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© Denzil Green

Sugar is a sweetener generally used in a white, finely-ground crystal form.

White Sugar can come from two different sources -- sugar cane, or sugar beet. Sugar sold to consumers will be 99.95 % sucrose, regardless of the source.

Sugar cane is actually a grass that resembles bamboo. It grows up to 20 feet (6 metres) tall. It grows best in tropical areas (warm climates and lots of rainfall.)

To process cane into sugar, the cane are first shredded, then crushed to press the juice out of them. This first-stage sugar juice is a muddy brown. It has a combination of tastes: a harsh grassy taste, caramel, brown sugar, and molasses, all together. Lime (the mineral) is added to the juice, which is then heated. As it is heated, solid matters in the juice coagulate around the lime. The juice is then strained, and evaporated down by boiling until it is a mixture of syrup (molasses) and sugar crystals. This resultant mixture is called "massecuite." The mixture is then put into centrifuges to drive off the molasses. (Before centrifuges, it was put in conical pots with a hole in the bottom that allowed the molasses to drain off, a process that took days or weeks. After it was drained, a yellowish large lump of sugar would be left behind.) Centrifuges get the sugar to 96% purity. The remaining 4% content is water, dirt, invert sugar. Further refining to give desired sugar crystal sizes results in 99.95% purity.

The Sugar Beet, also known as the White Beet, has been specially bred for its Sugar producing properties. It is grown in more northerly parts where Sugar Cane won't grow. The beets are sliced up, then pressed for juice which is refined in the same way as Sugar Cane juice (though molasses from this Sugar Beet juice is not sold because there are issues with cleaning and straining it.) The UK derives a lot of its Sugar from cane, though there are vast fields of Sugar Beets and processing plants in East Anglia.

Scientifically, "sugar" can be used to refer to different forms of sugar such as glucose, fructose, or sucrose. Glucose is found in vegetables and in some fruits. Fructose is mainly found in fruit, and is the sweetest of these three types. Sucrose, the one we use for ordinary cooking and table sugar, is a combination of the two: it is one molecule of glucose joined to one molecule of fructose.

Cooking Tips

Sugar Cane

Sugar Cane
Denzil Green

If a recipe calls for Sugar, without specifying what kind of Sugar, then what is meant is the standard, granulated white Sugar that everyone is familiar with.

When trying to cut back on Sugar, don't cut back on what is called for in yeast bread recipes, as it is generally there to feed the yeast. Nor should you cut back on what is called for in pickling and preserving, as Sugar plays a vital role in creating a hostile environment for bacteria in pickling and preserving (the Romans used to bottle fruit in honey to preserve it), and a role in getting Pectin to set jams and jellies.

Instead, for both, find a recipe that calls for less Sugar. Older bread recipes from the 1920s and 1930s were particularly more frugal about how much sugar they used.

When putting Sugar that you want to caramelize on top of something, choose White Sugar rather than Brown Sugar. You might think it's a clever choice to use Brown Sugar because, being brown, it's already halfway there in terms of colour, but Brown Sugar tends to blacken instead of browning owing to the impurities left in it. Beet Sugar also tends to burn more than Sugar from cane will do.


Light Brown Sugar where the colour doesn't matter (use a bit more); Honey (use 25% less); Caster Sugar (use same amount).

To substitute maple syrup for sugar, for every cup (8 oz / 225g) of sugar called for use 3/4 cup (6 oz / 175 ml) maple syrup, 1/4 tsp baking soda, and reduce other liquid in the recipe by 3 tbsp.

To substitute molasses for sugar, for every cup (8 oz / 225g) of sugar called for use 1 1/3 cup (10 oz / 300 ml) molasses, 1 tsp baking soda, and reduce other liquid in the recipe by 6 tbsp. Don't swap more than half the Sugar in a recipe for molasses.

To substitute corn syrup for sugar, for every cup (8 oz / 225g) of sugar called for use 1 1/4 cup (10 oz / 300 ml) corn syrup, and reduce other liquid in the recipe by 4 tbsp.

