Other Names: Açúcar (Portuguese); azúcar (Spanish); sucre (French); sukkar (Arabic); tsuker (Yiddish); zucchero (Italian); zucker (German).
General Description: Sugar is the refined juice extracted from the sugarcane plant (Saccharum officinarum_), which resembles bamboo and has sappy, sweet pulp-filled stems, or from the sugar beet (_Beta vulgaria). Sugarcane, a plant native to eastern or southern Asia, was cultivated from early times in India and China. Once, all sugar came in the form of large, tan-colored, solid loaves, which had to be broken apart and crushed before use. Today, dark brown cakes of unrefined sugar known as kurozato are sold in Japan; in Mexico, cone-shaped loaves are called piloncillo; and in Colombia, loaf sugar is called panela_. palm.jpg" class=“fr p10” />Cones of unrefined dark palm or cane sugar called jaggery or gur are used in India and Southeast Asia. The core of fresh sugarcane stems may be chewed or used as an edible skewer for grilling shrimp. Fresh sugarcane juice, called guarapo, is popular in Latin America and the Caribbean.
All partially refined sugar products have special flavors due to residual plant substances or substances created by the manufacturing process. Fully refined white sugars have virtually no flavor apart from their sweetness and differ only in crystal size. Both beet and cane sugars are 99.95 percent sucrose, but many bakers claim that the remaining .05 percent of trace minerals and proteins makes a difference, and that cane sugar performs better. Some manufacturers don’t specify whether their product is beet sugar or cane sugar.
In sugar refining, molasses is separated from the sugar crystals after each of three or more boiling or extraction processes. The highest grade of molasses is made from clarified, reduced, and blended sugarcane juices without any sugar extracted. Bitter-tasting blackstrap molasses (black treacle in Great Britain), obtained from the last boiling, contains the lowest sugar content but the most vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. In Britain, light cane sugar syrups (treacle, golden syrup, or invert sugar syrup) are popular; similar syrups are popular in Louisiana. Note that only sugarcane is used to make molasses for the table, whereas sugar beets, palm, corn, maple, and sorghum may all be used to make syrups and crystallized sugars.
Granulated or regular sugar has medium-sized crystals and is the most common type. Lump sugar is granulated sugar moistened with sugar syrup and pressed into cubes. Sanding sugar has large crystals with carnuba wax added to keep the crystals separate; it’s sprinkled on top of baked goods so that they sparkle. Superfine or bar sugar is finely crystallized and known in Great Britain as caster or castor sugar. Baker’s special sugar, with a crystal size between granulated and superfine, is used to produce fine crumb texture in cakes and for sugaring doughnuts and cookies. Confectioners’ sugar or powdered sugar is granulated sugar ground to a powder, sifted, and then mixed with 3 percent cornstarch to prevent caking.
Rock sugar is made by growing large crystals, often on strings, in a strong sugar solution. It may be found in either brown or white crystals and is often served with coffee. Yellow or clear Chinese rock sugar may be found in Asian groceries. Coarse sugar (or preserving sugar) has large crystals and is processed from the purest sugar liquor so as to be resistant to color change or inversion (natural breakdown to fructose and glucose) at high temperatures.
Brown sugar consists of sugar crystals coated in molasses syrup. Dark brown sugar is moister and has a stronger molasses flavor than light brown sugar. Muscovado or Barbados sugar, popular in Great Britain, is very dark brown and has a strong molasses flavor and coarse, sticky crystals. Raw or turbinado sugar is blond colored with relatively hard crystals and mild molasses flavor. It’s similar to Demerara sugar, originally made in Demerara (Guyana) and popular in Great Britain.
Purchase and Avoid: The type of confectioners’ sugar most commonly available in supermarkets, 10X, is the finest; 6X and 4X are progressively coarser.
*Use rock sugar in Chinese savory dishes for its subtle, mellow flavor and to give a translucent finish to braised or “red roasted” dishes.
*Use preserving sugar for best results when making fruit preserves or jellies.
*Sprinkle sanding sugar, colored or plain, over holiday cakes and cookies such as biscotti.
*Rub sugar cubes over the surface of citrus fruits to absorb the essential oils, then crush the cubes for use in making desserts.
*Use superfine sugar to sweeten iced tea and berries. For smooth, silky texture, use it for making meringues, soufflés, and mousses.
*Use confectioners’ sugar to make icings, hard sauce, and whipped cream.
*Use muscovado sugar in sticky toffee pudding and dark fruit and chocolate cakes to produce a deep, rich molasses flavor.
*Use light brown sugar for butterscotch pudding, cookies, and glazes; use dark brown sugar for gingerbread, baked beans, and barbecue sauce.
*Sweeten tea, coffee, and hot chocolate with turbinado or Demerara sugar, or sprinkle it on hot cereals.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com