Wednesday, June 12, 2013

How Sweet It Is!

Let's talk sweeteners, okay?  Since the time of the cave people, humans had a natural sweet tooth.  We love our sweets.  Whether it is from fruit to chewing on a stalk of cane, people turned to sugar for a treat.  And there are so many ways to make life sweet, especially in our food and beverages. 

We'll take a minute here and breakdown some common sweeteners that are readily available.

We'll start with probably the most common and recognizable sugars.  When you go to the grocery store and walk down the baking section you will see bags and bags of refined white sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, maple sugar, and raw sugar. Where does all that sugar come from?  

The answer is, primarily cane sugar and beet sugar. To the left is sugar cane.  This plant is of the leafy variety and grows in limited areas with the US.  To the right is the sugar beet.  It is a root vegetable and grows in many areas around the US.  Both plants are processed to produce sugar.  Sugar producers are not required to specifically identify which sugar they are packaging.

The contravery of beet versus cane sugar is, for some, splitting hairs.  Both produce molasses, but the molasses from the beet (not to be confused with the beets we serve for dinner) is essentially inedible.  Professional cooks perfer cane sugar as it carmalizes better.  There is a minor difference in the chemical elements of the cane and beet sugar.  Most people in the know find that difference significant when using sugar in their baking.  Here's more information on cane vs beet sugar.

Most sugars have essentially the same nutritional value, which is really rather limited.  Refined white sugar simply has all the pulp or molasses processed out.  Even sugar in the raw is not truly raw.  The fact of the matter is that truly raw sugar is illegal to sell, mainly because of all the impurities it contains like sand, soil, bugs, etc.  All sugar sold to consumers has been processed to one degree or another.

Have you heard of Turbinado sugar?  It is raw sugar cleaned just enough to meet legal standards, but might still have impurities.  Raw sugar is often simply white sugar with cane or beet pulp/molasses added back in.

Brown Sugar has been refined for a shorter period of time, leaving some molasses in for color and flavor.  Sometimes brown sugar made from beet sugar is simply white sugar with animal bone charcoal added to make it look brown.

Maple sugar is made from the sap of the maple tree.  The sap is boiled down past the syrup stage and all the water has been removed.  What is left has crystallized and is now a sugar.  It can be found in ground form, but also can be found in small blocks.  It has a strong maple flavor and can be used just the same as any other sugar.  Remember that it will add a maple flavor to your coffee or cookies.
Powdered sugar is often called confectioner sugar.  This is because it is used in icings and frosting because it dissolves quickly without cooking.  It is very finely ground white sugar and includes corn starch so it doesn't clump up.  There are vary degrees of grind on powdered sugar ranging from 10X all the way to 14X, which is the finest grind.  The average person doesn't really care about that when shopping for powdered sugar.  That is more important to professional bakers.

There are a plethora of sweeteners available.  Within the sweetener category are all kinds of syrups and artificial sweeteners, as well.  But that's for another blog.  So stay tuned.

Stay sweet and enjoy your sweet treats in moderation!

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