To substitute icing sugar, use 2 cups (14 oz / 400 g) unpacked icing sugar for each cup of sugar called for.

If you want to cut down on sugar in your baking, you can substitute up to 25% of the white sugar called for with powdered milk.

For every 1 cup (225 g / 8 oz weight) of sugar, you can replace with 150 ml (5 oz) of honey. The BeeMaid honey site suggests that in baking, you should also add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, and reduce the amount of other liquid in the recipe by 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons (40 ml). They further suggest reducing the cooking temperature by 15 C (25 F) to help avoid over-browning. [1]


Provides energy only.

Don't buy unrefined sugar because you think it is healthier; remember, all sugar is almost entirely sucrose -- or it couldn't be legally sold as sugar. Unrefined sugar may have a few more trace elements of minerals than refined, but the difference is negligible.

Remember that sugar was first used in Europe for medicinal purposes. We laugh at such a thought now, but then get snookered into marketing hoo-hah about health benefits of unrefined sugar.

That being said, there is a reason to buy unrefined sugars, which would be that you can detect a taste difference and you like it.


1/4 cup = 2 oz = 55g

1/2 cup = 4 oz = 115g
3/4 cup = 6 oz = 170g
1 cup = 8 oz = 225 g
Therefore, 2 cups of Sugar equals a pound or about 450g.
1 oz (30g) white granulated or superfine (caster) Sugar = 2 tablespoons
225g sugar = 1 cup = 8 oz

Storage Hints

Store in a sealed contained indefinitely.

History Notes

Sugar Cane probably originated in the South Pacific, probably New Guinea, in fact, and was spread for cultivation into China and other parts of Asia reaching India by 500 BC at the latest, as the process for making Sugar was known by then in India. By 600 AD, it had made its way to the Middle East: the Persians grew Sugar Cane and made Sugar, and the Arabs spread knowledge of it around.

The Romans did have access to some sugar, but it was crude and unrefined sugar -- not the fine, white sugar that is standard now.

Refined Sugar helped make Venice rich, until explorers discovered a direct route to India to bypass Venice. Christopher Columbus brought Sugar Cane cuttings from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean on his second trip in 1493 and planted cane on Hispaniola (the island now shared by Haiti and The Dominican Republic).

Until the 1500s, Sugar was imported from India. But after that, the Caribbean then owned the Sugar market, until Europeans developed Sugar Beets in the late 1700s and Sugar production from beets was encouraged in the 1800s.

In 1518, the Spanish began the transatlantic slave trade to import labour for their Caribbean sugar crops.

By the start of the 1800s, the British controlled the sugar trade from the Caribbean. At this time, Napoleon ordered the mass plantings of sugar beets in France in order to reduce dependence on British supplies of sugar.

Literature & Lore

"But, sweet Ned -- to sweeten which name of Ned, I give thee this pennyworth of Sugar." -- Prince Henry. Henry IV Part I: Act 2. Shakespeare.

Language Notes

"Sucre cristallisé" is French for granulated white sugar.

The word "Sugar" stems from the Sanskrit word "sharkara", meaning "gravel", which coarse, raw, unrefined sugar can resemble.


[1] Bee Maid "Sugar to Honey" converter. Accessed August 2015 at http://www.beemaid.com/recipe-converter

Connelly, Andy. The science and magic of cinder toffee. Manchester: The Guardian. 24 September 2010.

White Sugar

Caster Sugar; Cinnamon Sugar; Jam Sugar; Preserving Sugar; Sugar Cubes; Sugar Hats; Sugar; Wasanbon

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Also called:

White Sugar; Sucre (French); Zucher (German); Zucchero (Italian); Azúcar (Spanish); Açúcar (Portuguese); Saccarum (Roman)


Oulton, Randal. "Sugar." CooksInfo.com. Published 02 September 2002; revised 13 November 2012. Web. Accessed 04/23/2018. <http://www.cooksinfo.com/sugar>.

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