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Liquid sugars were developed before today's methods of sugar processing made transport and handling granulated sugars practical. Liquid sucrose (sugar) is essentially liquid granulated sugar and the most popular types are corn syrup, honey or molasses.
All of syrups below, except for those having corn syrup in their makeup, have the same storage characteristics. Generally, they can be stored on the shelf for about two years and up to a year after opening. Once they are opened, they are best kept in the refrigerator to retard mold growth. If mold growth does occur, the syrup should be discarded. The outside of the bottle should be cleaned of drips after each use. Some pure cane and sorghum syrups may crystallize in storage, but this causes no harm and they can be reliquified using the same method as for honey.
AGAVE SYRUP: This neutral or golden syrup, containing 23 to 25 percent water, is produced from organically grown blue agave cactus. The golden variety has a slight taste of mescal. Because it’s fructose, its sweetening power is higher than sucrose when not heated above 120 degrees F, at which point it also begins to color. Unlike fructose sweeteners that are produced chemically, the fructose is separated by an enzymatic process and then evaporated to the desired consistency. It’s used to make beverages such as Tequila and soft drinks, and it may be more tolerable for some diabetics.
BARLEY: Melt granulated sugar to 185C and it forms barley sugar, continue heating to 200C and it caramelizes.
CANE JUICE: A slightly milky liquid which is crushed sugar cane. Lightly chilled makes a very refreshing drink. See also dehydrated cane juice.
CORN SYRUP: This is starch extracted from corn kernels and treated with an acid or enzyme to create a sweet syrup. Corn syrup is an invert sugar, meaning it takes half as much of it to sweeten as much as regular sugar. DO NOT substitute corn syrup in a recipe, a liquid sugar, for a crystalline or dry one, such as table sugar. Each has different properties and the recipe may not bake the same way that you intended.
Corn syrup serves different functions in different types of recipes and is an important ingredient. It controls sugar crystallization in candy, prevents the formation of ice crystals in frozen desserts, enhances fresh fruit flavor in jams and preserves, and sweetens and thickens. In baked goods, corn syrup holds moisture and maintains freshness longer. Corn syrup also balances sweet and sour flavor flavors, and is therefore a key ingredient in many Asian dishes. When brushed onto baked ham, barbecued meats, baked vegetables or fresh fruit, it is an ideal glaze. Light and dark corn syrups can also be poured over waffles, hot cereal and pancakes.
Corn syrup comes in both light and dark varieties, and are interchangeable, but recipes usually specify which type - DO NOT interchange them unless instructed. If your recipe calls for dark corn syrup, you can mellow out its flavor, by using 50% dark and 50% light, instead of 100% dark.
Karo light corn syrup - is used when a delicately sweet flavor is desired, such as in frostings, fruit sauces and jams. It is a mixture of corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup (to provide increased sweetness) and is flavored with salt and pure vanilla. It is clear and colorless, with a moderately sweet flavor.
Karo dark corn syrup, with its more robust molasses flavor and rich brown color, is ideal for many baked goods, such as in a Pecan Pie. It is a mixture of corn syrup and a small amount of refiners' syrup (a cane sugar product with a molasses-like flavor). Caramel flavor, sodium benzoate (a preservative), salt, and caramel color are added.
Corn syrup should be stored, tightly sealed in a dark cupboard at room temperature. If you can't open it after storing, hold top of bottle under the faucet running with medium-hot water. The hardened syrup will loosen and the top should open. It should be noted that all corn syrups tend to darken if stored for longer periods of time under high temperatures.
SARAH SAYS: I like to use Karo Corn Syrup, readily available from the grocery store. You can technically interchange their light and dark corn syrups, but be careful because the dark has a richer, molasses taste and dark color, which will change your recipe's flavor and look.
FRUCTOSE: Sugar found in honey, sugar, vegetables, whole wheat, nuts and fruit. See also granulated fructose.
FRUIT JUICES: For the best results, use freshly squeezed citrus juices in baking (besides, you'll have the grated zest or peel to add for even more flavor). Some recipes call for fruit juice concentrates or fruit juice. You can use the familiar frozen fruit juice concentrate (thaw before using), or the new shelf-stable variety. Be careful when substituting.
GLUCOSE SYRUP: Glucose is a carbohydrate, and is the most important simple sugar in human metabolism. Glucose is called a simple sugar or a monosaccharide because it is one of the smallest units which has the characteristics of this class of carbohydrates. Glucose is also sometimes called dextrose. Corn syrup is primarily glucose, and contains other complex sugars. It is found in the sap of plants, and is found in the human bloodstream where it is referred to as "blood sugar". Some of its uses in recipes are: caramels, peanut brittle, gum paste and liqueurs. Keeps indefinitely. 8 tablespoons glucose equals 9 tablespoons light corn syrup or golden syrup.
