{pantry 101} Guide to Using Sugar

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Clockwise from top: White sugar, honey, brown sugar, demerara sugar, vanilla sugar, stevia, evaporated cane sugar

Sugar is my weakness.

If I could just eat dessert all day, I gladly would (rivaled only by cheese). Life could get a little one-dimensional, though, so maybe incorporating different sugars/sweeteners into my diet would be a good idea.

Thankfully, today’s post in the {pantry 101} series is all about using sugars. Just like with vinegar, oil, and salt, this guide will hopefully help you determine which sugars are best for your family and/or diet, and maybe introduce you to something new, as well!

For the most part, sugars are pretty interchangeable in a 1:1 ratio. There are certain instances where a liquid sweetner (honey, agave) might be a better fit than a granulated sweetner (evaporated cane sugar, refined white sugar), but this comes down to personal preference on texture more than anything. Go with what you like, and stock your pantry accordingly.

Granulated

White Sugar  – White sugar is the ubiquitous sugar found in most kitchens. It is derived from sugar beets or sugar cane, and is refined multiple times to eliminate brown pigments, therefore making it white. The crystal texture of the sugar can be “regular” (this is common sugar, found in those five-pound bags), fine, superfine (also called bar sugar or castor sugar)… you can also find it as sugar cubes and powdered (aka Confectioner’s) sugar. Choosing a texture depends on what your intended use it – most baking/cooking relies on regular white sugar. If you intend to dissolve sugar in a liquid, or if you are making something with a delicate texture (like a meringue) choose a fine or superfine sugar. Powdered sugar is best used in recipes that will not allow sugar to dissolve, like in whipped cream or frosting.

NOTE! When making home preserves, stick with white sugar or a noted substitute. Sugar is a preservative – you don’t want to screw around with the science and ratios, or else you could end up with a home-canning disaster.

Fruit Sugar – This powdery sugar is made from evaporating the water off fruit juice, and is then used in commercial applications like powdered gelatin, drink, and baking mixes.

Sanding Sugar/Coarse Sugar  - This large-grain sugar is used to decorate and add “crunch” to baked goods like cookies and pie crusts.

Evaporated Cane Sugar – Intended to be a less-refined version of white sugar, this sugar is partially processed and turned into a “juice,” then allowed to dry while the water evaporates off of the sugar crystals naturally.

Brown Sugar – When white sugar is refined, it removed a natural molasses from the sugar crystal. With brown sugar, the molasses is added back it, giving it a slightly sticky consistency. Dark versus light just depends on the amount of molasses. Brown sugar has a more intense flavor, and is best used in heavier sauces and baked goods (where it might need to stand-up to other intense flavors).

Demerara Sugar – Demerara sugar is a variation of brown sugar, with large light-brown crystals. It’s a great compliment to hot beverages or grains.

Muscovado/Barbados Sugar - Similar in texture to demerara sugar, this sugar has a very strong molasses flavor and can be used similarly to brown or demerara sugar.

Powdered Brown Sugar - Also known as free-flowing brown sugar. It has a fine texture (not as fine as Confectioner’s sugar) and can be easily dissolved and doesn’t clump.

Turbinado (Raw) Sugar – Turbinado sugar has been only slightly processed, to the point where surface molasses has been washed off, but still maintains a mild brown sugar flavor and darker color. Turbinado sugar is a good substitute for white sugar in baking and cooking.

Syrups

Honey – It’s for the bees! Or rather, from the bees. Honey is an all-natural sweetner with various medicinal properties that can soothe anything from a scratchy throat to dry skin. It can be added to various liquid applications (sauces, dressings, drinks) or used in place of white sugar in certain baking applications. Honey can come as raw, whole-comb, filtered, or creamed/spun.

Agave – Agave syrup/nectar comes from the agave plant (the same plant used to make tequila) and has a milder taste than honey. It also has a lower glycemic index rating than honey or other sugars, therefore making it a good choice for diabetics.

Corn Syrup - Corn syrup is made up of corn starch and various sugar compounds (maltose and dextrose, mainly). Like other syrups, corn syrup is used to soften the texture of confections and baked goods. It should not be confused with High Fructose Corn Syrup, which relies on fructose to sweeten the corn starch (fructose metabolizes differently in the body that other forms of sugar).

