Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

sugar, as it is commonly understood, is simply sucrose, even if food chemists recognize many other sorts of sugars, including fructose (fruit sugar), lactose (milk sugar), maltose (malt sugar), and dextrose (corn sugar), to name some the most common types. While many of these sugars are widely used in the food industry, home cooks and pastry chefs depend on cane- or beet-derived sugar for flavoring almost all of their recipes.

Sugar is widely used to sweeten both desserts and candy, but it is also used to add a sweet note to many savory foods. Its chemical characteristics allow it to be dissolved, melted, caramelized, and turned into a multitude of candy textures, from barely chewy to hard and brittle. In dessert making, sugar affects moisture retention, texture, browning, and freezing, as well as taste. In many cases the lack of any discernable taste other than sweet is desirable, since refined sugar does not mask other flavors. Nevertheless, partially refined sugars can offer a panoply of other tastes, including butterscotch, toffee, caramel, wine, molasses, spice, and even bitterness. Understanding the different types and textures of sugar, and how best to use them, can add complexity, drama, and flair to cooking as well as to candy making and baking.