All About Sugar

Ahhh … this is a favorite subject… sugar. From baking to sugar in my coffee… sugar has always been a part of my life… as with most people too. What I knew about sugar just came … well.. naturally over the years… learned a bit here .. and there…

Sugar has gotten a bad rep in recent years… which .. frankly.. I’m surprised about… it’s been around for centuries.. and as most other things in life.. when enjoyed in moderation… is fine for you.


Sugar has been produced since ancient times. Sugarcane was native to Southeast and South Asia. It wasn’t until the 5th century AD that sugar became important when the Indians discovered how to crystallize the sugarcane juice into crystals that were easy to transport and trade. Sugar became a hot commodity for trading. Buddhist monks brought sugar crystallization methods to China. The Crusaders brought sugar back to Europe with them from the Holy Land. Soon the world was using sugar.

So just where do we get sugar?

This is a brief, probably over simplified, review of the process of how our sugars are produced:

Cane Sugar

The sugar cane plant grows above ground in warm, moist, tropical climates. Sugar is refined from plant stems. The stems are cut during harvest, leaving the root to grow again. The leaves are stripped and put through rollers that extract the sugarcane juice. The juice is filtered and heated, through an evaporation process that forms raw crystalline sugar. The raw sugar is then filtered further and boiled to remove the molasses and color.

Beet Sugar

Beet sugar grows best in temperate climates and is a root crop. The sugar is stored in the yellowish root, and harvesting involves removing the roots, so beet sugar is planted annually.

The roots are then sliced and boiled to extract the sugar into a thick syrup. The syrup then gets heated further to form crystallized sugar.

Types of Sugar

Granulated Sugar

Granulated sugar is the sugar that we just discussed, that comes from sugarcane or beet sugar, and is processed to from sugar crystals.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugar is simply white sugar with pure cane molasses added. As mentioned earlier, molasses is a by- product of sugar making process, so adding some back still produces a natural product.

The difference between light and dark brown sugar is the amount of molasses added. in general, when a recipe simply states “brown sugar” it usually refers to “light brown sugar”.

Dark brown sugar should really only be used when it is specifically specified. Substituting dark brown sugar for the light brown sugar will yield a deeper flavor with caramel (not such a bad thing… in my humble opinion).

Powdered Sugar

Powdered sugar is also known as confectioners’ sugar or icing sugar. It is a very fine sugar that is used primarily to make icing or frosting, as well as, cake decorations. It can be found in different degrees of fineness …. XXX, XXXX and 10X… the more X’s the finer the sugar.

Powdered sugar is usually mixed with cornstarch or wheat flour to improve its flowing ability. You can make powdered sugar at home by grinding granulated sugar in a coffee grinder or by hand with a mortar and pestle.

Castor Sugar

Castor sugar is also known as superfine or baker’s sugar has a larger particle size than the powdered sugar and is about half the size of granulated sugar.

Snow Powder

Snow powder is also known as snow sugar. It is a non-melting form of powdered sugar and is useful dusting cakes and pastries that require refrigeration. It is mostly used for decorating baked goods.

Storing Sugar

According to the “sugar people” at Dixie Crystals, provided you don’t have a pest control problem, sugar doesn’t go bad. The key is to have an airtight container to keep moisture out.

Softening Sugar

Okay.. so moisture has gotten into your sugar and it has solidified… now what?... according to Dixie Crystals:

Place hard brown sugar in an open microwave safe container with ½ cup of water in a second container and microwave for 1-3 minutes until soft. Measure and use the sugar as soon as the sugar becomes soft. Brown sugar will harden again when cool.

Store brown sugar with a piece of sliced bread. be sure to change out stale bread frequently.

Introduce a slice of apple to an airtight container with hardened sugar.

Put a moist paper towel in a resealable bag with the sugar overnight.

Put the hardened sugar in a food processor or blender and process until usable.

I hope you have found this information helpful.

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