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Let’s talk sugar!
Here on the Farm, we keep many different types of sweeteners for cooking and baking. I’m going to talk about five of them here, even though there are a few more on my Master Grocery List. Since those have pretty specific uses here, I’m going to leave them out of today’s discussion.
You’ll hear me talk a lot about layers over time. I never believe you should have just one type of anything. I like options. Let’s get started…
White Cane Sugar
White sugar can be made with sugarcane or with sugar beets. The juice is extracted from either and boiled down to remove the moisture. It is chemically clarified and, essentially, bleached. Everything is stripped away leaving behind primarily the sweet sucrose crystals we know as White Sugar. The benefit of this is in cooking/baking the only flavor you get is sweet which makes it pretty versatile and explains why it’s so widely used. White sugar is cheap, highly processed and can be bad news for your body. The western diet is LOADED with it!
Brown Cane Sugar
Brown Sugar is White Sugar. Basically. To make Brown Sugar, the processor just takes the White Sugar and adds molasses to it. More for Dark Brown Sugar, less for Light Brown Sugar. First, it’s all stripped away, then it’s added back in. Regardless of whether the sucrose was extracted from sugarcane or beets, the molasses that is added back in to make brown sugar is from the sugarcane. Caramel. Caramel is the best reason for Brown Sugar. Brown Sugar is just about as versatile as White Sugar but adds a layer of flavor (the molasses) instead of just “sweet”. Unfortunately, the health benefits are nil and it’s really just as detrimental to your body as White Sugar.
Once again… Powdered Sugar is White Sugar. They’ve beat it down to a chalky consistency and added cornstarch, so it doesn’t stick together. That’s it. The end. The only flavor is sweet, there is no nutritive value, and it is perfect for making icing, frosting and dusting your Sunday morning crepes!
Raw, local honey. That’s the best! The health benefits are amazing! It offers the sweet but also hints of florals from grasses, flowers and herbs based on where the bees picked up their nectar. Honey is antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory. It can help you thru seasonal allergies and is a key component to our cough and cold cure here on the Farm. The liquid state of honey makes it less versatile than the other sugars mentioned. Butter and Honey on homemade bread for breakfast is my favorite way to enjoy this sweetener. I also love it with a splash of milk in my chai tea.
Also known as dried cane juice, Sucanat is made only with sugarcane. The sugarcane is pressed to release the juices and then the juices are boiled. After that, it is beat with paddles until it forms granules. I don’t know why, but the picture that creates in my mind always makes me giggle! Sucanat has a heavy molasses flavor and does not melt as easily as White Sugar. Sucanat is less sweet but retains the majority of nutritional value from the cane. To make Sucanat more versatile, it is suggested that you grind it in a spice grinder first so it will incorporate into your mixture more easily. I actually have never done this and have still achieved success in most things I bake.
The Bottom Line
I avoid White, Brown and Powdered Sugar whenever possible in my baking/cooking. That being said, I do use these in moderation. The truth is that Powdered Sugar is best and easiest for frosting. White Sugar makes a white cake sparkle and Brown Sugar is convenient for making caramel corn. However, I can achieve baking/cooking success while avoiding them, I will. The strong flavors of Sucanat and Honey work well in a lot of baked goods. If you use honey, you’ll likely need to adjust the liquid in your recipe and, since honey is sweeter than White Sugar, you may want to use less of it. Using honey in my No-Fail Bread Recipe is always a win and Sucanat is my regular sweetener for this recipe.
There are other natural sweeteners, too, Coconut Sugar, Turbinado, Raw Sugar, Xylitol… the list goes on. What’s your go-to? And why?