Marsh Meringue

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Here are two pieces of convoluted Scandy and English etymology that converge in my head.

“Marshmallow” was originally the common name of a plant, Althaea officinalis (Sw. läkemalva), from which a thickening agent was made. This agent was added to meringue foam to produce the toastable sweet pillows we all know and love. And so the sweet took over the name of the marsh-dwelling mallow plant.

On Gålö, the peninsula where I helped with excavations yesterday, is a place called Kärrmaräng. This means “Marsh Lagoon Meadow”, but the Swedish word for meringue is maräng, so “Kärrmaräng” looks like it should be read “Marsh Meringue”.

I wonder if Althaea officinalis grows at Kärrmaräng. It sounds like good place to light a camp fire and toast marshmallows.


  1. #1 Stephen Moore
    September 4, 2009

    I’ve wondered about how the treat came to have the same name as the plant. And now I know. Thanks!

    Marsh Meringue sounds like a good, even though it might be off putting to some, name for a desert. Just what would constitute such a desert, apart from the meringue, I’ve no idea, but it would be a fun exercise to come up with appropriate ingredients.

    Marsh Meringue (or Meringue Marsh) sounds a lovely place to visit. And so too Marsh Lagoon Meadow.

  2. #2 Martin R
    September 4, 2009

    I’d expect to find tangerine trees and marmalade skies at a place named Meringue Marsh.

  3. #3 DrA
    September 4, 2009

    Marsh mallow has thick roots filled with spongy white tissue, an adaptation for living in a marsh, and this was harvested, sweetened and eaten as a confection. Marshmellows are an artificial mimic of the real thing.

  4. #4 Thinker
    September 4, 2009

    Fun etymology!

    … the toastable sweet pillows we all know and love

    I probably overdosed at some point in my youth, so I wouldn’t describe my relationship to marshmallows as “love”. The sweet I’d reserve that for would be fine chocolates, preferrably dark truffles (which, of course, got their name due to their similarity to the subterranean delicacies…).

  5. #5 fullerenedream
    September 4, 2009

    I’ve never eaten a truffle of the fungus type, but I’ve had plenty of things flavored with truffle oil. It’s brain-meltingly delicious, but it doesn’t taste anything like chocolate! How are chocolate truffles like real truffles?

  6. #6 Martin R
    September 4, 2009

    They’re both little black lumps.

  7. #7 kai
    September 5, 2009

    What a Strindberg moment! Just an hour ago I was standing in my usual shop, gazing at a bag of marshmallows and wondering what they might have to do with marshes, and as soon as I turn the computer on, here you come explaining it to me. The Powers!

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