Candy floss is the same thing as cotton candy. Both names are adopted from the original name, fairy floss. Two Nashville, Tennessee candy makers dubbed this light as air and super sweet confection fairy floss in 1897. They created an electric machine that would produce the spun sugar, and sold this confection at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, where it was extremely popular.
How candy floss is made explains the way it is shaped, like puffs or clouds of sweet stuff. Usually the candy floss contains only two ingredients, sugar and food coloring. A small bowl in the center of the machine warms the sugar and then presses it through tiny holes where it spins out as floss or fine strands, into a large circular bowl surrounding the heated bowl.
People making the floss use sticks, typically white cardboard ones to gather up a cloud of the floss. If not served immediately, the cotton candy is usually bagged in plastic bags so it will retain its texture, and it doesn’t have a terrific shelf life, as many who buy candy floss at the fair and save it for a few days realize. Within a few days the fibers become harder, and if moisture touches the cotton candy the effect is amplified. It clumps together and no longer has the pleasant airy texture of the freshly spun floss.
Candy floss remains popular, especially at local fairs, circuses, and amusement parks. It is usually made in pink or light blue, which are essentially its “flavors.” Technically most candy floss doesn’t have additional flavors added and flavors referred to are typically “pink” or “blue.” The predominant taste is sweet sugar since the cotton candy is almost completely sugar with just a little dye added.
Despite the high sugar content, candy floss, especially in moderate amounts, isn’t that high in calories. A typical serving has about 100 calories, less than a 12-ounce (.35 liters) serving of most sodas. Still the food is pure sugar, and larger servings, yield higher calories. Given its components, cotton candy should be consumed rarely, especially since if you’re at a fair or amusement park, it’s unlikely you’ll have time to brush your teeth after eating it.
There are also some concerns about the dye commonly used to produce the pink variety. This is an artificial coloring called tartrazine, which in a 2008 study conducted by a research team at Southampton University in England, was shown to have potentially dangerous effects on children. According to this study, tartrazine may lower intelligence and create greater risk for hyperactivity, but the effects are not fully understood, since it seemed to affect some children more than others.
The amount of tartrazine in cotton candy is negligible, and moreover, most people don’t consume cotton candy on a regular basis. It’s usually a once in a while treat. If you’re concerned about the food coloring, you might want to try to the blue variety, since this dye has not been linked to behavioral problems or potential health hazards.