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Food and Wine Dictionary

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Once a luxury only the extremely affluent could afford, sugar was called "white gold" because it was so scarce andexpensive. Although Persia and ancient Arabia were cultivating sugarin the 4th century b.c., the Western World didn't know of it until the9th century when the Moors conquered the Iberian peninsula. Earlysugar wasn't the granulated, alabaster substance most of us knowtoday. Instead, it came in the form of large, solid loaves or blocksranging in color from off-white to light brown. Chunks of thisrock-hard substance had to be chiseled off and ground to a powder witha MORTAR AND PESTLE. Modern-day sugar is no longer scarce or expensiveand comes in myriad forms from many origins. Sugar cane and sugarbeets are the sources of most of today's sugar, also known asSUCROSE (which also comesfrom maple sap — see MAPLE SUGAR —and SORGHUM). Other common formsof sugar areDEXTROSE(grape or corn sugar),FRUCTOSE(levulose),LACTOSE(milk sugar) andMALTOSE (maltsugar). The uses for sugar are countless. Besides its sweeteningvalue, sugar adds tenderness to doughs, stability to mixtures such asbeaten egg whites forMERINGUE,golden-brown surfacesto baked goods and, in sufficient quantity, it contributes to thepreservation of some foods. Granulated or whitesugar is highly refined cane or beet sugar. This free-flowingsweetener is the most common form both for table use and forcooking. Granulated sugar is also available in cubes or tablets ofvarious sizes, as well as a variety of textures. Superfinesugar, known in Britain as castor (or caster )sugar, is more finely granulated. Because it dissolves almostinstantly, superfine sugar is perfect for making meringues andsweetening cold liquids. It can be substituted for regular granulatedsugar cup for cup. Confectioners' or powderedsugar is granulated sugar that has been crushed into a finepowder. To prevent clumping, a small amount (about 3 percent) ofCORNSTARCH isadded. Confectioners' sugar labeled XXXX is slightly finer than thatlabeled XXX but they can be used interchangeably and both may need tobe sifted before using. Because it dissolves so readily,confectioners' sugar is often used to make icings and candy. It's alsoused decoratively, as a fine dusting on desserts. One andthree-quarters (packed) cups confectioners' sugar equals 1 cupgranulated sugar. Confectioners' sugar is calledicing sugar  in Britain and sucre glace  inFrance. Decorating or coarse sugar (also called sugarcrystals  or crystal sugar ) has granules aboutfour times larger than those of regular granulated sugar. It's usedfor decorating baked goods and can be found in cake-decorating supplyshops and gourmet markets.ROCK CANDYis an even larger formof sugar crystals. Colored sugar, also used for decorating, istinted granulated sugar and can be found in several crystalsizes. Flavored sugar is granulated sugar that's been combinedor scented with various ingredients such as cinnamon or vanilla(see  VANILLA SUGAR). All granulated sugar can be stored indefinitelyif tightly sealed and kept in a cool, dry place.  Today'sbrown sugar is white sugar combined with MOLASSES, which gives it a softtexture. The two most commonly marketed styles of brown sugar arelight  and dark , with some manufacturersproviding variations in between. In general, the lighter the brownsugar, the more delicate the flavor. The very dark or "old-fashioned"style has a more intense molasses flavor. Brown sugar is usually soldin 1-pound boxes or plastic bags — the latter help the sugarretain its moisture and keep it soft. Hardened brown sugar can beresoftened by placing it with an apple wedge in a plastic bag andsealing tightly for 1 to 2 days. A firmly packed cup of brown sugarmay be substituted for 1 cup granulated sugar. Both granulated andliquid brown sugar are also now available. Neither of these formsshould be substituted for regular brown sugar in recipes. Thoughsimilar in color, brown sugar should not be confused with rawsugar, the residue left after sugarcane has been processed toremove the molasses and refine the sugar crystals. The flavor of rawsugar is akin to that of brown sugar. In this raw state, however,sugar may contain contaminants such as molds and fibers. The so-calledraw sugar marketed in the United States has been purified, negatingmuch of what is thought to be its superior nutritive value. Twopopular types of raw sugar are the coarse-textured dry Demerarasugar from the Demerara area of Guyana, and the moist,fine-textured Barbados sugar. Turbinado sugar is rawsugar that has been steam-cleaned. The coarse turbinado crystals areblond colored and have a delicate molasses flavor. Other sources ofsugar include maple sap, palm sap and sorghum. Almost 100 percent ofsugar is carbohydrate. Granulated white sugar contains about 770calories per cup, as does the same weight (which equals about 2 cups)of confectioners' sugar. A cup of brown sugar is slightly higher at820 calories. It also contains 187 milligrams of calcium, 56 ofphosphorous, 4.8 of iron, 757 of potassium and 97 of sodium, comparedto only scant traces of those nutrients found in granulated sugar.ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS such as ASPARTAME andSACCHARINare essentially calorie-free and are used as a sugar substitute bothcommercially and by the home cook. Sugar also comes in syrup form, themost common beingCANE SYRUP, CORN SYRUP,GOLDEN SYRUP, HONEY,MAPLE SYRUP, MOLASSES, SORGHUM and TREACLE. See also GLUCOSE; JAGGERY;PULLED SUGAR;ROCK SUGAR; SPUN SUGAR.

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Material adapted from the The New Food Lover's Companion

© Copyright Barron's Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on
THE FOOD LOVER'S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

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