Sugar is one of the oldest ingredients, dating back to 326 BC! Sugar is an important and versatile food ingredient. Sugar is a part of many recipes, even those that don’t have a sweet taste!
- Sugar in Baking
Sugar helps tenderize baked products and provides a source of nourishment for the growth of yeast, which helps the leavening process (e.g. breads to rise) and the dough rises at a faster and more consistent rate. The browning reaction that sugar undergoes when exposed to heat adds flavour, and contributes to the appearance of colour that can be seen on baked goods such as the crusts of bread and the browning of cookies.
- General Cooking
Sugar is a key ingredient in the preparation of custards, puddings, and sauces. These food products depend on sugar to perform a number of functions, in addition to its role as a sweetener. In custards, sugars help to breakdown proteins in egg whites so that they are more evenly dispersed in the liquid mixture. This permits the egg mixture to thicken slowly, mixing with the other ingredients, resulting in a smoother consistency. Sugar helps to prevent lumping and thicken sauces and puddings by separating the starch molecules of the flour (or other thickening ingredient such as cornstarch). This allows for a more desirable consistency. In non-sweet foods such as salad dressings, condiments and sauces, sugars enhance flavours and balance the natural acidity of tomato and vinegar-based products. This is because sugars are easily broken down by weak acids.
- Sugar in Beverages
Sugars are added to beverages to provide both sweetness and body (otherwise known as “mouthfeel”). Sugars are also important in the brewing and wine-making industry. Sugars or other carbohydrates (except lactose) can be used to produce alcohols by fermentation. During fermentation, yeast feeds on sugars and produces bubbles of carbon dioxide, water, and alcohol.
- Sugar in Deserts
Sugar also increases the viscosity (thickness) of frozen desserts which helps impart a thick, creamy mouth-feel. It provides a clean, sweet taste. In frozen desserts flavored with added fruit, sugar also acts to balance their acidity.
- Sugar as a Preservative
Sugar acts as a preservative because it causes bacteria to lose water, hampering their ability to live and propagate in the preserved food. Food in Jars reveals that sugar also improves the set, or firmness, of jams, jellies and fruit butters. The addition of sugars to jams and jellies is also essential to the gelling process, to obtain the desired consistency and firmness. Sugars are added to canned fruits and vegetables to improve flavour, enhance texture, and preserve natural colours. Sugars are also used to slow the freezing process, and prevent large ice crystals from forming in frozen sweet mixtures, such as ice cream.
- Sugar Craft
Sugar Craft can be described as three-dimensional cake decorating. It covers a huge variety of styles, and includes characters and models made from sugar paste or fondant, to amazingly lifelike and botanically correct flowers. Fondant is usually used to cover a cake – and can be bought pre-coloured, or can be coloured to exactly the right shade, usually using colour pastes. You can also use dusts in various colours to “paint” or brush colour onto your finished work.