Sweet is probably the most popular taste throughout the world, not only to make desserts but it is necessary for the whole host of cooking technique. Without the use of sweeteners, the world’s cooking heritage would be poorer.
Sugar or sucrose is a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in every fruit and vegetable in the plant kingdom. It is the major product of photosynthesis, the process by which plants transform sugar energy into food. Sugar occurs in the greatest quantities in sugar cane and sugar beets from which it is separated for commercial use.
Functions of sugar or sweeteners in food production are as follows:
- Adds sweetness to any food and beverages
- Adds brown color to cooked food by a process calls caramelization.
- Sugar works as preservatives, eg; jam, jelly marmalade, candied fruits, etc.
- Sugar helps to prepare fermented foods by taking part in the fermentation process
- Being hygroscopic in nature it retains moisture for a longer time in a product.
- Helps to make egg foam much more stable, hence used in making meringue.
In the field of professional food production sweeteners may broadly be classified into two sections:
- Natural Sweetener
- Artificial Sweetener
Natural sweeteners are those available directly or after slight processing from nature, mostly from plant sources, like Sugar, Honey, Maple syrup, Treacle, Molasses, and Jaggery, etc.
Sugar is the generalized name for a class of sweet-flavored substances used as food. They are carbohydrates and are composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. There are various types of sugar derived from different sources. Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose, fructose, and galactose. The table or granulated sugar most customarily used as food is sucrose, a disaccharide. Other disaccharides include maltose and lactose.
Commercially the main sources for sugar are
Sugar cane – (Saccharum officinarum) is a giant grass native from tropical countries of South Asia and Southeast Asia. It is the main source of sugar for the world.
Sugar beet – (Beta vulgaris) is a plant whose tuber contains a high concentration of sucrose. It is grown commercially for sugar production
Different types of sugar:
Granulated/Table sugar – Regular white sugar crystals are used widely both commercially and domestically. Must be used only in recipes where sufficient moisture is present to dissolve large grains. Good for hot beverages like tea, coffee, etc.
Caster/Superfine/Breakfast sugar – Finer crystals that dissolve easily. It is a better option for creaming with the fat. Used for delicate desserts like mousse, custards, and meringues. It is also very popular as a breakfast accompaniment as dissolves readily in tea and coffee and other cold drinks like fruit juices.
Icing/ Confectioner’s sugar – a powdered form of granulated sugar with a maximum of 3% of anti-caking or lump preventing agent ( corn flour is a most popular option as an anti-caking agent sometimes Calcium Phosphate is also used). It is very smooth and free flow in nature. Dissolves immediately in contact with moisture. Used for making icings and frostings.
Vanilla sugar – Caster sugar mixed with at least 10% pure vanilla extract or essence. Used in different desserts.
Brown sugar – Unrefined and unbleached sugar with high molasses content. Imparts a nice smoky flavor and color to the product. It has got a minute amount of minerals, vitamins, and proteins. The texture is moist, sticky, and tends to get lumpy very quickly. Used in fruit cake, plum pudding some special coffees, etc… few popular varieties are like, Muscovado, Demerara, Barbados, etc.
Muscovado is dark brown, strongly flavored sugar that is moist and fine-grained, useful for dark rich fruit cake or other dark desserts.
Demerara is partly refined with a small amount of molasses, which gives it a pale golden color, it gives a nice crunch to cookies.
Sugar Crystals/ Rock candy – simple sugar crystals converted to large crystals by adding some extra amount of sugar to a supersaturated solution. When water will be evaporated from such a solution sugar crystals will join to form large crystals. This can be colored also. Mainly used for decoration.
Preserving/Jam sugar – large sugar crystals mixed with a setting agent like pectin.
Invert sugar – Inverted or invert sugar is a mixture of glucose and fructose; it is obtained by splitting sucrose into these two components by treating with acid or other enzymes. The mixture is sold as a viscous liquid and is often referred to as Trimline or invert syrup. Compared to sucrose, inverted sugar is sweeter, and its products tend to retain moisture and are less prone to crystallization.
Liquid glucose – Glucose syrup, also known as confectioner’s glucose, is a syrup made from the hydrolysis of starch. Maize (corn) is commonly used as the source of the starch in this case, but glucose syrup can also be made from potatoes and wheat, and less often from barley, rice and cassava. This thick and viscous liquid contains dextrin gum which retards the crystallization of sugar. Popularly used for candy and sugar decorations.
Bakers Special Sugar – The crystal size of Bakers Special is even finer than that of fruit sugar. As its name suggests, it was developed especially for the baking industry. Bakers Special is used for sugaring doughnuts and cookies, as well as in some commercial cake recipes to create a fine crumb texture.
Coarse sugar – Also known as pearl or decorating sugar. As its name implies, the crystal size of coarse sugar is larger than that of “regular” sugar. Coarse sugar is recovered when molasses-rich, sugar syrups high in sucrose can crystallize. The large crystal size of coarse sugar makes it highly resistant to color change or inversion (natural breakdown to fructose and glucose) at cooking and baking temperatures. These characteristics are important in making fondants, confections, and liquors.
Date sugar – Date sugar is more food than a sweetener. It is ground up from dehydrated dates, is high in fiber. Its use is limited by price and the fact it does not dissolve when added to liquids.
