Mmm… Cotton Candy

Written: August 20, 2007
by: Michelle Hestand (About the author)

There is an almost surreal quality about a stick of cotton candy.  The sweet flavor, the unique texture, the magical way it melts in your mouth. It’s the best! But have you ever wondered how this colorful confection is made?

Making Cotton Candy:

Warning: If you are considering taking a job as a cotton candy maker, you should be aware of the following serious side effects…

  • People will be drawn to watch you enjoying what you do.
  • You may become covered from head to toe in a sweet sticky substance – resist the urge to lick yourself in public!
  • Exposure to cotton candy debris for extended periods of time may lead to colorful buggers.

How cotton candy is made seems to fascinate many people. How can pure sugar be turned into such a deliciously perfect treat? You can eat a serving as big as your head and still have room for more! It’s pretty amazing.

Well first of all, it isn’t quite “pure” sugar. There is little bit of flavored die added to the mix. But for the most part, when somebody buys cotton candy, they are getting sugar and air.

When you make it, you start by preparing the sugar. It doesn’t take much… a cup or so will go a looong way! Mix in a heaping spoonful of die. It takes a few tries to find the perfect balance of sugar and color, but you will get there! Just keep in mind that it will get darker as the die melts into the sugar.

Once your sugar mixture is ready, turn on the machine and pour it in! As the machine warms up, it will slowly melt the sugar and spin it out into that light fluffy substance that we all love. Once there is a thick enough layer of candy built up, place the stick on the outside of the candy and start spinning it around the inside of the bin. Or, if you are brave enough to face hot semi-melted sugar pellets, stick your hand in and grab it all at once for placement in a bag!

Once the candy is in the bag comes one of the more complicated parts – one that took me over a week to master: Tying the bag. It sounds easy enough. Just grab a twist tie and tie it as if it were a bag of fruit. But cotton candy can be tricky. You need to keep it as fluffy and pillowy as possible – trapping in plenty of air so that it doesn’t collapse on itself and squish the candy inside.

By the time you have the bag tied and safely hung up, it will be time to fill the next one. Instead of repeating myself here, I will skip ahead to some cotton candy making tips:

  • Spray your hands with a thin layer Pam cooking spray. While this is a form of moisture, if you do it just right it will prevent the candy from sticking to your hands.
  • Wear a hat. It is really hard to brush your hair when it is filled with sugar. If you do end up with sugar in your hair, rinse with extremely warm water to dissolve it out before regular washing / brushing.
  • Don’t keep a drink nearby. It is too tempting to take a sip between bags which will lead to moist hands and a sticky mess.

Taking Care of Your Cotton Candy:

Yes. Taking care of your cotton candy can be tricky. Whether you still have something light and fluffy to munch on a week later or be left with a hard, sticky, less appetizing block of some sugary syrupy like substance the next day is up to you.

First of all, did you notice what I said above about keeping the bag as fluffy and pillowy as possible? That rule still goes every time you reseal the bag. You may be tempted to just take the easy way out and leave the bag open. Don’t do it! That will lead to it being sticky and melted by the end of the day.

There are three main things that you want to avoid if you expect your candy to last. They are heat, moisture, and anything that could squish the candy before its time. The colder and dryer the climate you store it in, the more days you will have a delicious treat to go back to. (Unless of course you eat it right away. Then storage doesn’t matter.)

Story Time:

I have three little cotton candy stories to tell you about from my days as a Popper.

#1. Making Blue

I am not sure what it was about the blue die we used for our cotton candy, but it was always the most finicky color! Within days of being open, it would turn from a fine powder to a hard block. So any time that I needed to make blue cotton candy, I had to take two chunks of Blue and rub them together. As they slowly turned back into powder form, people would watch me and comment that they never had any idea it was so much hard work to make cotton candy! It would die blue for days. It was pretty funny.

#2. Don’t Spill The Blue

In one particularly busy spot (Gilmer, Texas) I was so busy making candy! We needed all 3 bins going and all 3 colors. I decided to be smart and open up a new can of blue powder instead of stopping to make some the hard way. Well… I thought it was a good idea. Until I spilled it! Who knew that a little blue powder could turn into such a huge mess?

There were 5 of us working in the popper that day. In addition to cotton candy we also made sno cones, drinks, apples, and popcorn. Of course, with 5 people in a small crowded space we had a few bumps and spills. As it got damp, that little bit of blue powder slowly took over. HELP! It’s the ATTACK OF THE BLUE!! Our shoes, our pants, the floor, the cooler, the box of apples – all stained blue.

#3. No Bees Please

Same spot, (Gilmer, Texas) we had a slight problem with bees for a few days. Someone once told me that bees are only attracted to the nectar in flowers – not to the kind of sugar that comes in the sweets that we were making. That person was so wrong! Many of our bags of cotton candy ended up with complimentary bees as a prize. Unfortunately, the customers weren’t pleased and we got a lot of returns that day.

#4. Winter Wonderland

I have already told you that cotton candy keeps best at cool temperatures. My boss preferred to keep our popper at 55 degrees to ensure that our cotton candy made it through the evening!

It happened when we were in her hometown. I was sooo cold and people kept on asking me why I was wearing a jacket on such a warm summer night. That question got me to thinking … Things were going a little slow. I had made enough candy to get us through the night and probably the next day. So why not add a little fun and see what happens? I came up with a winter wonderland theme for our concession stand.

I covered the front counter with a layer of the sweet substance I had been working with all evening. Then I took some yellow and made a few balls. Stacked them up and I had a snowman! Did it a few more times and we had a whole sugar-snow family! I went on to make hats, eyes, noses, and a few other items that came to mind. By the time my boss returned to see how things were going, I had stopped selling “cotton candy” and was giving people the opportunity to buy their very own “Summer Snowman Kits.”

Questions To Ponder:

Those were good memories. I don’t know if I will ever be able to find another job that allows me to have so much fun and freedom! But there are a few questions yet to be answered about the future of Cotton Candy.

  1. Will they ever create a sugar-free form of cotton candy?


  1. Lisa Clemson on September 6, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    When I make cotton candy with our machine at school for large functions a ring of solid sugar collects along the middle of the tub. It gets in the way of collecting the spun sugar and wastes a third or more of a box of the flossugar. Am I doing something wrong? Do you have any helpful tips?

    Thanks so much!

    • Michelle on September 15, 2014 at 12:29 PM

      Is anything wet / humid? It doesn’t take much moisture to really mess up cotton candy. Also, you might play with any settings to adjust your machine’s temperature and speed. (Would be nice if you had a little time to practice instead of having to do it on the spot.)

      We lined the sizes of our bins with a plastic screen ( google “whirl grip floss stabilizer” ). We used regular granulated sugar with a colored/flavored cotton candy powder mixed in instead of the special floss sugar. – If you find yourself having to use old sugar from the last event, it could be picking up humidity from the air. You could do a little research to see if your machine accepts regular granulated sugar (easy to purchase a fresh pack if humidity becomes an issue.)

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