Properties of sugar
Sugar is renowned for the sweet taste it supplies to food and beverages, and its role in harmonizing flavours and enhancing of aromas. It is also used in the production of sweetened products, although its function can sometimes seem rather mysterious. An overview of sugar properties.
A natural preservative
For centuries sugar has been used as a natural means of preserving fruit in the form of jam, bottled fruit or syrups. Why? The reason is that the stability of a food largely depends on how much water it contains, measured by its activity of water or “aw”, and more specifically, how the water binds with other ingredients. Once dissolved, sugar binds the water molecules in fruit to prevent flavour degradation or the growth of microorganisms, such as yeast, bacteria and mould. This means that the fruit has been “stabilized”.
Sugar is still the main agent for reducing the activity of water in jam and chocolate. Sugar also has the task of making jams set. A chemist will tell you that it enables the gel formed by the pectin molecules in the fruit to set by fixing the water molecules surrounding them.
Candied fruit is made using the confisage technique. Confisage consists of steeping whole fruits or fruit segments in increasing concentrations of sugar solution. Large amounts of water are transferred to the solution and the fruit absorbs the sugar.
It is not just crème brûlée that is enhanced by the lovely warm colour of caramelised sugar. Caramelisation and the Maillard Reaction
together produce colour and a whole series of deliciously aromatic tastes and smells, like caramel, toasted bread, roasted nuts and malt, to tempt our taste buds.
The crunchiness of chocolate is also thanks to sugar! So are the crispness, softness, and the melt-in-the-mouth texture of biscuits and pastries. It is sugar that offers amateur pastry cooks like ourselves and professionals endless possibilities for creating different textures.
Entering into the spirit
Because it is an excellent raw material for fermentation, sugar is used to manufacture alcohol, It has long been associated with rum, made by distilling fermented concentrated sugar cane juice, or molasses.
Wine producers use a technique known as ""chaptalisation"" or ""sugaring"" in which they add sugar to increase the level of alcohol in their wines. Sugar is doubly valuable in the production of Champagne. It is sugar that produces the bubbles by promoting the fermentation of yeast, which produces carbon dioxide. Added in minute doses, it also determines whether the bubbly champagne is brut, demi-sec or doux.
When it comes to pastry baking, sugar is not content to be a mere sweetener. According to the proportion used and the size of the crystals, sugar gives dough elasticity and volume, determines how it bakes and what colour it will take. But that’s another story...
As it binds so well with the proteins in eggs, sugar is great for mousses. Just try making meringue without it!
Sucrose gives body to the finished product. When the right amount of sugar is added to a range of recipes, it partially affects the final texture and appearance of the food.
And when it comes to summer ice creams, sugar doesn’t just sweeten them. And as sugar lowers the freezing point of water to less than 0°C, it lends the ice a smooth, creamy texture without any splinters of ice.
Sugar plays an important functional role in the baking industry:
By promoting the retention of carbon dioxide produced by raising agents, it enhances the fluffiness of dough in products such as sandwich bread.
Manufacturers blend sugar and egg white to achieve the perfect consistency and stability for their mousses.
It adds “body” and volume to certain cakes, such as sponge cakes and sponge fingers, during the cooking process.
Sugar has always been used as a basic ingredient in confectionary products. The final texture of biscuits and pastries – crispy, melt-in-the-mouth, sugar-coated, etc. - depends on the technology used to process sugar solutions. Sugar is an essential ingredient in the production of chocolate, to which it gives its crunchy texture.
It also is an important ingredient in the cough syrups we take to treat minor ailments, giving them a sweet taste and a pleasantly smooth consistency. The mystery ingredient “excipient qs 100 ml” on medicine bottles is often sugar as well!