Sugar – What Is It?

Sugar is essentially a generic term for different types of sugar and chemical compositions. The term “sugar”, however, is generally used as a synonym for household sugar. Sucrose is the most common form of sugar and is primarily obtained from sugarcane or sugar beets. Chemically speaking, sucrose is a disaccharide and consists of fructose and glucose molecules – that is, fruit sugar and corn sugar.

Hundreds of millions of tonnes of sugar beets and several billion tonnes of sugarcane are used for sugar production each year. Whilst sugarcane mainly grows in tropical regions, sugar beets are cultivated at moderate temperatures, so can also be found in Central Europe. China, India and Brazil are the main producers of sugar worldwide.

Food Facts Food Facts

Sugar

Class

saccharin

Calories

400 kcal per 100g

Nutrients

100g carbohydrate, 0g fibre, 0g fat, 0g protein per 100g

Season

available year-round

Storage

store dry in a sealed container at room temperature 

Shelf life

virtually unlimited

Sugar – From Luxury Item to Everyday Product

Sugar has a long history: sugarcane cultivation first started around 8,000 years ago. Sugarcane was first discovered in Polynesia, and from there it made its way to Persia and India via Eastern Asia. In Europe, sugar remained a luxury item up until modern times. Sugar beets, on the other hand, originally come from Silesia, a region in Poland, and their high sugar content wasn’t discovered until the 18th century. Sugar has been industrially produced since the 19th century – marking the end of its days as a luxury item.

Sugar – A Term for Many Products

The production of sugar results in various byproducts which are used to make alcohol, biogas and animal feed, among other things. The main product is a crystalline, odourless substance which may vary in appearance depending on whether or not the sugar has been refined (purified).

Cane sugar and beet sugar are not only chemically identical, but also tend to be identical in appearance: when refined, both types of sugar are usually a bright white colour. This so-called granulated sugar is the top-selling variety. It can be bought loose, in cubes or as a sugar loaf.

Raw cane sugar, on the other hand, is brown in colour due to residual molasses. This type of sugar is a popular ingredient in cocktails such as caipirinhas. Whole cane sugar is also brown in colour and, unlike other sugar types, contains all the same minerals as the sugar plant itself. What’s more, it tastes strongly of molasses (or treacle).

It is also possible to get brown-coloured beet sugar, but this is made by refining white sugar and adding a molasses syrup. Candied sugar is also made from syrup. These coarse crystals are usually brown – though may also be white – and are often used to sweeten tea. In the USA, you can buy coloured candied sugar on a stick, known as “rock candy”.

Icing sugar, also known as powdered sugar, is white, refined sugar. It is so finely ground that the texture is reminiscent of dust or even powder. It makes a wonderful decoration on cakes or muffins, and a great base for icings with rum or lemon juice, for example. It also goes well in dough – icing sugar saves you lots of stirring and makes the dough especially smooth. This fine sugar often contains a small amount of cornstarch so that it doesn’t absorb moisture from the air so easily. In cold liquids, however, it clumps together very quickly; thus, for baking, icing sugar without the added cornstarch tends to be used – also known as baking sugar.

Sugar – Sweet and Versatile

No matter what form it’s in, sugar is a staple in every kitchen. It appears in almost every cake mixture – be it Madeira cake, a sponge base or a sweet yeast bread. In the case of the latter, sugar not only serves as a sweetener but, together with the yeast, it helps the dough to rise. A dash of sugar doesn’t hurt in many savoury dishes, either. It can make tomato sauce taste even fruitier, for example.

Sugar – How to Caramelise

When exposed to heat, sugar caramelises and develops a very unique taste, which gives crème brûlée its flavouring, for instance. You can easily caramelise sugar at home: heat up 100 grams of household sugar with two tablespoons of water on a low heat. Opt for a stainless steel saucepan or a light-coloured pan, so that you can easily see when the sugar has turned the desired golden-brown colour. Sugar burns easily and will develop a bitter taste, so don’t take your eyes off the pan and be sure to keep stirring in order to avoid lumps. Once a gooey compound has formed, try drizzling over baking paper in a lattice pattern and leave to harden. A caramel lattice adds an appetising finish to any dessert.

Sugar – Some Alternatives

Sugar contains lots of calories and is therefore considered a treat rather than a staple. However, if you take care to enjoy sugary drinks, biscuits and processed foods in moderation, sugar does not have to stand in the way of a balanced lifestyle. When baking or cooking, you can just as easily fall back on sugar substitutes, such as coconut sugar or xylitol, in order to save on calories and regulate your sugar levels.

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