Sugar, chemically known as sucrose, is vital to many baked goods as it feeds the fermentation process.
Sucrose, commonly referred to as table sugar, encompasses a multitude of carbohydrates. The Food and Drug Administration defines sugars as monosaccharides and disaccharides, with the former being the smallest molecular carbohydrate unit and the latter being two of those units bonded together. Each one has its own level of sweetness and is always compared to sucrose, which is recognized as 1.0.
Most commercial sucrose comes from either sugarcane or sugar beets, with the former gaining traction in the organic and natural sectors.
“Consumers seeking organic and non-G.M.O. options are recognizing cane sugar as coming from a non-G.M.O. source,” said Jeff Casper, director of research and innovation, Malt Products Corp. “Approximately 95% of sugar beets harvested today are G.M.O., and despite that, both cane and beet sugar is 99.95% sucrose, there are some that believe cane tastes differently and performs differently in baking than beet.”
Dark molasses can be used in cookies and snack bars because of its unique flavor and the color it contributes.
Sucrose is commercially available in liquid form as a simple syrup, about half sucrose and half water. Customized blends may include minor ingredients to decrease the chance of measuring error in industrial bakeries.
Granulated sucrose crystals are white and vary in particle size, with smaller particles dissolving faster in solution. Thus, fine forms are typically used in low-moisture, high-fat baked foods, as well as cream fillings and toppings.
Another option is to use powdered forms, also known as confectioner’s sugar. Ranging from 10X (finest) to 4X (coarsest), these ingredients are made from ground crystalline sucrose to which a small amount of cornstarch is added to prevent clumping. Powdered forms are paramount in low-moisture, high-fat systems such as icings and meringues.
Another modified form of sucrose is found in the family of brown sugars, which ranges from light to dark brown, and are commercially made by coating refined granulated sucrose with molasses. The more molasses, the darker the brown sugar.
Sweeteners like molasses work well in bars due to their binding, color and flavor attributes.
Molasses is the syrup remaining after sucrose is extracted from sugarcane or sugar beets. During the sucrose-making process, juice extracted from either source is boiled, allowing the water to evaporate and crystals to form. This process is usually repeated three times, and with each successive cycle, the remaining molasses contains less sucrose. Light molasses, for example, is produced after the first boiling cycle. As the name suggests, it is the lightest in color of all molasses ingredients. It also contains the most sugar and is the least viscous. The second boiling cycle yields dark molasses, while the final produces blackstrap molasses. This very dark form of molasses contains the least amount of sugar, has a bitter and pungent flavor, and is extremely viscous.
Light or dark molasses often is used in cookies and snack bars because of the unique flavor and color it contributes. Its syrupy nature renders it a binding agent, which is useful in granola and nut/fruit-style bars. Blackstrap molasses can be challenging to work with because of its potent color and flavor; however, there’s a healthy halo associated with its use that makes it appealing to the natural products industry. That’s because blackstrap molasses is recognized as being high in nutrients, particularly calcium and iron. It’s even available in organic format.
Invert sugar is another liquid sweetener made from sucrose. The process involves hydrolyzing the disaccharide into its monosaccharide units, rendering the resulting ingredient sweeter than sucrose. The individual monosaccharide units can participate in the Maillard browning reaction, unlike sucrose. They are also more hygroscopic.
In past years, invert sugar was replaced by the more economical high-fructose corn syrup. However, consumer backlash against this highly processed syrup has many bakers revisiting invert sucrose for its functionality and clean label appeal.
“Invert sugar can be found naturally in maple syrup and honey and has been made by confectioners and bakers for hundreds of years by adding acid to liquid sucrose,” Mr. Casper said. “Invert syrup is made from natural sugar and can be a label-friendly ingredient with the ability to impart smooth textures, soften baked goods, enhance browning, improve binding, and suppress water activity resulting in longer shelf-life.”
Bakers have a large toolbox of other natural sugars to explore for sweetness and additional functionalities. This includes honey and various cereal, grain and plant extracts.