Sugar is the refined juice extracted from the sugarcane plant, which resembles bamboo and has sappy, sweet pulp-filled stems, or from the sugar beet. 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–coloured, 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. 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 flavours due to residual plant substances or substances created by the manufacturing process. Fully refined white sugars have virtually no flavour 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. 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 sugar is a highly refined, multi–purpose sugar, with medium–sized grains (measuring 0.5mm), this is the most common form of sugar. It is the everyday sugar of Europe and North America, to be used when a recipe does not specify another type. Granulated sugar is obtained from sugar cane or sugar beet. It is produced by allowing raw sugar to crystallise, treating it with chemicals, filtering it several times, and then drying it to prevent it from clumping.
Granulated sugar is also available in fine, sieved varieties. A light–golden, raw form of granulated sugar that is only lightly processed is also available and gives a more complex and rounded flavour to dishes. Storage
Keep in a cool, dry cupboard away from heat or moisture to ensure that the grains remain separated. Preparation
Use granulated sugar in hot drinks, cereals, baking, jams and marmalades. Sift before use to remove any clumps.
Pearl sugar also called nib sugar or hail sugar is a product of refined white sugar. The sugar is very coarse, hard, opaque white, and does not melt at temperatures typically used for baking. The product usually is made by crushing blocks of white sugar, then sifting to obtain fragments of a given diameter. Pearl sugar is commonly used to decorate pastries, cookies, and buns.
Light Brown Sugar
Light brown sugar is refined white sugar with a small amount of molasses added in. It has a wet, sandy texture – though less sticky than muscovado sugar – and a delicate caramel flavour. Use it for making any baked goods, as well as in savoury dishes.
Dark Brown Sugar
Like its lighter counterpart, dark brown sugar is refined white sugar with molasses added in. It contains more molasses than light brown sugar, which gives it a stronger more intense flavour. Light and dark brown sugar can be used interchangeably.
Confectioners’ sugar, also referred to as powdered sugar or icing sugar or 10x sugar, is a finely ground sugar made by milling normal granulated sugar into a powdered state. It usually contains a small amount of anti–caking agent to prevent clumping and improve flow. Although most often produced in a factory, it can also be made by putting normal sugar in a coffee grinder, or crushing it by hand in a mortar and pestle.
Icing sugar comes in different grades according to how finely the sugar is milled, denoted by the number of Xs on the packet. Storage
Icing sugar easily absorbs moisture and odours – keep in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Unopened packets of icing sugar can be stored for up to two years. Preparation
Because of its fine texture, icing sugar has a tendency to lump together (despite the addition of anti–caking agents such as cornstarch in commercial varieties), so sift it before use. Other considerations
Icing sugar can sometimes include wheat starch or cornstarch to keep the sugar soft and powdery, and so may not be suitable for coeliacs – check the packaging carefully before buying. Specialist bake shops may stock starch–free ‘pure’ icing sugar – as such, it may be lumpy and will require extra sifting before use. Pure icing sugar is preferred for making royal icing as the result will keep its shape better when piped or moulded.
This is the British term for sugar with small grains that are between granulated and icing sugar in terms of fineness. It is sometimes spelled castor sugar, and is known as ‘superfine’ sugar in America. Caster sugar is obtained from sugar cane or sugar beet, and is valued for its quick–dissolving properties. The usual refined white variety of caster sugar will have been treated to remove molasses, and so will be free-flowing.
Unrefined golden caster sugar with some molasses left in is also available. This gives baked dishes a more intense flavour and a darker result. Storage
Keep caster sugar in a cool, dry cupboard away from heat or moisture. Preparation
Ideal for meringues, caster sugar is used in baking, desserts, drinks and cocktails. It adds more volume to baked goods, and gives them a lighter texture. If you do not have caster sugar to hand, grind granulated sugar in a food processor for a couple of minutes.
Unlike granulated sugar, which comes from sugarcane or sugar beets, cane sugar is produced solely from sugarcane and is minimally processed. This moist, dark sugar has a rich molasses flavour making it perfect for sweetening fruits, winter puddings, gingerbread, chocolate cakes and brownies. Its deep flavour can also stand up to and balance spicy, hot and sour Indian or Asian dishes. Caramelise roast vegetables and fruits with a sprinkle of cane sugar or deepen barbecue sauces, marinades, chilli and chutneys.
Turbinado sugar is a sugar cane–based, minimally refined sugar. It is medium brown in colour and has large crystals. It's often mistaken for traditional brown sugar because of its light brown colour, but it's made in a different way.
Recipes that call for turbinado sugar tend to use it as a replacement for traditional brown sugar. It contains more moisture than regular white or brown sugars, which can be beneficial in things like cookies or muffins. In contrast, one should not replace table sugar with turbinado in recipes that already have several ingredients providing moisture, to avoid making the end product soggy. Turbinado sugar is a popular topping for cinnamon cookies and toast, and is commonly used in graham cracker piecrusts. Chefs may also use it on creme caramel, since it melts and caramelizes well. Storage
Given its higher moisture content, it can harden if exposed to too much air. Manufacturers recommend storing it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Manufacturing
Turbinado sugar is made by taking the first pressing of juice from sugar cane and slowly heating it to evaporate the water out of it. This causes it to crystallize. To complete the drying process, the crystals are then spun in turbines or centrifuges. In contrast, white sugar is often much more heavily processed, and is generally made white by using a decolourizing filter to remove its natural colour. Likewise, much brown sugar is actually white sugar with molasses added back into it to colour it.
Sanding sugar is a large crystal sugar used as an edible decoration that will not dissolve when subjected to heat. Sanding sugar is available in a rainbow of colours. Also called decorating sugar, sanding sugar adds “sparkle” to cookies, baked goods and candies. The sparkling affect is achieved because the sugar crystal grains are large and reflect light.
Muscovado sugar is a variety of partially refined cane sugar in which the molasses isn't removed. It comes in dark and light varieties, and has a sticky, wet, sandy texture with a rich, complex flavour. While muscovado sugar can be used as a substitute for brown sugar, its flavour is much stronger. While you can use dark muscovado in barbeque sauce or other savoury dishes with excellent results, try it in recipes that highlight its complex, but subtle, flavours. Ginger cookies and ice cream are a good choice, as well as simple buttercakes. It's fantastic in gingerbread or even sprinkled over yogurt with fresh strawberries. It pairs well with chocolate and can be stirred into coffee, too. Look for Muscovado sugar in health food stores or in the gourmet section of a well-stocked grocery store. Barbados sugar is very similar but has a slightlly finer texture.
Demerara (pronounced Dem-err-rar-rar), a pale–coloured and mild–tasting raw cane sugar is named after its place of origin – Demerara, in Guyana – but it is now imported from various other countries, such as Jamaica, Malawi and Mauritius. It has large grains, with an amber colour, crunchy texture, and a natural, subtle molasses flavour. Coffee connoisseur’s regard this as one of the finest sugars to compliment the flavour of coffee. It’s perfect for sprinkling but can also be used for baking, particularly in things that need extra crunchiness such as crumbles, cheesecake bases, flapjacks and biscuits. Create tantilising toppings for delicacies like crème brulee or caramelised grilled fruit. It also enhances the natural sweetness of grilled tomatoes.
Use rock sugar in Chinese savoury dishes for its subtle, mellow flavour 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, coloured 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 flavour.
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.