The sugar spectrum:
Amber sugar crystals (Zabar's; 800-697-6301) and sugarcane swizzle sticks (Frieda's; 800-241-1771) are for hot drinks, not recipes. Demerara tastes of raw cane; muscovado has a strong molasses flavor (La Cuisine; 800-521-1176). Chunky cubes of French cane sugar are milled in Swaziland and the Congo (Dean & DeLuca; 800-221-7714). Conical Mexican piloncillo can substitute for brown sugar in cakes and cookies (Frieda's). Glazing sugar--confectioners' sugar without the cornstarch--gives icings a smooth texture (King Arthur Flour; 800-827-6836).
Each American eats an average of more than 67 pounds of sugar a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, an amount that has jumped 27 percent since 1970. Fat-free foods that rely on extra sugar for flavor are partly the cause. So are foods like the following, which have surprising amounts of added sugar:
11 ounces of blackberry Clearly Canadian soda: 8 teaspoons
8 ounces of cranapple juice: 7 1/4 teaspoons
8 ounces of low-fat, fruit-flavored yogurt: 7 teaspoons
8 ounces of frozen yogurt: 6 teaspoons
8 ounces of chocolate milk: 3 teaspoons
1 Fig Newton cookie: 3 teaspoons
The Sugar Superstars
Move over, Domino: A variety of unusual sugars, especially less-processed brown ones, are finding a place on the shelf. Here are some of the latest, from light to dark:
Turbinado gets its pale golden color from the small amount of molasses (cane juice) left on the crystals. Its mild flavor works well in gingerbread, baked beans and coffee.
Demerara is brown, slightly sticky and milled into coarse crystals. Its raw cane flavor makes it great in tea and coffee and for glazing ham.
Piloncillo (Spanish for "little cone") is a dark brown unrefined Mexican sugar with a strong molasses taste. It's often grated or chopped into small pieces and used in Latin desserts, such as flan.
Muscovado gets its deep color, smoky flavor and moistness from its high molasses content. Light muscovado is a good substitute for brown sugar; the darker type enhances rich desserts, such as fudge and pecan pie.
Health: Myth Vs. Fact
- Myth: Sugar is terrible for your health.
Fact: Not necessarily. sugar can cause cavities, but the Food and Drug Administration has concluded that sugar does not cause diabetes, heart disease or obesity.
- Myth: Sugar makes children hyperactive.
Fact: A study published in The Journal Of The American Medical Association found that sugar has no effect on kids' behavior. Another study found that sugar helps people think better.
- Myth: Sugar cures are an old wives' tale.
Fact: A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that swallowing a teaspoon of sugar cures hiccups in 19 of 20 cases.
Sugar has sweet-talked its way into a number of beauty products and spa treatments.
Lancôme's Tonique Éclat Revitalizing Toner, with sugarcane extracts, smooths the complexion ($18.50 for 6.8 fluid ounces; 800-526-2663).
Chanel's Source Extrême Dual Benefit Complex has sucrose; it moisturizes without irritating ($65 for a 1.7-ounce jar; 800-550-0005).
The Green Valley Spa in St. George, Utah, offers cinnamon-and-sugar facials as well as manicures that use melted sugar, lime and herbs to glaze nails (800-237-1068).
The Nordstrom Spa in San Francisco (415-977-5102) and the Patrick Melville Salon in New York City (212-366-5757) use the process of sugaring to remove hair: The honeylike mixture is gentler than wax.
Spinning Sugar Into Gold
Classic spun-sugar sculptures can still elicit gasps from jaded restaurant-goers. En-Ming Hsu, pastry chef at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago, uses whisks with the loop ends cut to wave a heated mixture of sugar and water through the air. That creates thin strands, which she molds into peaches and baskets. Jacques Torres, pastry chef at Manhattan's Le Cirque 2000, has made spun-sugar birds, flowers--even a sculpture of a client in her bathtub, bubbles and faucets included.
Novices who want to take sugar for a spin can attend the Notter International School of Confectionary Arts in Gaithersburg, Maryland (301-963-9077), which offers a five-day course in creating ribbons and flowers from spun sugar. Notter teachers also give courses at the French Pastry School in Chicago and Paris Gourmet Patisfrance in Carlstadt, New Jersey.
In Praise Of The Sugar Pill
Can sugar make you healthy? Maybe. Doctors have long known that sugar pills are sometimes as effective as real medicine--a phenomenon known as the placebo effect. Placebos are especially useful for treating pain, mild depression and ulcers; in some studies, they have been shown to be even more effective than drugs. In fact, as many as 75 percent of patients benefit from taking fake medicine in studies of new drugs. "One of the ways placebos work is by reducing stress," says Walter A. Brown, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University and Tufts University. When people go to a doctor's office, he explains, they are surrounded by objects associated with relief of their symptoms, such as a stethoscope and medicines, and the calming effect can be highly therapeutic. Taking a pill can have a similar influence.