Sugar, a food that symbolizes sweetness, was long considered a spice and not a commodity. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate known as sucrose. It is extracted from two plants: sugar cane, from which refined white sugar and brown sugar are made; and sugar beets, from which natural white sugar is produced, and brown sugar after different cooking stages. It also comes from a tree, in relatively small quantities: the sugar palm. It is mostly eaten in the countries of Southeast Asia.
Internationally, two-thirds of production comes from sugar cane. The main producers are Brazil, India, the United States, China, and Thailand. France is the world's eighth largest sugar producer, and is the leading producer of beet sugar. In France, the majority of sugar comes from beets, and cane sugar is quite rare.
The white sugar made from it contains practically all sucrose. Brown sugar is, in principle, less purified and so still contains some impurities. However, brown sugar is sometimes just white sugar colored with caramel. Most sugar is used by the food industry for the production of foodstuffs (confectionery, baked goods, etc.) and sweet drinks of all kinds. A number of white or brown types of cane sugar, whether superfine (caster), granulated, or in lumps, are fair trade. Sugar is sold in all the forms described above, but also as syrup or liquid sugar (granulated sugar melted in water and heated).
White sugar Made from sugar beets in different categories. The most popular is No. 4, sold in cubes that weigh 5.9 g. It is packaged in a 1 kg box, or in individually wrapped lumps, or in packs of three small cubes. Made from sugar cane, it comes in molded cubes or uneven lumps that weigh 3 to 5 g. Sugar cubes are not very common outside of France. In some countries, the United States, for example, they are almost impossible to find. White sugar comes in the following types: Granulated sugar comes from raw crystallized sugar (either cane or beet) that has been melted, discolored, filtered, recrystallized in fine crystals, centrifuged, and dried. It melts quite slowly. Pectin and citric acid is sometimes added to granulated sugar to make gelling sugar. Both are packaged in bags or boxes. Superfine (caster) sugar is derived from granulated sugar. It is sifted or crushed to obtain crystals with a diameter of 0.4 mm, which dissolve faster. It is packaged in the same way as granulated sugar, but it is also available in single-dose paper tubes. Confectioners’ or powdered (icing) sugar is granulated sugar ground to obtain a very fine powder with crystals of less than 0.15 mm in diameter. It is sifted and mixed with 3 percent starch. It is very sensitive to moisture. It is packaged in extremely airtight boxes, often with an in-built dredger.
Brown sugar The various types of brown sugar mostly come from sugar cane. Unrefined to varying degrees, they contain different amounts of molasses, the residue from the refining process, which gives them their light (blonde) or dark (brown) color. Brown beet sugar is actually refined white sugar reheated to obtain a caramel color. It can also be colored with the addition of molasses or food coloring. Brown sugar cubes can come from either cane or beet sugar. Raw sugar or cane sugar is made from sugar cane juice, with its molasses, only filtered and dried. It comes in tiny dark balls, has a licorice flavor, and takes a while to melt. It comes from the Philippines (Muscovado), India (gur), Central America (panela), and South America (rapadura), and is often produced through fair trade. A certain type of brown sugar can be made by crystallizing sugar after the cane juice is boiled once. It contains residual impurities (minerals and organic matter), which give it its color and a rumlike flavor. However, it is sometimes moist white granulated sugar mixed with small amounts of molasses. This sugar is called different names in different countries (turbinado sugar is sold in Canada and United States, for example). Light (blonde) vergeoise sugar is a golden granulated sugar produced when beet syrup is heated for the first time. When it is brown, the syrup has been cooked twice. It has a more or less pronounced caramel taste. This type of sugar is very popular in northern France and in Belgium.
Sugar is of utmost importance in the production of baked goods, confectionery, and ice cream, whether in industrial or traditional settings or, indeed, in the home. Without sugar, it is unlikely that any of those products would exist. Sugar cubes (lumps): mainly used is to sweeten individual beverages. It is also used for pulled sugar. Granulated sugar: Because it dissolves quite slowly, it is used to macerate fruit before cooking to make jam or compotes, to coat rolled cakes, to make fruit jellies, etc. It can be used in all recipes for desserts and pastries. Superfine (caster) sugar: Packaged in individual portion-control packets, it is used to sweeten beverages. In baking, because it dissolves faster than granulated sugar, it is used in desserts requiring egg yolks whipped until pale (blanched), and for making caramels and fruit preserves. In fact, it is used in just as many desserts and cakes as granulated sugar. Confectioners’ (icing) sugar: It is sprinkled on cakes and pies, is sometimes whisked into egg whites, and is often used to make frosting (icing). Brown sugar: It may be preferred to white sugar to lend a particular flavor to pancakes or waffles, for example. It is often used to caramelize fruit gratins, and especially crèmes brûlées. Unrefined sugar: It can be used as a substitute for granulated or superfine (caster) sugar, except in light-colored preparations (e.g., île flottante, crème anglaise, etc.), because of its dark color. Invert sugar: It is widely used in pastries, ice cream, and confectionery for its particular qualities; it has more sweetening power and does not crystallize.
All types of sugar should be kept in a sealed, dry container, because any moisture tends to make the crystals stick together and form lumps.
Whatever its form and color, whether it comes from cane or beets, sugar is a carbohydrate, pure and simple, called sucrose and consisting of one molecule of glucose and one of fructose. It provides 4 calories per gram. White sugar contains nothing else, no vitamins or minerals, or fiber. Brown cane sugar retains very small amounts of minerals, depending on how unrefined it is. Molasses contains fewer carbohydrates than sugar: around 75 percent. It also has a high mineral content. However, given the small quantities usually consumed, this has no significant effect on nutritional balance.
Pearl sugar or sugar nibs: It comes from blocks of molded white sugar that are broken up and sifted according to thickness, 0.15 to 15 mm. Rock candy: This is obtained from pure white sugar syrup, which is crystallized very slowly, for several days. Highly concentrated, it is heated and then cooled in linen or cotton mesh frames. The crystals vary in size and are very white. It is packaged loose or attached to small sticks. Brown rock candy is obtained from a syrup of caramelized sugar beet or partially refined cane, which is crystallized very slowly in cotton or linen mesh frames. The large crystals are somewhat opaque and lightly flavored. Sugarloaf: Hot refined sugar is poured into conical molds that are cooled immediately. The unmolded sugarloaves are then dried. Invert sugar (Trimoline®): Syrup only from the sugar beet, which is chemically treated to split sucrose into its two component molecules: glucose and fructose. Its flavor is much sweeter than sugar and it turns into a creamy white paste when heated. It cannot be recrystallized. Molasses: This is a very thick and very dark syrup collected after refining sugar cane. It is low in carbohydrates, but has a very strong flavor and is very sweet. Palm sugar: This comes from the sap of the sugar palm, cultivated in Southeast Asia and other tropical regions (Florida, Hawaii). It is heated and the resulting golden syrup is cooled and crystallized. It is then either reduced to powder or molded into small cakes.
1,000 recipes from the greatest chefs, with step-by-step illustrations and videos
Tips and tricks from
30 top chefs
Interactive videos make it easy to recreate dishes and master techniques at home