GOLDEN SYRUP: Particularly popular in England (where it's also known as light TREACLE), this liquid sweetener has the consistency of corn syrup and a clear golden color. It's made from evaporated sugar cane juice and has a rich, toasty flavor unmatched by any other sweetener. Golden syrup, the most readily available brand being Lyle's, can be found in some supermarkets and many gourmet markets. It can be used as a substitute for corn syrup in cooking and baking, and for everything from pancake syrup to ice cream topping.
GRAPE SYRUP: This import from Italy is pure fructose in liquid form. It works well to sweeten fruit, particularly for fruit salad.
HONEY: is probably the oldest sweetener known to man. It predates recorded history and has been found in the Egyptian pyramids. It's typically sweeter than granulated sugar by a factor of 25%-40% depending upon the specific flowers from which the bees gather their nectar. This means a smaller amount of honey can give the same amount of sweetening as sugar. The source flowers also dictate the flavor and the color of the sweetener as well. Honey color can range from very dark (nearly black) to almost colorless.
SARAH SAYS: Save honey that has crystallized by warming it in a saucepan of water.
Honey is an invert liquid sugar. It is used to add sweetness and moistness to baked goods. Containing 17.2 percent water, this common ingredient is the nectar of plants gathered, modified, stored, and concentrated by honey bees. It’s made up of levulose (fructose) and dextrose (glucose). Honey has many sources, such as borage, buckwheat, avocado, thyme, clover, and its flavor varies accordingly. It is sweeter than sugar because it contains fructose.
Recipes made with honey tend to be moist because the fructose in it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere. It also helps to extend shelf life because it releases its moisture slowly and absorbs humidity. Due to its high fructose content, honey should not be fed to infants under 1 year of age. Honey is a safe and wholesome food for older children and adults.
Too much honey may cause the product to become too brown nd too sweet. Honey has a distinctive flavor and the darker the color, the stronger the flavor. I like a full-flavored honey for baking such as wildflower.
SARAH SAYS: As you might expect, since honey is sweeter than table sugar, it also has more calories as well -- 22 per teaspoon compared to granulated sugar's 16 per teaspoon.
There are also trivial amounts of minerals and vitamins in the bee product while white sugar has none. Raw honey may also contain minute quantities of botulinum spores and should not be fed to children under one year of age. Raw honey is OK for older children and adults. Honey is not a direct substitute for table sugar however, it's use in recipes may call for a bit of alteration to get the recipe to turn out right.
Honey comes in a number of forms in the retail market. For the best results, use recipes developed for using honey, but it is best substituted with other liquid sugars. Buy labeled U.S. GRADE A or U.S. FANCY. Some innformation from one of my favorite honey purveyors, Savannah Bee Company.
- Whole-Comb: This is the bee product straight from the hive. This is the most unprocessed form in which honey comes, being found as large pieces of waxy comb floating in raw honey. The comb itself will contain many unopened honey cells.
- Raw: Basically, raw honey is honey that has not been processed in any way. By this very strict definition, honey sealed in honeycomb by the bees is the only honey that meets this standard. Although moving honey from the comb into jars could be considered processing, the honey product remains very much intact and virtually unchanged.
- Filtering: Filtering is a process that removes large, non-honey items from raw honey. Such items may include dirt, splinters from the hive boxes, or bee parts (legs and wings). The honey product after filtering would still be considered “raw honey.”
- Micro-filtration: Mico-filtration is basically the same as filtration. The only difference is the gauge of the filter.
- Warming: Also known as low-temperature heating, warming is a processing technique designed to melt away honey crystals and lower the viscosity of the honey to allow it to flow more freely through bottling equipment. Crystallization is a natural property of all honey. High-glucose honeys will crystallize more quickly than low-glucose honeys. Warming also eliminates the possibility of crystals being left on bottling equipment, which can affect any honey that may subsequently come in contact with it.
- Pasteurization: Any reputable honey processor will tell you this is an absolute no-no! Pasteurization is the process of quickly super-heating liquids in order to destroy all yeast cells and spore-producing bacterial species in order to inhibit fermentation and microbial contamination. The application of this process makes very little sense in relation to honey. Honey naturally resists microbial growth as a result of its very low water content. All forms of life require water and will not propagate successfully in low-water environments. Given this, there is no need to pasteurize honey. Ever!
Pasteurization destroys all of the beneficial properties of honey. This process virtually reduces honey to a concentrated sugar solution.
MAPLE SYRUP: Pure maple syrup is made by concentrating the slightly sweet sap of the sugar maple tree. From late February through early April, with the length of the season totally dependent on the weather, maple syrup farmers take to the snowy woods with buckets, tubing and drills to gather the sap from sugar maple trees. They then boil it down to make pure maple syrup. Maple sugar candy is made from maple syrup.
Pure maple syrup is graded depending on when the sugary sap is harvested from the trees, having nothing to do with quality or nutrition, but rather color and flavor.
