What Flavor Is Cotton Candy?

Whenever I go to a carnival—and to be clear, I am going to carnivals weekly—and I need the speed to dominate the Tilt-a-Whirl and run down snotty teenagers in the bumper cars, I double fist some cotton candy. It’s pure sugar with an instantly identifiable taste and it gets me jazzed to attack a carnival hard. But what flavor is cotton candy, exactly?

What makes cotton candy flavor?

What we have come to know as the “cotton candy” flavor has evolved since cotton candy’s widespread debut at the 1904 World’s Fair. Originally, the treat had no added colors or flavors in it; it was just white spun sugar. A few decades after that, people started adding coloring—traditionally only in pink and blue—followed by flavoring. Today, the cotton candy flavor is so recognizable that it is used to flavor other treats; check out Rhett & Link’s ranking of many of them.

The flavoring of cotton candy is entirely artificial. The primary ingredient in the flavoring is called ethyl maltol, which tastes similar to caramelized sugar and is a common addition to desserts. The second ingredient is strawberry furanone which, judging by the name, I’m guessing adds to the fruitiness. Finally, something called vanillin or ethyl vanillin—which tastes like vanilla—rounds things out. The resulting combination has a general taste of sweet, sweet fruit and caramelized sugar.

At least, that’s what you can expect from eating things that are advertised as “cotton candy flavored.” In the actual cotton candy world, we are looking at two main flavors: pink and blue.

What flavor is pink cotton candy?

Ok, spoiler alert for cotton candy: The color of the spun sugar has nothing to do with its flavor. In the evolution of cotton candy, artificial coloring was added to make the treat seem more fantastical; it was initially marketed as “fairy floss” so it needed a look to match the name.

That said, the colors usually correlate to an associated artificial flavor. The pink cotton candy is almost always flavored with something called “pink vanilla,” which is the most classic flavor you’re going to get.

What flavor is blue cotton candy?

The blue cotton candy is the historical origin of blue raspberry flavoring. Blue raspberry is not a flavor that exists in nature; It is purely artificial and was developed in the 1950s. The very first time it was used as an advertising gimmick was with cotton candy. 

The flavor is subtly different from the pink vanilla flavor: it tastes vaguely of fruit, but definitely not raspberries. It’s more banana, cherry, and pineapple than anything else. And, like traditional cotton candy flavoring, it has gone on to appear in a lot of other foods

Are there other flavors of cotton candy?

If you are out in the wild, 99% of the time, the cotton candy you get is either going to be pink or blue. That said, there are some people out there who have said, “that’s not good enough!” I call them snobs.

You can get cotton candy in other flavors and colors. For example, there’s green cotton candy that tastes like apples. Or purple cotton candy that tastes like grapes. People are even making chocolate flavored cotton candy.

Don’t mess with perfection! They got cotton candy flavoring right the first time.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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