Brown Rice Syrup – Rice syrup is made by cooking rice with enzymes (barley sprouts) to break down the sugars in the rice starches. Brown rice syrup is absorbed into the bloodstream quickly, but can be used in similar ways to corn syrup, etc.

Molasses – Molasses is a by-product of the sugar making process. It comes in various grades: Fancy (lightest in color/flavor); Light (has less sugar than fancy); Cooking (a mixture of blackstrap and fancy molasses); unsulphured (made from sun-ripened sugar cane); and blackstrap (strongest flavor, loaded with iron, bitter flavor). Molasses adds a softness to baked goods and cookies.

Maple Syrup – Maple syrup is produced by boiling down sap from maple trees (see Dianna’s play-by-play here), and the depth of maple flavor is determined by how long it is cooked (Grade A and Fancy maple syrups have the more delicate maple flavor, while Grade B is a deeply colored syrup with strong maple flavor). Incorporating air into maple syrup makes maple cream, while further boiling creates maple sugar.

Sorghum Syrup – Sorghum Syrup is made similarly to molasses, but from the sorghum plant verses sugar cane.

Cane Juice - Cane juice is the natural form of sugar before it is processed/dried. It is milky in appearance and delicious and not-too-sweet when consumed on it’s own.

Golden Syrup – Also known as Treacle, Golden Syrup is made from cane juice with a nutty flavor.

Alternative Sweeteners

Fruit Juice and Purees – Juices and purees (like applesauce) are good alternatives to sweeten foods and drinks. Applesauce can sometimes be used in place of fats in baking, as well.

Stevia – Stevia is a shurb/herb whose leaves are ground and dried to create a fine, sweet powder that can be used in place of sugar. Because it tends to be sweeter than traditional white sugar, less of it is needed when making substitutions for baking and cooking.

Glucose and Dextrose - Glucose or dextrose syrup is made from cane juice and is a simple monosaccharride and breaks down easily in the bod.

Chemical Non-Sugar Replacements –  Non-sugar sweetners reply on sugar alcohols to create a sweet taste. These sweeteners should be avoided at all costs.

So, what should a well-stocked pantry include?

The basics include white sugar (or equivalent, like evaporated cane sugar… unless you are going sugar-free in your home, then choose a natural sweetner replacement, but be mindful of how recipes might change), some variation of brown sugar, honey, and molasses. Add in other sugars as needed.

You can also make homemade flavored sugars by adding things like vanilla beans, spices, or even edible flowers to light-flavored granular sugars.

Did I miss your favorite sugar/sweetner? How do you use some of the above? Any tips to fellow readers? Feel free to share your thoughts!

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Categories: Kitchen Basics

Author:Deanna

Deanna N. Fox is a twentysomething entrepreneur and writer. She lives in Delanson, NY on an old farm and apple orchard with her four year old daughter Edith, and three year old son Eric (and a bunch of mangy animals). Deanna is dedicated to leading a stylish, sustainable lifestyle (while having fun!) and teaching others how to live similarly regardless of living situation via her blog Silly Goose Farm. Deanna was raised on similar principles amongst farms in Chenango County, NY, and believes that most of the world's problems can be solved by first ensuring everyone has access to good, wholesome food. When not hatching up new business ideas, renovating the farm or playing the in the dirt, Deanna can be found obsessing over boats, practicing for the World Bocce Championship with an adult libation in hand, or holding impromptu dance parties with her kids. More about Deanna can be found at www.deannafox.org.

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4 Comments on “{pantry 101} Guide to Using Sugar”

  1. February 8, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

    Awesome post! Thanks for all the info:)

  2. February 9, 2013 at 5:34 am #

    Great post Deanna – don’t forget about the old New England staple, apple cider molasses. Pretty yummy stuff you can make yourself from local ingredients.

  3. February 9, 2013 at 9:18 am #

    Been wondering about all these sugars, thanks for the breakdown.

  4. February 12, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    Thanks for the kind words, everyone!

    @Auburn Meadow Farm – yep, you are totally right! I though we posted about that here, but I can’t find it. I’ll have to do a follow-up post. Thanks for the suggestion!

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