The federal grades are:
- Grade A Light Amber Maple Syrup: Beginning of the season yields very light golden amber in color, with mild maple flavor
- Grade A Medium Amber Maple Syrup: Middle of the season beginning yields medium amber color, with more maple flavor
- Grade A Dark Amber Maple Syrup: Middle of the season end yields dark amber color, with a stronger maple flavor.
- Grade B Maple Syrup: End of the season yields very dark and thick, with intense maple flavor with caramel undertones. Also known as the "cooking syrup", rather than being used to drizzle over pancakes and waffles.
Refrigerate all pure maple syrup types after opening; it contains no preservatives and needs to be refrigerated after opening, not only to protect the syrup’s flavor, but to prevent mold from growing. An opened container lasts for up to a year under refrigeration.
MOLASSES: imparts a dark color and strong flavor to baked foods. It is not as sweet as sugar. When using molasses in place of sugar, use 1-1/3 cups molasses for 1 cup sugar and reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 5 tablespoons. Because molasses is more acidic than sugar, it may be necessary to add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda for each cup of molasses used in substitution for sugar. Replace no more than 1/2 the sugar called for in the recipe with molasses.
Its presence will keep sugars from crystallizing during candymaking.
Molasses isn't just caramelized sugar and browned proteins. "There are a lot of minerals, mostly calcium and iron," says food scientist and author Harold McGee. "They don't participate in any aromatic compounds themselves, but they influence the direction of reactions and give a distinctive spectrum of flavors. And besides sucrose, there are larger sugars, 3- and 4-unit sugars, which don't have much sweetness but react with each other and the smaller sugars, giving flavorful compounds."
Finally, there are amino acids from protein breakdown, which give molasses its sharpness. Because of the acids, molasses or even brown sugar will make milk curdle if you boil it with either of them. For this reason, many recipes for butterscotch sauce, and particularly for butterscotch pudding, begin by cooking the brown sugar with butter before adding cream or milk--especially milk.
To store: If unopened, keep in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year. Once opened, molasses will keep for 6 months, tightly closed in the pantry. Refrigerate to extend storage life.
SARAH SAYS: The different molasses types: During the refining of sugar cane and sugar beets, the juice squeezed from these plants is boiled to a syrupy mixture from which sugar crystals are extracted. The remaining brownish-black liquid is molasses. It comes in mild (unsulphured), robust (processed with sulfites), and blackstrap versions. Don't use blackstrap molasses, which is too strong and doesn't work well in baking recipes.
- Light molasses: When the syrup is boiled the first time, the lightest liquid is drained from the top -- this is the light molasses. Light molasses is light in color and has a mild, sweet taste. It is often used as a pancake and waffle syrup.
- Dark molasses: After the first boiling and removal of the light molasses, the syrup is boiled again, and the lightest liquid is drained from the top -- this is the dark molasses. It is much darker and thicker than light molasses, and the taste is less sweet. Dark molasses is generally used as a flavoring in American classics such as gingerbread, shoofly pie, indian pudding and boston baked beans.
- Blackstrap molasses: After the second boiling and removal of the dark molasses, the syrup is boiled a third time, and the thick liquid which remains is called bootstrap molasses, which are the dregs of the barrel. Bootstrap molasses is very dark, very thick, and almost bitter. Bootstrap molasses is rarely used in recipes.
- Sulphur: is made from green (unripe) sugar cane and is treated with sulphur fumes during the sugar extraction process. Sulphured molasses tends to be heavier and sweeter, while unsulphured molasses is lighter and has more of the vegetation (plant) taste.
- Unsulphured molasses: is the whole juice of fully matured sugar cane that has been clarified and evaporated to a heavier consistency. I always use unsulphured molasses in baking. This product, which is produced in the West Indies, is characterized by a light clear color, delicate flavor, and is generally sweeter than other grades since none of the sugar has been removed. Because of the processing methods it is not necessary to bleach this molasses with sulfur dioxide to obtain a light color.
- Sorghum molasses: is the syrup produced from the cereal grain sorghum. Whether or not molasses is sulphured or unsulphured depends on whether sulphur was used in the processing. In general, unsulphured molasses is lighter and has a cleaner sugar-cane flavor.
RAW SUGAR = SUCANAT = UNREFINED NATURAL SUGAR = GRANULATED CANE JUICE (CRYSTALS) = DEHYDRATED CANE JUICE (CRYSTALS); Available in both granular (light brown sugar like) and liquid forms.
SORGHUM SYRUP: This is produced in the same manner as cane syrup, but sorghum cane, rather than sugar cane, is used. Sorghum tends to have a thinner, slightly sourer taste than cane syrup.
STEVIA: Produced from the Stevia plant, this syrup is also available in dry, powdered form. It’s approximately double the sweetness of sucrose. It’s also tolerated by some diabetics. Available in health food stores.
SUCANAT: Also available in dry form.
TREACLE: See Golden Syrup
TRIMOLINE: A commercial invert sugar used for candymaking.
UNREFINED NATURAL SUGAR