When it comes to consumers’ favorite marshmallow treats, the marshmallows often play a supporting role.

They’re tucked between graham crackers and chocolate, folded in with rice cereal or sprinkled atop a cup of hot cocoa. But that doesn’t have to be the case anymore.

As consumers continue to look for permissible indulgences, marshmallow brands have stepped up to fill the void by cleaning up the classic treat’s ingredient deck and experimenting with flavors and inclusions.

“The marshmallow is a treat that lends itself to unique flavor innovation,” says David Lacy, ceo of SMASHMALLOW. “At Smashmallow, we elevate the familiar plain marshmallow by adding unique, fun flavors and inclusions to create a whole new snacking opportunity.”

IRI, a Chicago-based research firm, valued the U.S. marshmallow market at $243.7 million in 2018, with Kraft Heinz, maker of Jet-Puffed, cornering 60 percent of the market. That brand pulled in $148 million in the year ending July 15.

There’s plenty of room for innovation, and marshmallows are the perfect blank canvas for supporting flavor trends seen across all confectionery categories. Dessert-based varieties continue to perform well, Lacy said, as do fruity flavors.

Earlier this year, SMASHMALLOW added Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough — featuring organic chocolate chips — to its line of organic, non-GMO marshmallows. Lacy said it quickly became the company’s best-seller. SMASHMALLOW plans to follow it up this fall with Pumpkin Pie and Sugar Cookie.

“Consumers are looking for that variety, and it’s our goal to provide them with those options,” he said. “Certainly, traditional indulgence is still strong.”

It has to be clean, however. SMASHMALLOW products are made with organic sugar and without corn syrup, preservatives and artificial colors and flavors. SMASHMALLOW also uses kosher-certified gelatin to ensure transparency in sourcing and ease ethical concerns.

Avoiding gelatin is a major motivation for Chicago Vegan Foods, maker of marshmallows under the Dandies brand.

Dan Reed, the company’s marketing director, noted gelatin can be a sticking point for some consumers, while others aren’t at all familiar with the ingredient.

“We’ve found that many customers either don’t realize marshmallows typically contain gelatin or they aren’t even aware of what gelatin is,” he said. “We’ve made it part of our mission to educate on what gelatin is and why you might want to consider an alternative.

“While ethically some of our customers are fine consuming animal products, they’re not fine with the processed/leftover nature of what gelatin is, particularly when it comes to their children. When given a cleaner alternative, it’s tough to not consider.”

Chicago Vegan Foods uses tapioca starch and carrageenan, along with tapioca syrup for sweetness and natural colors and flavors. In addition to Vanilla and Mini Vanilla varieties, Dandies are available in Pumpkin and Peppermint.

“We’ve always had a strong drive towards being better than the norm and a more inclusive product, so we’ve always looked for attributes and innovations to differentiate us from the conventional marshmallow,” Reed said.

Kraft Heinz hasn’t been afraid to play with flavor and format. The company has introduced marshmallows in Strawberry, Chocolate, Toasted Coconut, Sugar Cookie, Chocolate Mint and Chocolate Brownie flavors, along with swirled varietes.

And, in addition to mini and jumbo marshmallows, Kraft Heinz has introduced all kinds of shapes, including candy corn, ice cream cones and the newest, dinosaurs.

While these marshmallows can stand on their own as snacks, they work just as well in their tried-and-true applications. In January, SMASHMALLOW launched SMASHCRISPY, a play on rice krispy treats. Those are available in Mint Chocolate Chip, Cinnamon Churro and Strawberries & Cream flavors.

Kraft has also launched Jet-Puffed Mallow Bits shakers — perfect for hot cocoa — and S’moremallows — square, flat marshmallows meant for sandwiching between graham crackers and chocolate.

Lacy and Reed also suggested using SMASHMALLOW and Dandies marshmallows for s’mores, especially if consumers are looking for a new twist or a more ethical treat.

“It’s an occasion people know and love, but brining a little flavor and uniqueness to it makes it that much more fun,” Lacy said. “People can experiment with different flavors, try different s’mores and bring something new to the occasion.”