I was surprised when I began researching the variety of sugar available. And then I saw the number of different sugars available on a specialty super market shelf.
Sugar is made from the juice of sugar cane or from Golden beet.
Beet sugar is not readily available in India and I’ve never ever tasted it. So I won’t be able to comment on that.
However, I’m fuelled by the other sugars so I can comment.
The first thing I found was that sugar is available from pure snow white to a deep, dark caramel brown color.
- White Sugar
The most addictive being the pure white bleached sugar that is the most refined sugar.
And incidentally it’s the cheapest sugar that we use the most. This has comparably higher moisture content.
The main advantage of using this sugar…it’s readily available. Every home will have it. If you don’t have granular sugar or sulphur free sugar, surely you can borrow (never to return) a bowl of sugar from the neighbors. It’s not easy to dissolve this sugar in eggs or butter.
There will always be graininess. You may grind it to a fine powder, but be warned, it is a humectants. In other words, it will absorb water.
So In a day or two, your cookies will get soggy. Your cake will get moist and if you haven’t stored it in a cold place or fridge, it will catch fungus and spoil. And that’s why your product will not have that high a shelf life. The process of bleaching removes all mineral content and makes that white sugar just empty carbohydrates. These Carbs are very high GI levels and cause a super spike in your blood sugar levels.
This is the sugar high. If you’re a home baker, you must have already read about this. The major reason why everyone is moving away from refined sugars in their bakes. The reason why many people encourage you to explore other options to sweeten your desserts.
Blood sugar levels rise and fall quickly as the simple Carbs get digested fast. These cause mood swings and hence the addictions.
Also the real reason why you gain weight. Even more dangerous is icing sugar.
- Icing Sugar or Confectioners Sugar
Refined sugar is ground to a super fine powder and starches like corn starch are added to it. Along with corn starch, chemicals are also added to help it stay lump free. We use icing sugar or confectioners’ sugar for our frostings and baking.This is the best sugar for Royal icing. The cornstarch will ensure that the sugar dries with a crust and is perfect for decorating. The white color is from the starch. If you’re making a royal icing with eggs, it’s the protein strands of the egg whites that allow you to stretch it. And that’s why we add milk powder or milk and even more starch to make an eggless royal icing The real danger or the real bad guy here is not the sugar. It’s the corn starch. Cornstarch has even simpler Carbs that have a higher GI Level. Hence the blood sugar spikes.
- Caster Sugar or Super fine sugar or breakfast sugar
The sugar that is always on the little bowl in a coffee or tea shop is what I’m talking about. 1 teaspoon ready measured for you to tear and pour into your tea or coffee.Two stirs and its well mixed. The super fine sugar or breakfast sugar that we use mostly for baking has really low moisture. That is why, Primarily superfine sugar dissolves best in fat or eggs. It Bakes best and delivers the best end product. Also that is what sugar cubes are made of.
So when I’m baking a classic dessert or a French Entremets’ or cake, I will not mess with the recipe and bake with either of the two sugars recommended. I will choose to use unbleached sugar alone or in combination with white sugar when I can control the flavor
- Brown Sugar
When sugar still contains molasses, that’s the earthy brown sugar that’s available to us. There’s an earthiness that brown sugar adds to the bakes. That comes from the mineral content still present in the sugar. So it is essentially sugar cane juice that has been refined, but not refined totally yet. It contains more moisture and gives a caramel like flavor to all baked goods.
- Raw sugar or Unrefined Cane Sugar
After the sugar cane juice is processed and before it is refined, we have sugar crystals taht are pale yellow and have a sticky film over them. This is raw sugar. It is different from brown sugar as brown sugar is white sugar with molasses. raw sugar contains all the minerals you can get.
Sugar cane juice that is boiled ,cleaned of all impurities and thickened into cakes like blobs is called jaggery. There are so many varieties of organic jaggery available in the market. The easiest way to use jaggery in your bakes is by grating and creaming with the butter. Jaggery powder takes a little time to blend. So when you’re trying to whisk the Jaggery, you can add some warm water or milk. It has a more intense caramel taste and make excellent praline or what the Indians like to call chikki. It is warming and excellent in the winters.
- Khaand or Bura
Moving towards the Indian khaand or bura sugar. it is essentially Dehydrated sugar, that works best when you’re making something very Indian. Any ladoo, barfi or Desi sweet that doesn’t need a leavening agent works very well. You can also substitute this for your regular caster sugar. The only problem I’ve faced is that it doesn’t dissolve easily. So you’ll have a little graininess. Because its been heated from a super saturated solution its relatively difficult to dissolve.
- Demerara sugar
Demerara sugar is easily available now days. I’ve not much used it in baking, just majorly in cinnamon rolls. Nothing beats the flavor of Demerara sugar in a cinnamon roll. Its a wetter , more caramelly form of brown sugar. Dissolves extremely fast, its flavor is deeper than brown sugar.
All thanks to my being an army wife, I’ve had access to very few ingredients. I’ve read about them in recipe books, purchased a small quantity to bring along from the holidays ,but I’ve mostly used white sugar. It’s only after I moved to Mumbai, I could have six to seven varieties of sugar in my home.
There are more varieties of sugar available I’ve missed out the coffee sugar and turbinado sugar.These are unrefined sugars. And the golden hues are absolutely beautiful. To look at and as an added flavor. But the price factor and availability dominates all our choices.
I’ve lately been using sugar as a stress buster , but the sugar high is extremely short. Its an addiction I am trying very hard to fight. As a baker, I am surrounded by sugar and I do need to taste constantly. I am trying though.When someone wants something refined sugar free, I advise the use of a mineral rich sugar anyday. The more you read ,the more you realise that sugar is not just empty calories. There is so much to sugar that many tomes can be written about it. And we have not even explored dates, date syrup, maple syrup and honey yet.
I am currently trying out the Keto Diet, just to avoid sugar. Since I need the sweet taste, I have mastered some essential treats you can eat on a keto diet too.
Stay tuned for more updates.
And I do promise to be a little more regular now.
(all images google)