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A sweet story                                               December 2009 

A sweet story

sugarSugar is a fundamental part of our lives, used to transform the taste of foods and drinks, to help preserve foods, to help speed up the process of fermentation, sugar is even used to help grow penicillin.

So it is strange to think that before 1300 few people in Britain had tasted sugar. Of course, honey was used in various regions, but for many people, the taste of sugar remained unknown.

It really wasn’t until the 18th century that sugar became more readily available. This was after Britain had taken over Jamaica and other islands from Spain and had become involved in the sugar industry – in the mid 18th century over 30,000 tonnes of sugar a year was being produced from sugar cane in the region but it was still heavily taxed and still a luxury item.

Amazingly, it was only in 1874, when William Gladstone was prime minister and removed the tax, that sugar became affordable for many British people. At this time more and more sugar was also being produced from sugar beet, also helping to make this vital commodity more affordable for everyone.

Today a supermarket has a wide range of different sugars available and there are all sorts of myths about which sugar is best nutritionally. Sugar is a carbohydrate but is also known as an “empty” food because it contains minimal nutritional value and this is true of both white and brown sugars. An excess intake of sugar can lead to many problems, from being overweight to accelerated ageing and some diseases and because there is a lot of sugar hidden in everyday foods, many people eat far more sugar every day than they realise.

However, sugar will remain a fundamental part of our diet to make food palatable and enjoyable, and the choice of which sugar to buy really comes down to what you are using it for and personal taste preferences. The different sugars can alter flavour, colour and texture.

The most common sugar we buy is white sugar. This is produced by processing the juice of the sugar cane or sugar beet, removing the fibre, protein and minerals, or about 90 per cent of the natural plant.

Granulated white sugar is the most common, this is the normal sugar used by many of us to sweeten drinks or cereals. This sugar is also pressed damp into moulds where it dries into sugar cubes, more elegant for the tea table. Caster sugar is ground a little finer than granulated and is ideal for jams, jellies and where easy and even melting is important. Icing sugar is simply sugar crystals ground into a really fine powder.

Brown sugar is interesting. While some brown sugars are made from unrefined sugar cane, with some of the natural colour and flavouring kept in, some so called “brown” sugars are simply white sugar with colouring, so it is important to read the labels.

Brown sugar made from unrefined sugar cane has a different flavour from white sugar, and there is a considerable variation among the brown sugars. Demerara sugar was a sugar our parents will have known and, with its rich aroma and large crystals, was associated with the perfect coffee. Soft dark brown soft sugar has a wonderful deep fudgy flavour without the bitterness than can be associated with treacle or molasses and is perfect with many cakes and biscuits, as it its sister light brown soft sugar.

Muscovada sugar has a higher molasses content giving it a different feel and flavour. Light Muscovado sugar looks lovely, with finely grained warm honey coloured crystals, and it has a soft creamy fudgy flavour. Dark Muscovado sugar has a rich toffee, treacle flavour and deep natural colour that can help the appearance of a number of cakes, puddings and other dishes and is perfect for modern popular sticky barbecue and caramel sauces.

People are often confused by the word molasses – this is the almost black syrup that is left over after sugar has been refined. It remains in different amounts in unrefined sugars. Molasses itself is highly concentrated and has a very distinct flavour. It replaces the black treacle so many of us will remember from our childhood.

If only sugar was better for us, I am sure we would have sugaristas or another similar word for true sugar experts who would run sugar tasting evenings and other fun events. But nevertheless sugar will remain a key part of our lives certainly for some time to come, and so trying out the different sugars available can be interesting and make a real difference to some of our favourite recipes.



Nutricentre Discount for laterlife visitors If in any doubt about any of the information covered in health and nutrition related articles and it's relevance for you, consult your GP.




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