Once known as Crystallised Sunlight and apart from water and air there is nothing quite like as basic to human life as sugar, it forms basic food for both plants and animals. Sugar is formed in plants by a process known as photosynthesis from atmospheric carbon dioxide and water. The green pigment in plants absorbs the energy from the sun and with the aid of certain enzymes creates sugar. Humans and animals will then digest it when it is oxidised to water and carbon dioxide and then returned to the atmosphere.
The solar energy stored in the sugar molecule provides energy for the activities of humans when we consume it and enable us to move our muscles, keep warm, think, hear etc. It is the "fuel for our bodies boiler". The term SUGAR is a generalised word used for a group of chemically related, sweet flavoured substances.
Little is known of the origins of sugar as we know it today but it is most possible that humans acquired their sweet tooth after the discovery of honey. Evidence has been discovered, of the use of sweetening agents as far back as 700BC. Down through history, Sugar has played a very big part in world political and social development. Because of its value wars have been fought,it encouraged slavery and fortunes have been made and lost all because of mankind's sweet tooth.
There are two principal sources of sugar, Sugar Cane and Sugar Beet, both plants that yield high amounts of sugar. Up until the early 1800's the main source was the sugar cane, at this time The West Indies being the biggest producing country. The French imposed a ban on importing the cane,causing a sugar shortage in France, this created a stimulus to the research work of the sugar seeking scientists. the Germans had been the pioneers, but now the French chemists took up the search and the result was the production of beet sugar on a commercial scale.
U.K. beet production became very important and was encouraged by the Government During the 2nd World War due to the fact that importing the cane was getting more difficult, since then it has grown and now represents a large part of British sugar production.
Recent figures given by British Sugar indicate production of sugar beet in 2011-12 was 1,429,000 metric tonnes. It is considered a very eco friendly crop featuring in crop rotation and Biodiversity.
Refined sugar from both cane and beet are the same chemical substance (Sucrose). There are in addition other types of sugars such as Dextrose, Glucose, Maltose, Lactose, Starch and Gums.
Uses of Sugar in Baking.
Sugar is the bakers principal sweetening agent. Sugar has a great influence on the quality of the goods in which it is used. Apart from its sweetening effects, sugar effects the gluten in the flour, reducing its elasticity and having a solvent effect upon the gluten. In fermented goods it acts as an additional food for the yeast as well as sweetening.
Sugar has the power to lift and lighten a cake and confer crust colour and bloom..It increases the eating and keeping qualities of the cake and the food value.
It is used as a decorative medium i.e. Dusting before or after baking. Mixed with a solvent such as water or egg whites to form a decorating medium e.g. Royal Icing, Water icing. Boiled with water to form products such as Spun sugar, Fondant , Caramel etc.
Types of sugar
After the raw sugar has been refined it is either grain or syrup.
Grains . Syrups
Icing Sugar............powder. Golden Syrup.
Caster sugar..........fine crystals. Treacle.
Granulated ............coarse crystals. Glucose.
Nib sugar............... large crystals. Maple Syrup.
Cube sugar Molasses. ( produced in the early stages prior to
Brown sugars.........fine to coarse crystals.
Honey. (product of the Honey Bee)
Malt Extract Syrup.
Sugar as a Preservative.
Sugar is Hygroscopic and as micro-organisms can not grow with out water it inhibits the development of any food borne organisms. Used to preserve fruits in the form of jams. Also used in syrup form for bottled and tinned fruits.
Storage of Sugar.
Because if its ability to attract moisture, it should be stored in airtight containers in an ambient temperature 14-21C. If kept in the right conditions it should last indefinitely. This hygroscopic nature of sugar can sometimes cause problems to the home baker when, for instance, a product that you have made may be filled with fresh dairy cream which needs to be refrigerated but the decoration is sugar based , a prime example would be a chocolate eclair finished with chocolate fondant. If left open in a fridge the finished icing would soon start turning to liquid. To help overcome this, it is advisable to store in the fridge, in an airtight container to prolong its shelf life.