Tasty and essential in baking and cooking, there’s a lot to know about sugar. Read on for my guide on choosing, using, and storing various sweeteners.
We’re sweetening things up this month with a focus on sugar! From Derby Day desserts to Mother’s Day brunch and Memorial Day Weekend treats, many of us will be cooking or baking with some form of sweetener.
So today we’re doing a brief introduction into sugar: what is is, why it’s useful in cooking and baking, nutritional aspects to consider, and how to choose the right sweetener for your recipe.
Love it or hate it, sugar is a naturally occurring compound that seems to everywhere (naturally or added).
While there seems to be an ever ongoing war against sugar, it hasn’t always been the villain of the food world. In fact, naturally occuring sugars found in fruits, vegetables, and animal milks once served as an important source of energy for early humans.
However, for those of us fortunate enough to not have to worry about adequate calorie intake, it’s easy to get too much sugar in our diets.
But before you go and swear off all sugar in your diet, let’s talk about what sugar’s role is in our bodies and food. Afterall, what’s life without a little sweetness?
Let’s quickly go back to high school science: carbohydrates are compounds that are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. The simplest form of carbs are sugars known as monosaccharides, which are the building blocks for all all other carbohydrates.
The three most common simple sugars that you may have heard of are glucose (easily the most important fuel source in the human body), galactose (needed to create lactose), and fructose (found in high amounts in fruits).
Table sugar (also known as sucrose) is a disaccharide, meaning that it’s made up of two simple sugars, specifically glucose and fructose. It can be extracted from sugar cane or sugar beet, as well as is naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables.
Other sugars you may have heard of are lactose, found in milk and dairy products, and maltose, which is also known as malt sugar (hello beer!).
When we ingest carbohydrates, they get broken down into glucose, which is then carried in the bloodstream to cells. Here, it can either be stored if we already have enough glucose circulating our bodies, or converted into energy and used to carry out essential functions.
What are these functions exactly? While there are many processes that glucose is a part of, some of the highlights include muscle contraction, temperature regulation, and normal brain functioning.
While all sugars are made up of the same basic ingredients (carbon, hydrogen and oxygen), the source of the sugar greatly affects how quickly it’s digested, and therefore, it’s potential effects on our health.
Plus, some sugar sources, like maple syrup and honey, also come with additional vitamins and minerals that are beneficial for health. We’ll touch on the exact nutrition impact of different sugar sources in ingredient-specific posts.
Okay, enough science, let’s get onto the good stuff!
Just as glucose has essential functions in the body, sugar plays a key role in many culinary processes as well.
However, as different sugars have different chemical properties, it’s important to be careful when swapping one out for another as it could have a significant effect on the final texture and taste of the baked good!
When it comes to buying sugar and other natural sweeteners for cooking and baking, there are a TON of options – and that’s not even including artificial and alternative sugars, like stevia or splenda. While not exhaustive, here are some of the more common sources of sugar that you may come across in recipes.
While there are many ways to sweeten up recipes (as you just read), we’re focusing on four that you’re likely to come across on THT as well as other healthy and lifestyle blogs:
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