Food Information


Most people and animals love sugar. That's why Mother Nature made ripe fruits sweet to entice animals to eat them and disperse the undigested seeds. And bitter plants are generally poisonous, so sweetness has served as nature's green light. Every year in the U.S. about 65 pounds of sugar in various forms are consumed for every man, women, and especially child. To get the full impact, dump 13 five-pound bags of sugar onto the kitchen counter and behold your personal quota for the year. Our lives are sweetened sometimes subtly, in candies, breads, pastries, beverages, and preserves, and a surprising variety or non-sweet processed foods from salsa to pickled herring. The supermarket would be left with acres or empty shelves if all the sugar-containing foods were removed. And that's saying a lot for a relative newcomer to the Western world.


Until sugar came along, honey was virtually, the only sweetener known to mankind. Sugar cane was enjoyed in India at least three thousand years ago, but it didn't find its way to northern Africa and southern Europe until around the eighth century A.D.. Christopher Columbus' mother-in-law owned a sugar plantation, and even before he married he had a job ferrying sugar to Genoa from the cane fields in Madeira. All of which probably gave him the idea of taking some sugar cane to the Caribbean on his second voyage to the New World in 1493 . The rest is sweet history.


Technically speaking, there are many kinds of sugars, just as there are many kinds of alcohols. But far and-away the best-known sugar is sucrose, which is found in large amounts in sugar cane and sugar beets, and to a lesser extent, in every fruit and vegetable in the plant kingdom. Those beautiful sparkling crystals in the five pound bags at the grocery store are pure sucrose, and that's what everybody refers to as just plain sugar. Supermarket sugar may have been obtained from either cane or beets; there's no difference. Maple sugar is the sucrose-rich sap of the maple tree. Other common sugars are the fructose in ripe fruits and the lactose in milk. All sugars are sweet and fructose is even sweeter than sucrose. Ever since Cuban sugar became politically incorrect, corn sweeteners have replaced sugar in most American prepared foods. While ripe ears of sweet corn contain some sugar, that's not the source of the corn sweeteners that you see on food labels. These sweeteners are made by using acids and enzymes to break down the corn starch molecules which are made up of thousands of sugar molecules all joined together. In the body most starches and sugars are further broken down into glucose, a fundamental sugar that can go directly into the blood stream and is our major source of energy.


For various reasons both economic and nutritional, quite a few substitutes for natural sugar have cropped up over the years:

Saccharin was the first of several non-nutritive no carbohydrate virtually zero-calorie substitutes for sugar to come along in response to weight obsessed America's dread of sugar's 15 calories per teaspoon. This laboratory developed artificial sweetener, which is hundreds of times sweeter than sucrose, was discovered back in 1879, and was used as a sugar substitute during World War I.

Cyclamates came onto the scene in 1937 but disappeared quickly in the 1960's when they were suspected of causing cancer.

The latest sugar substitute, aspartame, a mixture of amino acids, was discovered in 1965 and trademarked as NutraSweet and Equal among others. About 160 times as sweet as table sugar, aspartame contains about a tenth of a calorie per teaspoon and dominates the packaged food and soft drink market.


Sugar cane is a giant grass that thrives in a warm, moist climate. Like all green plants, it grows through the process of photosynthesis, converting sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into sugars and other chemicals. Sugar cane is the world's champion sugar producer, storing prodigious amounts of sugar in the stalks. It's a long, fascinating road from the cane field to the sugar bowl. At the sugar mill. the sweet juice is pressed out of the shredded cane, clarified and boiled under a vacuum, until it thickens into a brown syrup and the sugar crystallizes out as a solid. The thick, dark liquid left behind is molasses. The wet sugar crystals are then spun in a centrifuge; a spinning perforated drum just like the drum in a washing machine that flings the water out of your laundry during the spin cycle. This leaves behind brown raw sugar which contains a bacteria laden assortment of miscellaneous plant junk and is declared by the FDA to be unfit for human consumption. The raw sugar is then shipped to a refinery, where it is carefully washed and centrifuged to produce light tan tubinado sugar, which is now almost pure sucrose. Although its mineral content is quite negligible it is revered by health food fans as being more natural and health full than white sugar. It does have a mildly "brown" flavor that some people prefer. You can buy it in health food stores and some supermarkets. White table sugar is the end-product of further crystallization, and is the purest sucrose of all about 99. 9% pure Considering the fact that even raw sugar is already 96% to 98% sucrose, it's hard to understand the claims of some health-food enthusiasts that granulated table sugar causes all sorts of diseases, while the slightly less-pure sucrose doesn't. Light and dark brown sugars are made up or sugar crystals coated with varying amounts of molasses, which lends a slightly grainy, moist texture and a strong flavor. They are produced either by leaving a small amount of molasses in the sugar or by adding a little molasses to refined white sugar. Dark brown sugar has a stronger flavor than the light, but the two are generally interchangeable in recipes. Sugar beets grow best in a temperate climate, storing their sugar in white roots that look like fat carrots in need of a shave and a haircut. At the refinery, the beets are sliced and soaked in hot water to get most of the sugar out. The resulting liquid is similar to one of the later stages in cane sugar refining, so there is no molasses or raw-sugar stage


