Commonly extracted from sugar beet and sugar cane, sugar is a crystalline element used as a sweetener comprised mainly of sucrose. It is an essential element in the world of culinary arts and an ambrosia for sweet tooth all around the world.
From garnishing to balancing out flavors, sugar can be utilized in multitudinous ways. The sucrose in it is a result of the combination of one unit of glucose with a single unit of fructose. The end outcome is sugar which is used to create palatable and delectable delicacies.
The Properties Of Sugar
Sugar’s capability is not limited to only being a sweetener for foods. To start off, it provides great texture to various kinds of food, especially desserts. Texture provides sensation inside the mouth and sugar influences this by adding volume and consistency in the product. Did you know that the gelatinous consistency of jam and the airy and bubbled texture of the bread is a result of the added sugar?
- Providing volume
Not only does it provide texture, sugar also has a hand in increasing the volume of certain products like bread. The yeast breaks down the sugar into carbon dioxide and other components causing the dough to rise resulting in a porous, airy dough. This process is also known as fermentation and used in wine-making.
In addition to adding volume to baked goods, it also provides color through caramelization of the sugar. The sweet brown color that you see when you heat sugar is the caramel which can be used for making different kinds of desserts.
Sugar has a hygroscopic property. Hygroscopy is the occurrence of attracting and holding water molecules together from the surrounding environment usually at room temperature. This retention of moisture extends the shelf life of goods like bread, keeping them fresher for longer periods of time. The moisture held in does not allow the bread to dry out or become hard.
Powdered sugar is often used as a decoration for cakes and other kinds of dishes.
Available in various forms in the market, sugar does not have typical categories to set them apart but can be diversified through not only their taste, but color, size of grains and the amount to which they have been refined.
The Difference Between Raw and Refined Sugar
- Raw Sugar
Both of these types of sugar undergo the same procedures of filtering and purification through filtration and boiling to remove color and molasses. However, the journey of filtering and purifying ends here for a certain portion of the sugar crystals which is the raw sugar. The raw sugar is spared from further processing and the large, rugged grains retain a slight golden-brown color along with a thin layer of molasses.
- Refined Sugar
The other half of the crystals are subjected to further processing and purifying through addition of minerals to remove impurities. Further filtration, de-colorization and recrystallization give us the refined sugar. The refined sugar is stripped away from the previously added minerals in fine crystal form and has no leftover molasses. It is sleek and purely opaque.
Different Types of Sugar
As we know, both raw and refined sugars are in high demand in the market. But the term ‘raw’ and ‘refined’ no longer hold much attention. Throughout the years, different types of sugar have been manufactured by numerous industrial manufacturers and each of them are different in terms of taste and quality. The most common ones have been listed below.
- White Granulated Sugar
An essential component in every kitchen, this is the most common type of sugar available also known as white sugar or table sugar. It is vastly used in baking, cooking and sweetening beverages or dishes. Existing in grains, it is suitable for any purpose and is derived from either sugar cane or sugar beet. It is entirely made of sucrose; its purity summing up to 99.7 % and perfect to be used as a preservative in marmalades or jam.
However, one downside is that the granulated sugar forms lumps due to the hygroscopic property but otherwise, it’s perfectly fine to be used as the clumps can be separated easily. To make up for the downside, sugar never expires and has a shelf life of years.
- Superfine or Ultrafine Sugar
This is nothing but the finer version of granulated sugar also known as caster sugar. Its only benefit is that it increases solubility in liquids due to the presence of its fine particles allowing smooth mixtures to form without being lumpy and speeding up the whole procedure by a fold. It is definitely a preferred version for baking and is used extensively in dessert making.
- Cane sugar
Often confused with regular sugar, many do not realize that there is a difference between them. While granulated sugar is either a result of sugar cane and sugar beet, cane sugar is natural (meaning it’s less processed) and purely made of sugar cane.
Another difference between them might be that cane sugar has a slight tint of golden and deeper flavor than regular sugar. However, both are considered interchangeable as the differences are negligible and hard to distinguish anyway.
- Powdered or Confectioner’s Sugar
As the name suggests, the powdered or confectioner’s sugar is always ground to a fine powder. Available in various forms of 10X, 6X etc. they are mostly used in creating frostings and icings forming flawless, creamy coats for cakes and desserts. A hint of corn starch is added to this sugar to avert the formation of clumps. Hence it remains intact and is used vastly for dustings and decorations.
Though accessible in all parts of the world, it is quite easy to make your own confectioner’s sugar. Dump the sugar into the blender or coffee grinder and wait for it to turn to fine powder. If you plan to save it for future use, it is best to add corn starch to it to prevent the clumps from forming.
- Decorator’s Sugar or Sanding Sugar
Sanding sugar is renowned for its special quality. Stepping out of the typical white-gold-brown combination, this large-grained sugar is found in a spectrum of colors. It is used as a classic embellishment on top of cookies, cakes and cupcakes, the opaque cubes providing a crunch and color to the otherwise ordinary desserts.
- Brown Sugar
Unlike table sugar, brown sugar (both light and dark) is comparatively less refined. Brown sugar consists of sucrose, molasses and caramel. The amount of caramel and molasses in it will determine how rich and enhanced the flavor of the sugar is. The more the amount of caramel and molasses in the compound, the darker the color will be. These components are also responsible for making the consistency of brown sugar moist and damp.
Light and dark sugar can be used interchangeably but anything made from either of these sugars will have a varied intensity of flavor in it. Hence a crucial step would be to find the right balance of flavor before you venture to make your delicacy. Moreover, since the sugar is pigmented, it will influence the color of the dish giving it a golden-brown tint. So if you want that beautiful color for your baked good as well as an enhanced flavor, you know what sugar to go for.
- Demerara Sugar
This is a version of raw sugar which has undergone refinement on a very small-scale. Its characteristic hazel color complements the slight flavor of molasses present in it. The shiny façade is a result of being washed with alcohol. Since the crystals are bigger than most others, it takes time to dissolve completely in liquids which allows its subtle flavor to linger.
It is often mistaken to be light brown sugar but the difference lies in the proportion of the grains and lighter taste of it. More importantly, unlike brown sugar, it cannot be used much for baking. It is only used as a garnish on top of cookies or scones to deliver that ‘oh-so-slight’ crunch and in beverages like coffee or tea to sweeten it.
- Turbinado Sugar
This caramel flavored sugar is usually left unrefined but has the potential to give a beautiful taste and aroma when added to beverages and batters. Its grains are a tad bit smaller compared to demerara sugar grains and have a darker hue. It is also stripped of its molasses coating and is drier than demerara.
Even though white and brown sugar are the most common types of sugar with a lot of others categorized within them, you should know that the list is not limited to these few. There are countless others that have been manufactured with unique flavors of their own, ready to satisfy all purposes and hopefully the future will show us newer varieties ready to be tasted all over the world.