Prior to the formation of cotton candy, sugar was “spun” using a pan and open flame. When sugar (sucrose) is heated, it separates into glucose and fructose. By continuing the heating process, the separated sugar compounds will further separate into carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. At this stage, the sugar is cooled and the reunited hydrogen and oxygen form a liquid. This is what produces spun sugar and its caramelized state. While spinning sugar is quite a crude process, it is the foundation for what now is known as cotton candy.
A cotton candy machine uses heat in a similar fashion as is required to spin sugar over an open flame. The big difference between these processes is that cotton candy machines use electric heat to melt the sugar and a funnel shaped bowl which quickly rotates. As the sugar melts, the rotational force of the spinning bowl in the center pushes the melted sugar out and onto an outer bowl as threaded sugar. A cotton candy cone is then used to collect these strands of sugar.
Although cotton candy machines are designed to work with floss sugar, almost any type of hard candy or granulated sugar may be melted down and spun. Floss sugar does have its advantages as the sugar strands it produces are light and fluffy. With the addition of food coloring and/or flavoring, modern cotton candy machines are able to replicate the same color, texture and taste as is typically found in carnival cotton candy.
Providing you are making cotton candy with the appropriate sugar, the centrifugal force of the spinning cotton candy machine bowl eliminates any potential overheating of the sugar as was common when spun sugar was popularized in the 1400s.
In general, cotton candy machines are quite easy to operate. Although these machines all typically operate on the same principals, it is important that you read the owner’s manual of your particular cotton candy machine model. By thoroughly reviewing the owner’s manual, and reading the paragraphs above, you will have a better understanding of how your cotton candy machine works.