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Sugar, also known as a sweetener, is a carbohydrate created naturally in fruits and vegetables, or by honey bees. Sweetening and flavor are its obvious functions, but it also plays a number of roles in baking and an essential role in candy making. It comes in either DRY, such as granulated white or powdered sugar or brown; LIQUID, such as honey or molasses; or, ARTIFICIAL FORMS, and there are many types.
SARAH SAYS: If you want to substitute one sugar for another, the rule of thumb is to use dry sugar for dry sugar and liquid sugar for liquid sugar. You can't exchange a dry one for a liquid one and vice versa without wrecking havoc, even if a random substitution chart shows you otherwise. Also, each dry or liquid sugar has its own attribute, so when you substitute it, expect changes in the outcome.
Sugar History: Where did sugar first come from?
Around 20,000 BC, people in the islands of the South Pacific were the first to find the sugar in sugar cane that grew naturally in their area. However, India was the first country to extract natural cane juice to make the first crude sugar, which they called "gur" (loosely translated as "tasting sweet") in 500 BC. From India, the knowledge of making sugar spread westward into the middle east and then to Europe by the Crusaders.
For hundreds of years, sugar was a highly prized and expensive "spice" that was used only in the homes of nobility and royalty. Christopher Columbus took sugar cane to plant in the Caribbean, leading to the production of sugar in the New World.
In the mid-1700's, a German scientist developed an alternative to sugar cane through the use of sugar beets. Since then, sugar beets are also grown and processed to produce sugar. There is no difference in the sugar produced from either cane or beet.
Today, sugar is derived from sugar beets or sugar cane that are crushed and dissolved in water. The raw syrup is boiled down to concentrate it to a point where some fraction crystallizes. The remaining heavy syrup (see "molasses") is separated from the 95+% pure sugar. The crystals are further processed several times to increase its purity yielding, eventually, the pure white crystals we commonly use. Some other commonly used sugars are also produced during the processing.
|Beet Sugar||A variety of garden beet extensively cultivated for the sugar which can be extracted from the roots.|
A tall grass whose sap yields sugar. Perhaps the oldest source of sugar known.
|Fruit Sugars||Sugar from grapes and other fruit with a high sugar content.|
|Honey||Sugar harvested from bees.|
|Milk Sugar||Fine white powder much less sweet than cane sugar, made from milk extract.|
|Refined Sugar||White crystals of either sugar beet or sugar cane.|
|Sugar Maple||A North American tree from whose sap maple sugar is made.|
|Turbinado OR Date Sugar OR Sucanat||Sugar from the sap of the date palm.|
|Monosaccharides: (single sugar molecules)|
|Disaccharides: (each molecule is made of two single sugar molecules)|
|How do fructose (one of the sugars found in fruit), lactose (a sugar found in milk) and sucrose (commonly table sugar) compare in sweetness?||Fructose ====> Sucrose ====> Lactose|
(sweetest) ==============> (least sweet)
Here are some questions that I am frequently asked about sugar. The answers may surprise you:
Question: Is the sugar in fruit better for you than table sugar?
SARAH SAYS: Sugar is a natural product. The sugar in your sugar bowl is the same substance (sucrose) found naturally in sugar cane, sugar beets, apples, oranges, carrots and every other fruit and vegetable we eat. The body uses sugar from sugar cane and sugar beets in the same way as the sugars in fruit and vegetables. The sugars found in all carbohydrate foods all become glucose, fuel for the body.
Question: How does refined sugar compare to the sugar in fruit?
SARAH SAYS: From a nutritional point of view, it doesn't matter what foods provide the sugars in our diet. Once digested, all sugars are put to the same good uses. All fruit and vegetables contain some sucrose along with other sugars, like fructose and glucose, in addition to fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Most of the sugar added to foods is enjoyed as a part of foods from all four food groups, giving us both good nutrition and good taste.
Question: Is it better for you to eat honey instead of sugar?
SARAH SAYS: Honey, brown sugar, white sugar and maple syrup all have similar nutritional values. They all provide carbohydrate and energy, but insignificant amounts of vitamins and minerals. Sugar and other carbohydrate sweeteners play an important role in making other foods taste better, and, through their many uses in cooking, increasing the variety of foods available.
Question: Is sugar bleached to make it white?
SARAH SAYS: No. There is no bleaching agent added at any time during the refining process. Pure sucrose crystals are naturally white.