Learn all about sugar in Sweet!: From Agave to Turbinado, Home Baking with Every Kind of Natural Sugar and Sweetener by Mani Niall, including recipes for Raspberry Sorbet Cream; Smoky Pumpkin Seed Brittle; and Semolina-Citrus Turbinados.
by Mani Niall
Raw sugars are in fact boiled a few times to remove impurities, so the name is a little confusing—if it is cooked, how can it be raw? However, the relatively lesser amount of processing used allows these sugars to retain molasses, which includes the minerals and vitamins that are refined out of white granulated sugar.
Many foods (coffee, sugar, and tea, among others) are produced in third-world countries with inexpensive labor, and unfortunately, all too often, the workers do not sufficiently benefit from the profits. Some producers are working under fair trade guidelines, whereby the labor force is paid fairly for its work in an effort to alleviate poverty and improve quality of life. Efforts are also made to keep the product sustainable.
Wholesome Sweeteners is such a company. I love cooking with their third party-certified organic and fair trade sugars, for their high quality and for the company's commitment to their production team. They work with plantations in Costa Rica and Mauritius, but nowhere has there been such a direct and tangible difference in the lives of their team as in the African Republic of Malawi. According to company spokesperson Pauline McKee, "The impact of the quarterly premium they receive from our sugar sales go directly to funding community projects. They now have a freshwater well for both residential and irrigational use, land set aside from cane growing for their own farming, and a health clinic. Working with the Malawians is a joy and an honor, and it really puts life into perspective."
This term evaporated cane juice was approved by the Federal Drug Authority to clarify the difference between this sugar and white granulated sugar, which it resembles in appearance and sweetness level. Evaporated cane juice is crystallized sugar, minus the final refining stages, which allows it to retain a small amount of molasses and gives the crystals their light tan color. Most organic sugar (sugar raised under organic agricultural guidelines without pesticides) is evaporated cane juice, and vice versa. You can substitute evaporated cane juice (or organic sugar) for granulated sugar in your recipes without any changes. It is commonly used in the natural foods industry to manufacture baked goods.
Because it has its own proprietary manufacturing process, Sucanat (its name created from the words sugarcane natural) belongs in its own category, but I include it here because it is the least processed of all sugars. Its proprietary processing method of dehydration and aeration was developed by Dr. Max-Henri Beguin in the 1950s. Sucanat, processed from organic Costa Rican sugarcane, is the least processed of dry sugars, maintaining trace amounts of potassium, calcium, and magnesium and other vitamins and minerals, but that doesn't make it a nutritional superfood.
Sucanat is granular, not crystallized. Sucanat does not dissolve as readily as crystallized sugar, so a butter-Sucanat mixture will stay gritty and the resultant baked good will be speckled in recipes that call for such creaming. This may be a small tradeoff for some bakers. Many sources say that it can be used as a substitute for brown sugar, but Sucanat is much drier, so in most recipes I don't recommend swapping it for brown sugar.
Sucanat lends its molasses-rich flavor to cookies, bars, fruit crisps, and cobblers.
A light brown sugar with detectably coarse crystals and a light toffee flavor, turbinado is "turbinated" from steaming evaporated cane juice. It is considered a raw sugar, and one brand is named Sugar in the Raw, which is made in Maui and is a vestige of the once-booming Hawaiian sugarcane economy.
Turbinado is versatile and accommodating in all manner of cooking and baking. In butter-based doughs and batters, it creams more smoothly than demerara. But it stays crunchy when sprinkled as a topping for cookies, cobblers, and crisps. For its toffee flavor and ease of melting (its moderate-size crystals melt into larger pools than does granulated sugar), it is the best sugar for topping crème brûlée.
The Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company on Maui produces a variety of raw sugars, including turbinado. Their Premium Hawaiian Turbinado is the result of slow boiling, producing a crunchy crystal of deep ambercolored sugar, rich with molasses flavors. Asked about further details about their turbinado, they demurred, referring to such matters as being proprietary secrets.
Annually, about 500,000 tons of bagasse (discarded cane fiber) is used to generate steam for electricity. This supplies all the power necessary to run the plant; the surplus energy provides up to 10 percent of the power for the entire island.
In the second stage of sugar processing, a centrifuge is used to remove as much, or as little, molasses as the manufacturer chooses. In brown sugars made by the traditional methods, such as demerara and muscovado, the molasses is left in, and then the sugar is crystallized via dehydration. During this process, the molasses remains intact, as in first-stage sugars, yet these sugars become fairly dry. These brown sugars are less sweet than white sugar, because the molasses is somewhat bitter.
A crunchy, sparkly, caramel-hued crystal sugar, demerara is renowned for its textural and visual qualities. It is named for the Demerara River in today's Guyana, a former British (and Dutch) colony, but most of today's demerara comes from Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean. If you are presented with a sugar bowl in a fine restaurant in Europe, chances are that it will be filled with demerara. Stirred into hot coffee or tea, its caramel flavor is released.
Demerara sugar is ideal for decorating baked goods, as it will not melt in the heat of the oven. It adds a delicious crunch to the surface of muffins, cookies, scones, and other pastries.
Rich, dark, and aromatic, muscovado sugar is available in both light and dark varieties. This moist, flavorful sugar has a hint of butterscotch. It is also known as Barbados sugar and dark molasses sugar.
Use muscovado sugar whenever you want to upgrade your recipes that call for standard light or dark brown sugar-try it on your morning oatmeal, and you may never use anything else. It is incomparable in gingerbread.
On the shelves of the best specialty food shops, you are likely to find sugar products under the India Tree label—amber-colored light and seriously dark muscovado, rough-textured demerara, and golden baker's sugar that is as pale as tropical sand. India Tree owner Gretchen Goehrend credits professional chefs for unleashing the unrivaled flavors of these sweeteners in their cooking.
Goehrend says, "Both Nancy Silverton and Alice Medrich told me these sugars are elegant just as they are-much like any ingredient they scour the globe for. With something this good, there is no need for other flavors or spices, not even vanilla. They couldn't believe they ignored these sugars for years and now find them indispensable in their baking."
Supermarket light and dark brown sugars can be made by a highly mechanized variation on the traditional method, which is how muscovado sugar is still made, whereby raw sugar is centrifuged to remove the molasses and attain the desired sugar color. However, many brands, especially beet sugars, make their brown sugars by another process. The sugar is completely refined to the white granulated stage, then molasses is sprayed back on in amounts to create either light or dark sugar. The molasses used for this is always the cane sugar variety, as beet sugar molasses is considered unfit for human consumption. Choose a brand that you like (look at the label for "pure cane sugar," if you prefer it) and stick with it.
Brown sugar is called for in many all-American baked goods. Light and dark are interchangeable, depending on the desired amount of molasses flavor. Brown sugar must be packed firmly into a metal measuring cup to get a level measure.
This page created May 2009
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