Besides imparting a sweet taste, sugar performs many culinary feats. Did you ever wonder why many cake and cookie recipes begin with instructions to cream sugar with the butter? The process of creaming whips air into the dough. The air becomes trapped on the facets of sugar's irregular crystals. When sugar is mixed with the shortening this air becomes incorporated as very small air cells. The result is a fine-textured baked product. When you ice your cakes, the sugar gives not only sweetness. but flavor, bulk and structure to the frosting. Sugar contributes both color and texture to baked goods by caramelizing when heated; the brown color of toasted bread is the result of caramelization. This doesn't happen in a microwave oven. because microwaves heat the food uniformly throughout and the surface doesn't get the extra heat it needs to caramelize. Sugar is needed by yeast for fermentation, which causes bread and other baked goods to rise. Fruits and berries are preserved by sugar, because a strong sugar solution draws water out of bacteria and yeasts, dehydrating them and either killing them or preventing them from reproducing. Ice cream products rely heavily on sugar. Besides adding sweetness, sugar performs a remarkable job. It lowers the freezing point of cream to make a colder product. The caramel swirls and raspberry royales in ice cream are smooth because they are essentially sugar syrups And successful berry ice creams depend on soaking the berries in enough sugar to keep them from freezing too hard Sugar imparts a satisfying body or mouth-feel to beverages Compare a sugar-sweetened drink to one made with artificial sweetener and notice how thin the latter feels. In foods such as salad dressings. sauces, and condiments, a small, undetectable amount of sugar enhances flavors and balances the acid contents of tomato and vinegar based products.


An old sweetie named Benjamin Eisenstadt, who died in 1995, at the age of 89, was responsible for two major coffee world revolutions. In the early 1950s. this innovative businessman changed the way Americans dispensed sugar, Before that time. restaurants used open sugar bowls or those heavy glass jars with the metal trapdoor spouts that you can still see on the counters of some diners Eisenstadt came up with the bright idea of putting sugar into little sanitary paper packets. These days. it's hard to find restaurant or coffee bar sugar in any other form. Then in 1957, working with his son Marvin, Eisenstadt began to experiment with saccharin. When saccharin became popular in the 1950s, it was available only as a liquid or as tiny effervescent pills. But when the Eisenstadts mixed saccharin with dextrose (a form of glucose) and a few other ingredients to make a convenient, powdered sugar substitute, in little paper packets. Viola, another coffee revolution. They named their product Sweet 'N Low.


When fermented, the starches and sugars in barley and cactus make whiskey and tequilla respectively, while the sugars in grapes make wine and brandy. Just let some molasses ferment for a while and some of the sugar will turn into alcohol. Then distill it to increase its alcoholic strength and-yo. ho. ho! You've made a bottle of rum. Rum is a favorite way to consume the annual 65-pound sugar quota Drink it neat in a brandy snifter in the winter, and in the summer, nothing beats a pina colada by the pool. A little rum socked into dark coffee after dinner improves any mood, and adding a jigger of rum to a pot of tea is a common aid to those feeling cold symptoms. It might be said that rum is a beverage with a unique distinction, it is both a cause and a result of raising cane .


White Granulated Sugar, also called table sugar, is the most common form, and the kind we most often use in recipes. The Individual grains are actually transparent and colorless crystals, but they look white when massed together.

Coarse Sugar is granulated sugar with extra large crystals. It Is most often used for decoration, rather than sweetening, because the crystals are slow to dissolve.

Crystal Sugar is similar to coarse suger, but the crystals are shaped like cylinders. It is often sprinkled on baked goods to give sparkle and crunch.

Superfine Sugar (castor sugar in Britain). In the U.S. it's sometimes called bartenders sugar. Superfine sugar is similar to regular granulated, except that it consists of much tinier crystals that dissolve quickly and completely, leaving no graininess. This makes it a food choice for fine textured cakes, meringues and drinks.

Confectioner's Sugar is also called icing sugar or powdered sugar, but is not to he confused with superfine sugar. Because it tends to hold moisture, confectioner's sugar contains a small amount of added cornstarch to prevent clumping, so it won't dissolve completely and will make a cloudy solution in iced tea or other drinks. Always sift before using. When sifted over the top, It dresses up plain cakes or bars.

Sugar Cubes are made by pressing moist granulated sugar into molds and drying. A must for the tea table. One lump or two?