LYNN, Mass. - Just mention Fluff to people who grew up in New England, and you'll get lots of smiles and enthusiastic nods.
The gooey, sugary marshmallow treat invented almost a century ago is still enormously popular, despite concerns about childhood obesity. Last year, the company that makes Marshmallow Fluff sold about 8 million pounds of the white creme, and a bill to make the Fluffernutter — peanut butter and Fluff on bread — the official state sandwich has been reintroduced in the Legislature.
Outside New England, Fluff is not nearly as well-known. Grocery stores in other parts of the country usually place Fluff in the baking aisle because it is used in recipes for fudge and other desserts, or in the ice cream section because it is sometimes used as a topping. But in New England, Fluff is in the bread aisle — right next to the peanut butter.
In Somerville, where the concoction was invented, the eighth annual "What the Fluff?" festival drew about 11,000 people last weekend. Enthusiasts ate Fluff-inspired food and participated in a Fluff "Lick-Off" contest, Fluff bowling and Sticky Musical Chairs.
"I love Fluff!" said Nicole Salvati, 41, of Saugus, a gym instructor who attended the festival.
"It just brings you back to your childhood. It was one of those comfort foods that you always went back to, you know, peanut butter and Fluff for school lunch. ...It's like a big hug."
Mimi Graney, one of the festival organizers, said she came up with the idea about nine years ago to try to promote economic development in Somerville's Union Square.
"Marshmallow Fluff was invented here back in 1917, and whenever I would mention it to anyone, their eyes would just light up," Graney said.
Fluff was concocted by a Somerville man named Archibald Query, who made it in his kitchen and then began selling it door to door.
By 1920, two Swampscott men bought the recipe from Query for $500. H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower had been making hard candies together but began mixing Fluff at night.
Housewives spread the word about the marshmallow mixture, and eventually, Fluff was sold in local grocery stores. Sales kept increasing, and by 1930, Durkee and Mower — Durkee-Mower Inc. — had the largest distribution of marshmallow creme in New England.
In 1920, a gallon of Fluff cost $1. Today, a 16-ounce container goes for about $2.
Not much else has changed about Fluff.
It's still made with just four ingredients — corn syrup, sugar syrup, dried egg whites and artificial vanilla flavouring — and it's still made in a small manufacturing plant in Lynn.
The sugar content of Fluff — about 6 grams in 2 tablespoons — has caused controversy in recent years as people worry about increased obesity rates, especially among children.
In 2006, a state senator in Massachusetts proposed limiting Fluff's availability in school lunchrooms, but another lawmaker fought back by proposing the Fluffernutter as the official state sandwich. Both proposals failed to gain traction, but the Fluffernutter bill is up for consideration again this year.
Jonathan Durkee, the grandson of Allen Durkee and treasurer of the company, can't quite understand the attempt to link Fluff to childhood obesity.
"I don't think Fluff contributes to that at all," he said. "Fluff is not something you eat on a daily basis. Eat your fruits and vegetables, and you can have your Fluffernutter. I don't think it's a big problem."
The privately held company does not release its financial information, but Durkee said sales have increased from a decade ago, although they have remained flat over the past couple of years.