Cotton Candy

Cotton candy is a light and fluffy sugar confectionery which resembles cotton wool. It is made by melting a sugar composition and spinning it into fine strands. The strands are then collected on a cardboard tube or bundled in a continuous mass. First developed over 100 years ago, cotton candy remains a favorite summertime candy at carnivals, amusement parks, and baseball stadiums. With the development of more efficient, automated machines it is expected that the market for cotton candy will substantially increase in the coming years.


Cotton candy is a popular food at carnivals and amusement parks. Typically, it is sold as a large mass wrapped around a cardboard cone. It has a fibrous texture that makes it unique among sugar confectioneries. This texture is a direct result of the sugar used to make the candy and the method in which it is processed. At the start of manufacture, the sugar is a solid material supplied as individual granules. When it is melted the individual granules become intermixed and form a thick, sticky syrup. This syrup is then spun out to create thin strands that harden. These hardened strands have many of the same characteristics as cotton fibers, which is how cotton candy got its name. When the strands are collected on a cone, they are not packed close together and a certain amount of air gets trapped between them. This increases the volume of the candy, giving it a light and fluffy texture.


Sugar confectioneries have been known for thousands of years, however the development of cotton candy is a relatively recent event. Evidence shows that the first sugar confectioneries were used during the time of the ancient Egyptian civilization. True candymaking began only after a sugar refining process was developed during the fourth century. For many years candy was a luxury item available to only the privileged. Eventually, sugar became more widely available and candy could be enjoyed by all.

The modern candy industry developed during the nineteenth century. At this time, special candymaking machinery was invented. These machines were semi-automatic and allowed production on a large scale. The first cotton candy machine was created during the late nineteenth century. This machine consisted of a large pan with a rotating heating core in the middle. Operators could make individual servings, and since it was portable, it became a popular confection at circuses, carnivals, and ball parks.

Prior to the 1970s, cotton candy was only produced on a small scale. This was due to the fact that there were no automated machines that could produce enough product for widespread distribution. Then, in 1972, an automatic cotton candy manufacturing machine was patented. This machine provided an efficient for automatic manufacture and packaging. It led to the mass production of cotton candy.

Raw Materials

Sugar is the most important ingredient used in the manufacture of cotton candy. Chemically, sugar is known as sucrose, which is a disaccharide, made up of glucose and fructose units. It is obtained primarily from sugarcane

After processing the sugar granules into extruded sugar strands, the strands of cotton candy are pulled onto a conveyor belt and transferred into a sizing container. Here, the candy strands are combined into a continuous bundle.
After processing the sugar granules into extruded sugar strands, the strands of cotton candy are pulled onto a conveyor belt and transferred into a sizing container. Here, the candy strands are combined into a continuous bundle.
or sugar beets via an extraction process. In cotton candy, sugar is responsible for the candy's physical structure as well as its sweet taste and moutlifeel. The sugar used for cotton candy production, called floss sugar, is specially treated to promote the formation of fibers.

To produce the well-known characteristics of cotton candy, other ingredients such as dyes and flavorings must be added. Since sugar is naturally white, dyes must be added to produce the different colors typical of cotton candy. Usual dyes include Red dye #40, Yellow dye #5, Yellow dye #6, and Blue dye #1. By using only these federally regulated dyes, cotton candy can be made to be almost any color desired. The most popular colors are pink and blue, however purple, yellow, red, and brown cotton candy are also sold.

Cotton candy is available in many different flavors including bubble gum, banana, raspberry, vanilla, watermelon, and chocolate. To produce these flavors, both artificial and natural flavorants may be used. Natural flavors are obtained from fruits, berries, honey, molasses, and maple sugar. Artificial flavors are mixtures of aromatic chemicals produced synthetically via organic reactions. Some important artificial flavoring compounds include materials such as methyl anthranilate and ethyl caproate.

In addition to the cotton candy ingredients, different packaging raw materials are required. Since moisture can make cotton candy rubbery and sticky, the packaging is designed to inhibit interaction with air. Typically, a plastic bag made out of a highmolecular weight polymer is used.

The Manufacturing

There are primarily two types of machines used to produce cotton candy. One of them is semi-automatic and is used to produce the single serve helpings that are immediately sold at carnivals and amusement parks. The other is a fully automated machine that is used to produce large volumes of cotton candy for widespread distribution. Since these machines are very similar, both will be described below.

Sugar processing

Candy collection



Quality Control

As in all food processing facilities, quality control begins with a check of the incoming ingredients. These ingredients are tested in a quality control laboratory to ensure they meet specifications. Tests include evaluation of the ingredient's physical properties such as particle size, appearance, color, odor and flavor. Certain chemical properties of the ingredients may also be evaluated. Each manufacturer has their own tests that help certify that the incoming ingredients will produce a consistent, quality batch of cotton candy.

In addition to ingredient checks, the packaging is also inspected to ensure it meets the set specifications. An important property that is routinely examined is the odor of the packaging. Many times plastics can acquire off-odors during processing. These odors can be passed on to the food products and hence must be found before the packaging can be used. Since excessive water vapor can ruin a bag of cotton candy, the packaging is also checked for its moisture-vapor transmission rate. Other properties that are checked include grease resistance and physical appearance. Correctly produced cotton candy has a shelf life of about six months.

After production, the characteristics of the final product is also carefully monitored. Quality control chemists perform many of the same tests on the final product that they did on the initial ingredients. These include tests of the candy's appearance, flavor, texture, and odor. The usual test method involves comparing the final product to an established standard. For example, to make sure the color is correct, a random sample may be taken and compared to some set standard. Other qualities such as taste, texture and odor may be evaluated by sensory panels. These panels are made up of a group of specially trained people who can determine small differences. In addition to sensory tests, other standard industry instrumental tests may also be performed.

The Future

Cotton candy has changed very little since it was first introduced. Most of the improvements have come in the design of machines that are used to make the candy. It is expected that future improvements will continue to be found in this area. For example, machines will be developed which are more automated with computer controls. These machines will be able to produce the candy more efficiently, economically and safely. In addition to new cotton candy machines, new colors and flavors will also be introduced to make the confection more appealing.

Where to Learn More


Alikonis, J. Candy Technology. Westport, CT: AVI Publishing Co., 1979.

Kirk Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1992.

Mathlouthi, M. and P. Reiser, ed. Sucrose: Properties and Applications. London: Blackie and Sons, Ltd., 1995.

Pennington, N. L. and C.W. Baker, ed. Sugar, A User's Guide to Sucrose. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1990.

Perry Romanowski

Also read article about Cotton Candy from Wikipedia

User Contributions:

i made cotton candy at a party before. We didn't have any if the sugar that they used so we used koolaid. even though we used the littlest koolaid it was so sour

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