Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sugar Pie: Honey Bunch

Agave nectar stands on the horizon, cape billowing in the wind, arms poised as though he is about to take flight...he knows he's the next best thing. What Agave Nectar doesn't know is that I'm scared to try new things. I'm not the adoring fan who runs to the local Whole Foods to grab a bottle to throw into my baked goods. NAY! I'm the skeptic, who ponders heavily prior to taking the plunge, and resists the possibility that anything could be better than plain ol' sugar.

I love all-natural things, and I know a lot of sugar isn't even vegan, but I can't seem to get on board the alternative-to-sugar bandwagon. My grandmother was an avid user of Sweet'n Low and her oncologist said that her excessive use most likely aggravated the cancer that took her life. Splenda, sorbitol, maltitol and all of those other poseur sugars...that are, but aren't...have an awful aftertaste and fight to the death with my intestines. And while I love honey, I don't always think it's the best sweetening agent...sometimes it's just TOO sweet and thick and gooey. It overrides the texture of somethings and makes them hard to swallow.

The Chicago Sun Times recently wrote a quick piece about the different types of sugar, and while they don't consider things like alt-sugars and agave nectar, I find the list to be helpful...especially when I'm standing in the grocery store wondering what the heck to buy. There have been discussions amongst friends and peers about what type of sugar is what, and this list helped me flush out the distinctions. I know that quite a few people avoid sugar at all costs, or can't partake in the sweet stuff, but if you can and want to understand the difference between all of these cane derivatives, here's your list:

1. Cubes. One lump or two? Sugar cubes are made from damp granulated sugar pressed into molds and dried.

2. Confectioners'. Granulated sugar that has been ground to a powder, then mixed with cornstarch. The most common powdered sugar is classified 10X, which refers to the size of the mesh used to separate the granules. The finest confectioners' sugar is 12X, with 4X having the largest particles. Other sizes are not readily available. Also called icing sugar.

3. Turbinado. Raw sugar made from sugarcane extract. The light brown granules have a slight molasses flavor. It can be substituted in most recipes that call for brown sugar. Also good in beverages.

4. Super-fine. Very fine crystals that dissolve quickly, leaving no grainy texture. Perfect for caramel, meringues and drinks. Sometimes called bar sugar or caster/castor sugar.

5. Sanding sugar. Colored decorating sugar is slightly larger than granulated and is commonly sprinkled over iced cupcakes and cookies. Colored pearl sugar is even larger. The white granules are tinted with edible food dye.

6. Brown sugar. This moist sugar contains some of the molasses that comes from boiling sugar cane or sugar beets. The moisture causes brown sugar to clump and harden. Light brown sugar has less molasses than dark. Light brown is mostly used in baking and condiments. The more flavorful dark brown is commonly found in gingerbread and baked beans.

7. Granulated. Characterized by snow-white crystals, it's the sugar we use most in the kitchen, especially in baking. Also called table or white sugar.

8. Demerara. Raw sugar similar to turbinado and popular in England. Tan-colored granules can be sticky. Commonly used in hot drinks or cereals.

An even more comprehensive list can be found here. Whether you bake or swirl a spoonful in coffee or tea, these lists are definitely helpful.

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