Fruit Sugar – Fruit sugar is slightly finer than “regular” sugar and is used in dry mixes such as gelatin and pudding desserts, and powdered drinks. Fruit sugar has a more uniform small crystal size than “regular” sugar. The uniformity of crystal size prevents the separation or settling of larger crystals to the bottom of the box, an important quality in dry mixes.
Sugar Cubes – They are made from moist granulated sugar that is pressed into molds and then dried.
Sanding sugar – Also known as coarse sugar. A large crystal sugar that is used mainly in the baking and confectionery industries as a sprinkle on top of baked goods. The large crystals reflect light and give the product a sparkling appearance.
Superfine, ultra-fine, or bar sugar – This sugar’s crystal size is the finest of all the types of granulated white sugar. It is ideal for delicately textured cakes and meringues, as well as for sweetening fruits and iced drinks since it dissolves easily.
Free-flowing brown sugars – These sugars are specialty products produced by a co-crystallization process. The process yields fine, powder-like brown sugar that is less moist than “regular” brown sugar. Since it is less moist, it does not clump and is free-flowing like white sugar.
Turbinado sugar – This sugar is raw sugar that has been partially processed, where only the surface molasses has been washed off. It has a blond color and mild brown sugar flavor and is often used in tea and other beverages.
Liquid sugars – There are several types of liquid sugar. Liquid sugar (sucrose) is white granulated sugar that has been dissolved in water before it is used. Liquid sugar is ideal for products whose recipes first require sugar to be dissolved. Amber liquid sugar is darker in color and can be used in foods where brown color is desired.
Honey is one of the oldest sweeteners used by a human beings. It is mainly flower and fruit nectars collected and naturally processed by honeybees. It is very popular for its nice color and flavor. Commonly used in sauces, topping, and dips.
This is the sap of maple tree, which is very expensive; hence for commercial purpose, it is blended with corn syrups in the range of 2-6 percentages. It is mainly served as a pancake topping.
The cooking of sugar should be carried out progressively, in a heavy-based pan made of un-tinned copper or stainless pan that must be absolutely clean & grease-free. Cooking begins over low heat until the sugar is dissolved. The heat can be increased under strict supervision. When the sugar reaches the desired cooking stage the pan must be removed from heat immediately, a few drops of water may be added to control the temperature. The degree of cooking is measured manually with a sugar/candy thermometer which can read temperature up to 2000C.
The different stages of sugar cooking: Coated: (1000C/21250F) – Absolutely translucent syrup about to come to boil. When a skewer is dipped & withdrawn, the syrup should coat its surface. Used for fruits in syrup.
Small thread or Small gloss: (1010C/2140F) – professional chefs test the consistency of this sugar by plunging the fingers in cold water & then quickly in the syrup. On parting the fingers carefully short threads will form about 2-3 cm long, which breaks easily. Can be used for marzipans.
Large threads or large gloss: (102 – 1030C/215 – 2170F) – the threads obtained between fingers are now stronger and about 0.5cm wide. This is used in recipes requiring sugar syrup & for buttercreams, icing & frostings.
Small Pearl: (103 – 1050C/217 – 2210F) – a few minutes after the large thread stage round bubbles form on the surface of the syrup. When a little is collected on a spoon and taken on fingers it forms a wide solid thread, mainly used in jams or torrent a special type of nougat.
Large pearl or Soufflé: (107 – 1090C/224 – 2280F) – The thread of sugar between fingers may reach a width of 2 cm. when one blows on the skimmer after plunging it in the syrup, bubbles are formed on the other side. Used in a jam, sugar-coated fruits, glances, and icings.
Small or softball: (116 – 118oC/241 – 2440F) – When a little syrup is removed with a spoon and plunged into a bowl of cold water, it will roll into a softball. If one blows on the skimmer dipped into the syrup, bubbles break loose and blow away. It is used for jams, jellies, soft caramels, nougats, and Italian meringue.
Large or hardball: (121 – 1240C/250 – 2550F) – after several boiling, the previous operation is repeated, and a harder ball is obtained. If one blows through the skimmer snowy flakes are formed. It is used in jams, sugar decorations, Italian meringue, fondant & caramel.
Light, small, or soft crack: (129 – 1350C/265 – 2750F) – A drop of sugar syrup in cold water hardens immediately and will crack and stick to teeth when chewed. Used mainly in toffee.
Hard crack: (149 – 1500C/295 – 3000F) – The drops of syrup in cold water become hard and brittle like glass but not sticky. The color is like a pale straw-yellow at the edges of the saucepan. It must be watched very carefully to prevent it from becoming caramel. It is used for boiled sweets and candies, spun sugar decorations, icing, sugar flowers, and candy floss.
Light caramel: (1600C/3250F) – The syrup now contains hardly any water, begins to change into barley sugar, then into caramel. Yellow at first, it becomes golden than brown. Used for cream caramel, sweets, nougatine, puddings, cakes, cookies, bread and to add distinctive flavors.
Brown or dark caramel (Blackjack): (161 – 1700C/326 – 3380F) – When it turns brown sugar loses its sweetening power. This is the last stage of sugar cooking before carbonization (sugar burns & smokes at 1900C/3750F). this is used for mainly coloring sauce, stock, cakes, etc.