It seems like sugar has gotten a bad rap in recent years, but when critics of “sugar” talk about its high or increased consumption or link it to obesity and other life-threatening diseases, they inaccurately and misleadingly lump natural sugar (from sugar cane and sugar beets) together with man-made sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup and all the other caloric sweeteners manufactured from starch.
Sugar isn’t high-fructose corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup certainly isn’t sugar. The scientific name for sugar is sucrose, and it is a natural substance found in plants (primarily sugar beets and sugar cane). Sucrose, whether still in a plant or in our sugar bowl, is the same: equal parts fructose and glucose bound together at the molecular level.
By contrast, high-fructose “corn” syrup isn’t found in corn at all. Instead, advanced processes are required to manufacture glucose and fructose from corn starch, and they are then mixed in varying proportions, usually with high percentages of fructose.
Sugar (Sucrose) is Not Evil
Sugar is a healthy part of a diet. Carbohydrates, including sugar, are the preferred sources of the body’s fuel for brain power, muscle energy, and every natural process that goes on in every functioning cell.
Naturally present in fruits and vegetables, sugar is most highly concentrated in sugar beets and sugar cane. Sugar is simply separated from the beet or cane plant, and the result is 99.95% pure sucrose (sugar). The sucrose from sugar beets and sugar cane is not only identical to one another, but each is the same as the sucrose present in fruits and vegetables.
Beyond its contributions as a sweetener and flavor-enhancer, sugar:
- Interacts with molecules of protein or starch during the baking and cooking process.
- Acts as a tenderizer by absorbing water and inhibiting flour gluten development, as well as delaying starch gelatinization.
- Incorporates air into shortening in the creaming process.
- Caramelizes under heat, to provide cooked and baked foods with pleasing color and aroma.
- Speeds the growth of yeast by providing nourishment.
- Serves as a whipping aid to stabilize beaten egg foams.
- Delays coagulation of egg proteins in custards.
- Regulates the gelling of fruit jellies and preserves.
- Helps to prevent spoilage of jellies and preserves.
- Improves the appearance and tenderness of canned fruits.
- Delays discoloration of the surface of frozen fresh fruits.
- Enables a wide variety of candies through varying degrees of re-crystallization.
- Controls the reformation of crystals through inversion (breakdown to fructose and glucose).
- Enhances the smoothness and flavor of ice cream.
Sugar is Natural
Relying less on processed foods and cooking more fresh and from scratch using natural ingredients allows us more control over what we eat and how we fuel our bodies. Sugar deserves a place in our diets and in our pantries.
Here are a few different kinds of sweetners you can use:
Confectioners (Powdered) Sugar: The finest white sugar that you can get. It is about 3% cornstarch to help keep it from clumping. It is used for making icing or glazing baked goods.
Granulated Sugar: The white table sugar that everyone is accustomed to. It is the one most commonly used in recipes.
Coarse Sugar: White sugar that has a much larger crystal size. It is often used for decorating.
Turbinado Sugar: This is raw cane sugar with the surface molasses removed. It has a coarse texture and a blonde color.
Brown Sugar: The brown sugar that we purchase in the store is often granulated white sugar with molasses mixed back in, this can be done at home in your food processor by adding one tablespoon of molasses per cup.
Muscovado Sugar: A very dark, natural brown sugar that has a higher concentration of molasses left in. It has a stickier texture than most sugars. It is used in strongly flavored sweets such as gingerbread.
Honey & Maple Syrup: You can replace granulated sugar with maple syrup or honey in most recipes. Use ¾ cup maple syrup or honey for every 1 cup of granulated sugar. When baking with maple syrup or honey reduce the liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons for every cup used and reduce the oven temperature by 25°F to avoid burning. Maple syrup and honey can be used interchangeably.
Everything in Moderation
So, there is a lot of good to be found in sugar, but just like with everything else, moderation is key. Do I need 3 tablespoons of sugar in my coffee or tea every morning? No. One or two teaspoons is just fine and is not going to hurt me, and might even make my brain and my body feel a little happier.
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