Sugar gets wrongly lambasted by the medics and dieticians but it really only gives us energy and not any vitamins, mineral, proteins or fat. Brown sugar is perceived as healthier as it contains some protein and minerals but sometimes it is just white sugar with molasses added so it can be less healthy. The targeting of sugar is a bit of a fallacy, an ounce of it gives us around a hundred calories and like everything else if consumed in excess you will expand if the energy is not burned off. We all need sugar but just not so much of it and it is hidden away in so many foods. Animals and plants need it too and it exists in a myriad of forms both naturally and processed.
It is actually classified as a carbohydrate and can either be a simple or single sugar form or a complex version all across the likes of fruits, grains, plants and vegetables. Even milk has about five per cent lactose sugar. The difference for us is whether the glucose sugar is digested quickly or slowly into our bloodstream. So when you get a hit of sugar and its subsequent energy boost it has gone straight to your blood. Sugars will vary greatly, some hardly sweet tasting at all some even bitter. Sugar science is a pretty heavy subject when you get deep into it.
We have been eating it though for millennia in honey and maple syrup for example and wild sugar cane growing in Asia had the Persians, Indians and Chinese boiling it down to drinks and a solid form from 500BC and then cultivating it as well. These days we have molasses or treacle from the modern sugar cane refining. Raw sugar has all of its impurities retained.
Muscovado is an unrefined brown sugar with molasses added and Demerara is a lighter less processed version and then there are the syrups as well. It was Columbus bringing it to the Caribbean that got it all started over there. After sugar cane the other main source is in sugar beet of course, something we grew a lot of in Ireland until recently but it became too expensive to produce. It was not really used until the middle ages for such but it produces the best white sugar as opposed to sugar cane which only gives the spectrum of brown sugars.
Beets are simply sliced, boiled in water and with the addition of lime and carbon dioxide it solidifies to a chalky block and then refined into pure white sugar. Granulated sugars are medium sized crystals of this. Adding a bit of syrup to these allows them to be shaped into blocks giving us sugar lumps. Castor sugar is another size down and of course in its powdered version we have icing sugar. Barley sugar is actually just a boiled up version of white sugar and not made from barley at all. We also have corn syrup as another sweetener.
Speaking of sweeteners, the artificial versions used as a sugar substitute for diet reasons are a chemical mix emulating sweetness and not just used in your tea but right across food production in soft drinks etc. They can come from natural fruit and plant extracts but this is more expensive to produce. For me, they really cannot be better than natural sugar. A dollop of honey is far better than something made up in a lab even if they have been approved, I just do not buy it, literally. We put enough additives in our bodies already.
For cooking, sugar is such a vital ingredient. The brown and white sugars react differently in recipes as they are totally contrasting in composition. I have quite a sweet tooth and try to keep my treats under control. In the obesity battle the problem is us and not the ingredient itself. If sugar becomes an addiction then it really needs to be treated as such. We need about a couple of ounces at most every day in our diet, around six teaspoons of free pure sugar and natural sugars in fruit are still okay. The issue is the hidden added sugars in so many products and this means we eat three times as much daily leading to all the health risks of the modern consumer.