Does your sugar keep its promise?
The Difference in Sugars
Today, I will tell you something I’ve learned. Something that I’ve been spending too much money on for a promise that was a lie. And, I bet, most of us have probably been tricked with sugar to believe a lie at some point in our life.
I know you know there are different sugars out there. Some are wet and sloppy. Some are sticky and sweet. And there’s the bad boy of them all, that guy who makes you feel light headed— even after all this time.
When the kids were teenagers, we were driving through north Florida from vacation and passed a cane patch beside the road. The owners were cutting the cane stalks, pressing it in a mule drawn cane press to extract the juice, and then boiling it in a huge wok-shaped vat over a wood fire under a shed. After hours of boiling, the liquid juice was reduced to thick cane syrup. I’d seen this done many times as a child, but knew my kids had not.
So, I whipped the car around and, to their total mortification, drove into the yard of these unknown folks. I hopped out, explained that my kids had never seen such a thing, and asked if they would mind letting us watch for a few minutes. My kids cowered in the car, certain that we could be shot at any minute or else, I’d lost my mind in the middle of a back road hundreds of mile from home, in the midst of strangers, and we’d never be heard from again.
These lovely strangers not only invited us to watch, the father (this is almost always a family affair, or at least, neighbors getting together type thing) showed us how each step in the processing took place. We had a delightful time, sampled fresh pressed cane juice, and took with us their gift of several stalks of raw cane. If you’ve never had a piece of raw sugar cane to chew on, you’ve missed the world’s first chewing gum.
But, there are other sugars out there, too. Most are white or brown, a few are really dark brown. Some are available in any grocery store, others only to professional chefs, and others must be purchased from a specialty store. None will kill you, but all can be bad for you in excess.
I’ve always thought Julia Child had the right idea, “everything in moderation…including moderation.”
The story above brings up an interesting point. We hear how processing is so bad for us. Again, dear Julia had it right– ‘moderation.’ I don’t think I’d want everything I ate to be unprocessed at all. A certain amount rids it of germs and makes it more palatable. It’s the over– and excessive– processing that we should be concerned with.
But, back to our lesson . . .
We’ll start with regular sugar, since that’s what we’re all most familiar with.
Sugar is basically a crystal that comes in many sizes and colors and from three main sources: sugar beets, sugar cane, and corn. Each has its best use. It all must be processed in some way before it reaches our table. Even raw sugar.
Granulated sugar: This is the white stuff most often found in sugar bowls and called for in the average recipe. Most of its molasses has been processed away, therefore the taste won’t interfere with baking. It’s called fine or super fine because it has small crystals that won’t clump in shipping.
Confectioner’s sugar:This is the same stuff, only it’s been ground to a powder and has about 3% cornstarch added to keep it from clotting into hard cakes.
Brown sugars: This is the same stuff, too! It’s been partially processed so some of the molasses is still on the surface of the crystals. Light brown— more molasses removed. Dark brown—less has been removed.
Turbinado, Demerara or raw: All names for the same thing. Have you been paying $2-3 for a pound of turbinado or raw sugar because you thought it was healthier for you? Not much.
There’s a slight difference in taste with brown sugars compared to white because of the amount of molasses remaining on the crystals. But, that’s about all.
If you’re looking for truly unprocessed, real raw sugar, then, you’ll have to look at whole cane sugar. It’s nothing more than dehydrated sugar cane juice. The only processing done is getting the juice out of the stalks of cane, heating and cooling it to form crystals, and packaging. More of the molasses remains on the crystals, therefore, it’s a dark tan.
You can find it as sucanat. That’s a contraction of sucre de canne naturel, French for ‘natural cane sugar’. It comes from places like Costa Rica. Another reason to go there.
And, there’s muscovado or Barbados sugar. Also, unrefined and similar to sucanat. It’s dark, moist, has a strong molasses taste and used in coffee and making rum. It comes from places, like, well, Barbados.
I looked online and found sucanat at Walmart for about $5 a pound and at Nuts.com for $4 a pound. This is what it looks like:
I’ve bought raw or turbinado sugar for years thinking it was a bit better for you. I could have used cheaper brown sugar for the same taste and possible benefits.
And, lastly, speaking of benefits. I’m not so sure there are any significant benefits beyond taste. Look at this chart:
Vitamin A C Calcium Iron
Granulated sugar 0 0 0 0
Sucanat 0 0 0 0
Honey 0 0 0 0
Turbinado 0 0 4% .1%
Nothing to really be impressed about with their differences, so I guess I’ll go with taste. After all, that’s why we use it to begin with.
So, what do you drink in your coffee? I use honey.