The Makers of Lucky Charms Have a Serious Marshmallow Problem

Recreating the unique mix of colors and signature taste of Lucky Charms marshmallows without artificial ingredients can be a daunting task, especially due to the deep nostalgia tied to the cereal.
September 30, 2016, 5:00pm
Photo via Flickr user Michael Verhoef

If your early years were defined by crescent moons and shooting stars, you were either really into astronomy or, like the rest of us, hooked on Lucky Charms. There is possibly no flavor more evocative of American childhood than the chalky, subtly sweet taste of those horseshoe and clover-shaped marshmallows. But, as a group of culinary craftsmen have recently discovered, finding a way to ditch artificial flavors and colors while mimicking that magically delicious taste might require, well, actual magic.

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Last summer, General Mills announced that it would be changing the recipes of its iconic, sugar-high-inducing cereals by eliminating all artificial colors and flavors from the equation. The breakfast behemoth vowed that by 2017, the dyes that gave their products their vibrant tones would be replaced by natural coloring from the likes of turmeric or berries.

In order to achieve this goal, each day, a team of six to seven flavor scientists gathers to toil away in a pantry full of ingredients with the potential to produce the desired hues, extracting juice from a variety of fruits and vegetables to create colorful concentrates, Quartz reports. These concentrates are then combined with the marshmallow cream and taste-tested both individually and as part of a complete bowl of cereal.

READ MORE: People Who Put Orange Juice in Their Cereal Must Be Stopped

So far, the brand has perfected revamped versions of Golden Grahams, Reese's Puffs, and even the eclectically hued Trix, which will now have a toned-down look with the help of annatto seed, blueberry, radish, turmeric, and carrot. However, the flavor scientists have found recreating Lucky Charms' iconic marshmallow taste a stickier situation, due in part to the marshmallow's greater risk of flavor distortion in comparison to a corn puff.

As any true LC connoisseur knows, there are eight distinctive mallows contained in each box, from the leafy green clovers to the three-toned rainbows. According to General Mills recipe developer Kate Gallager, perfecting this unique mix of colors while maintaining the signature taste can be a daunting task, especially due to the deep nostalgia tied to the cereal.

"It's not just that flavor, it is also that emotion that it takes people back to when they were eating this when they were younger or some of those different moments in life," Gallagher told Business Insider. She notes that one of the biggest hurdles to achieving this iconic taste is the marshmallow's susceptibility to taking on other flavors. When the juice of a beet is added to give a pop of red, "all of the flavor of that color can come through," requiring painstakingly careful consideration when it comes to ingredients.

READ MORE: You're Not the Only One Eating Cereal for Dinner

Lucky Charms marshmallows have built such a devoted following over the years that the brand even ran an online contest to give away 10 rare charms-only boxes, following countless requests from fans to get rid of that pesky beige cereal getting in the way of their marshmallow consumption. Now, it's the job of Gallagher and her team of flavor engineers to recreate the magic of the iconic mallows without alienating their devoted customers.

For those superfans concerned about the imminent demise of the original recipe, you can always stock up on bulk bags of mimic marshmallows on Amazon to feast on at your own discretion. We promise not to tell your mom.