwise: Control, Water, Sake, and Oil.

 

Next I removed them (using chopsticks) onto sheets of paper towel to dry.  The Water sample was really weird.  It was so soft that the sample split itself on my chopstick.  It was also more transparent-colored, except for the top part that wasn’t submerged in water.  The Sake sample was pretty similar to the Water sample, except even softer.

Control sample (t=3), removed.

Control sample (t=3), removed.

Water sample (t=0), removed from solvent.

Water sample (t=0), removed from solvent.

Water sample (t=3), removed from solvent.

Water sample (t=3), removed from solvent.

Sake sample (t=3), removed from solvent.

Sake sample (t=3), removed from solvent.

Oil sample (t=3), removed from solvent.

Oil sample (t=3), removed from solvent.

The Control sample tasted like normal marshmallows, as expected.  The Sake sample tasted really bad; it was a mixture of bitterness(?) of alcohol and the smell mixed with a very squishy/slimy texture.  It was ew-flavored.  The Oil sample tasted (and chewed) like marshmallow covered in oil.  I didn’t taste the Water sample since it had microorganisms growing.

The Water and Sake sample had a thin layer of white stuff at the bottom of the cup, which I suspect is the stuff that dissolved to make the solvent foggy and later sank down.  The Oil sample did not have such a layer.

Sake solvent (t=3), with a thin layer of white thingy at the bottom.

Sake solvent (t=3), with a thin layer of white thingy at the bottom.

Oil solvent (t=3), clear.

Oil solvent (t=3), clear.

 

The samples were allowed to dry for 3 days, and tasted.  Control sample tasted like normal marshmallows.  Water sample was not tasted.  Sake sample was pretty bland (no sweet), like I was eating some chewy styrofoam.  The Oil sample tasted like a normal marshmallow, with a hint of greasiness on the surface.

Dried Control sample.

Dried Control sample.

Dried Water sample.

Dried Water sample.

Dried Sake sample.

Dried Sake sample.

Dried Oil sample.

Dried Oil sample.

 

CONCLUSION:

It turns out NO marshmallow does not dissolve in water, and neither does it in ethanol solution or cooking oil.  In oil, the marshmallow is unchanged in volume, texture, and taste.  However, something dissolves in water and Sake (probably since it has water in it).  Seeing that it lost all its sweetness upon removal from solvent, it is likely that all the sugary content dissolves away, leaving a styrofoamy matrix intact.  Probably other things dissolve too, since we don’t get a clear sugar solution but a foggy solution with white mysterious substance sinking to the bottom of the cup.  The styrofoamy matrix seems to lose its chewiness in water/sake but regains it upon drying, which is interesting.

Upon hindsight, this experiment would have been more awesome if I had weighed the marshmallows before and after.  I don’t have a scale so maybe when I become rich I’ll buy one.  Also, as of right now it’s uncertain whether the ethanol has any effect on the marshmallow’s solubility.  Perhaps the ethanol (or other component of Sake) had a slight effect since the Sake sample was squishier than the Water sample, but I suspect the solubility in Sake was mostly due to the water.  If I had access to pure ethanol maybe this question can be further probed.  Also, I wish the Water sample hadn’t been contaminated.  Although thankfully it seemed pretty similar to the Sake sample, it would have been good to be able to directly assess its taste and texture in my mouth.

This experiment inspires many other questions that I am probably too lazy to investigate right now.  What does the layer of white mysterious thingy taste like?  Is it sugary or is it something else?  How do the solvents taste after having marshmallows in it for 3 days?  If I let the water/sake evaporate completely, then would I restore the sweetness/whiteness of the marshmallow to its original form?  And lastly, then what solvent can dissolve a marshmallow in its entirety?

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS:

I would like to thank my mom, who provided the solvents to be used in this experiment.

 

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