Why is sweet potato casserole with marshmallows so beloved during Thanksgiving?

Homemade Sweet Potato Casserole Getty Images/bhofack2
Homemade Sweet Potato Casserole Getty Images/bhofack2

For many folks, bitter political disputes, poor holiday etiquette and familial foes are just a few sources of rage amid Thanksgiving dinner.

That’s not the case for me.

For me, rage is spurred by a certain dish that will be enjoyed by many this holiday season: sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. How (and why) this abomination of a creation is deemed even remotely appetizing remains an unsolved mystery — at least on my part.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my fair share of sweet-and-savory food pairings. But when it comes to meshing baked sweet potatoes and toasted marshmallows into one cohesive dish, something about it is incredibly heinous. To start, there’s the unpleasant texture. Warm, mushy sweet potatoes mixed with ooey-gooey marshmallows feels like a grown-up-rendition of baby food puree. And then, there’s the overall taste. Caramelized sweet potatoes, which are both syrupy and nutty in flavor, are practically outshined by the artificial, sugary sweetness of marshmallows. Not to mention that some marshmallows taste like soap (depending on the gelatin used), which certainly doesn’t make for a delicious casserole!

Sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows was first created in the early 1900s by a company named Angelus Marshmallows, also the original maker of Cracker Jacks. Angelus Marshmallows, which was founded by German brothers Frederick and Louis Rueckheim, “introduced mass-made marshmallows to Americans in 1907,” wrote Alex Swerdloff for Vice’s Munchies. When marshmallows were originally conceived in ancient Egypt, they were derived from a plant called Althaea officinalis and utilized as an herbal medicine. Amid the 19th century, French confectioners learned to make marshmallows using just sugar, water, and gelatin. What was once a prized medicine had transformed into a candy that people slowly (but surely!) learned to appreciate.

A decade later, in 1917, Angelus Marshmallows sought a way to encourage more Americans to enjoy marshmallows on the daily. The company reached out to Janet McKenzie Hill, the founder of the Boston Cooking School Magazine, to help formulate recipes designed to “encourage home cooks to embrace the candy as an everyday ingredient,” Swerdloff wrote. The resulting cookbook “featured plenty of instant classics, including fudge studded with chewy marshmallows; cups of hot cocoa dotted with them; and, yes, the first documented appearance of mashed sweet potatoes baked with a marshmallow topping,” wrote Leslie Porcelli for Saveur.

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Today, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows remains a quintessential Thanksgiving dish that’s eaten by the masses annually. On Reddit, fans of the dish raved about their go-to recipes.

“We had a special electric skillet that was only used for this one dish. It also has copious amounts of butter and brown sugar,” explained one user. “The potatoes end up practically candied or caramelized and the marshmallows get added just before serving. It’s like green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup and French fried onions. You only eat it at Thanksgiving.”

Another user shared their grandma's recipe, which involves canned yams, “lots of butter, and brown sugar with cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.” The marshmallows are sprinkled on top after the sweet potatoes have cooked in the oven in order to achieve a toasted and melted top.

Unfortunately, my sentiments regarding sweet potato marshmallow casserole seem to be in the minority as many people agreed that the dish is more delectable than disgusting. Let it be known that I’ve had the casserole many times growing up, so my hatred for the dish isn’t based on hypotheticals. Baked sweet potatoes and marshmallows should exist as separate entities, plain and simple. I don’t want them served together as a side dish, main entree or dessert. In my books, there’s no happy ever after for the sweet potato and the marshmallow because I don’t want them together ever.

As expected, I will not be eating sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows this Thanksgiving. My opinions about the dish are pretty set in stone and frankly, I'm unwilling to change them anytime soon.