I've been the only vegetarian in my household for about 4-1/2 years now, though coexisting quite peacefully with my carnivore husband and sons. No one else has shown any inclination to join me on the meat-free bandwagon--which is totally fine, to each his own. But occasionally in our ongoing nutritional education, a subject will present itself that we all feel a need to explore further. For example, a recent topic that popped up involved the oh-so-benign, sweetly puffy ball of goodness commonly known as: the marshmallow. You see, these little treats that we sprinkle so liberally on top of hot chocolate are held together using gelatin. I know I've ranted about this before, but it bears repeating--gelatin itself is made from...leftover cow...scraps. I know, yum, right? Definitely not vegetarian, and frankly, not even appetizing as far as I'm concerned. (I do realize that the structural makeup of gelatin is just not something most people even spend a millisecond thinking about, but what can I say, I'm obsessed with knowing what's in my food before it goes into my mouth. For better or worse...)
Riley, who has been known to temporarily visit the Vegetarian Squad from time to time, suddenly decided that, like me, he was revolted by the idea of gelatin. So the last time I raided the grocery store, I took a minute to search for a variety of marshmallow made without animal detritus. The only interesting specimen I encountered was stocked in the Kosher section, and contained (wait for it) "fish gelatin". Better...still not totally veg-compatible. This led us completely off on a tangent, as the curious boys wanted to know what "kosher" meant. I dug up examples of packaged food in our pantry that bore the familiar "K" symbol, and explained as best I could in my limited, Christian-knowledge sort of way. When I finished stumbling through the brief facts in my repertoire, what they took away from it was this: "Whaaaaat? No cheeseburgers????" Suffice it to say, they were thoroughly horrified at the sacrifices required by some faithful souls, to maintain their Jewish customs.
But, back to our original issue: how to reconcile the desire for gooey, creamy blobs-of-fun on top of our warm Winter drinks...with the wish for non-animal-based options? As is soooo often the case, Google came to the rescue. That's right, I am utterly delighted to report that one can obtain "vegan marshmallows", in which the binding agent is none other than your friend and mine, that powerhouse known as: carrageenan. Not familiar with the fancy name? Sure you are, it's used as a thickening substance in many products, including but not limited to ice cream. Oh, and incidentally it's derived from seaweed. Plant matter--we're totally okay with that! So tomorrow in my travels I need to wind my way to a natural-foods store and scour their shelves for this wonderful product. Then (providing they actually taste delicious, of course) we can all savor our cocoa knowing that no creatures were harmed to provide us our tasty drinks. Cheers!