Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
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Sugar

Sugar is the substance which allowed coffee and chocolate to become those delicious beverages today appreciated all over the world by millions of people

 In nature exist many substances with a sweet flavor, an organoleptic quality depending on the presence of one or more components commonly classified as “sugar”. Sugar, or better to say sugars, are found in nature not only in foods of vegetal origin but also in the ones of animal origin, and belong to the family of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates (or carbon hydrate) are made of, like the name suggests, by carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Carbohydrates are divided in: monosaccharides, glucose and fructose; disaccharides, saccharose, lactose and maltose; polysaccharides, starch, cellulose, dextrin and glycogen. Sugars are not all the same, they differ from the level of solubility in water, melting point and, probably being the most interesting quality, the level of sweetness. In case we would assign saccharose the sweetness level of 100, lactose would have a level of 16, maltose 32, glucose 74 and fructose 173. Sugar, which chemical formula is C12H22O11, is mainly used for nutritional purposes, it in fact makes an easily assimilable food and very caloric: 4 calories per gram. The term sugar comes from Sanskrit sarkara, which then became sakcharon in Greece and finally saccharum for Romans.

 

Short History of Sugar

 The first information about sugar come from Polynesia, China and India, around 510 BC and it is referred to the sugarcane. The Persians at the times of Darius are said to have found cultivations of a vegetable from which was extracted a very sweet liquid, which was then transformed in crystals in order to be kept for a long time. Persians brought with them the sugarcane and they spread its cultivation all over the Middle East. Alexander the Great mentions it, in the 325 BC, by telling that in eastern countries was produced a liquid as sweet as honey however obtained without the use of any bee. Genovese and Venetians also contributed to the spreading, in the tenth century, by importing modest quantities of sugar at those times known as “Arab salt”.


Crystals of sugar have always been the symbol of sweetness in cooking
Crystals of sugar have always been the symbol of sweetness in cooking

 Frederick of Swabia introduced the cultivation of sugarcane in Sicily. Sugar will however remain for many years a rare and precious good, sold at very high prices and only the noble people could use it as a sweetener, whereas ordinary people could afford the use of honey only. The discovery of America brought sugarcane in the New World, in particular Cuba, Mexico, Antilles and Brazil, which are still today among the main producers of the world. American sugar was cheaper and of higher quality as to overcome Arab and Sicilian cultivations.

 It was the beginning of a flourishing trade between America and Europe, so flourishing which caused prices to fall. This allowed many people to buy this delicacy therefore contributing to the born of pastry cooking art in Europe, together with cocoa, coffee and chocolate. In 1747, German chemist Andreas Sigismund Marggraf, by using some observations done by French agronomist Olivier de Serres, was successful in extracting saccharose from boiled beet juice. Some years later, in 1802, his student Franz Achard began the industrial production of sugar. The new discovery had a strong impact, and in 1806 cane sugar was replaced by beet sugar. This change was also favored by the increasing contrasts between France and England, which ended with the block of importations, including sugar, from England to Europe. From this moment on, the production and consumption of sugar did not face any stop or crisis.

 

Types of Sugar

 With the term sugar are identified a group of substances, all having a sweet taste, which are instead defined, according to type, with specific names. The most common type of sugar which we all have in our kitchen, is saccharose. It is mainly obtained by sugar beets or by sugarcane, however it is also possible to extract saccharose from maple, palm juice and sweet sorghum. Saccharose is found in many foods, such as pineapple, strawberries, carrots and beets. Saccharose completely melts in a quantity of water corresponding to one third of its weight. When heated without water, it melts at a temperature of 160° C and get caramelized at 180° C, when heated at higher temperatures it becomes similar to tar.


 

 Glucose is also known as dextrose. It is found in considerable quantities in grapes and makes hard clots in raisins. It makes, together with fructose, 30% of honey. It is usually commercialized in chips or in form of syrup, it is obtained by cooking starch, saccharose and chloride acid, subsequently neutralized with chalk which is then properly depurated. Liquid glucose is made of water (18%), glucose (35%) and dextrin (47%). Liquid glucose is used in pastry cooking and it is very useful in the preparation of home made desserts, or to sweeten jams and candied fruits. It was once considered as a lesser product than saccharose, today it is used as a quick source of energy. To the taste it is less sweet than saccharose, a characteristic which should be remembered in case it is used as a substitute of saccharose.

 Fructose, just like glucose, is found in honey and in ripe fruit, its use in cooking is pretty limited. Fructose is sweeter than glucose and it easily melts in water. Maltose, like the name would suggest, is obtained by the preparation of malt, when the “diastase” enzyme processes starch. Maltose is found in huge quantities in the extract of malt and it is very important for the preparation of bread and beer, as it is an excellent ally of yeasts, it is very soluble in water and it is hygroscopic. This latter one probably is the most important characteristic, together with its particular ease of use from yeast, for the making of bread. For this reason the bread prepared with malt extract can be kept for a longer time, thanks to the capacity of maltose to absorb and keep water.

 Lactose is the sugar contained in milk, it is less sweet than other types of sugars. It is obtained by the residual milk from the processing of butter. As it is a byproduct of the processing of milk, its characteristics are interesting in the production of cheese and derivatives. Lactose can be found in shops and its most typical use is represented by pastry cooking.

 

Sugarcane

 Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) is a tropical plant belonging to the family of Poaceae, it is a plant similar to bamboo, with a very sweet marrow, juicy and rich in saccharose. In its countries of origin, sugarcane is cut in pieces about 10 centimeters long and chewed in order to extract its sweet juice, however not all the varieties can be used for this purpose. In order to make the taste of sugar more delicious and less monotonous, they invented some simple and quick recipes. The most common of them consists in blending the marrow of the cane, add lime juice and some spices, therefore obtaining a delicious beverage. Sugarcane is still today one of the main sources of sugar. The origins of sugarcane are from Asia: Chinese used it since 1000 BC. In 327 BC, when it was imported in Europe, it was already known in India. In 641 AD it was introduced in Egypt and a century later in Spain. Portuguese introduced it in Madera and Christophorus Columbus introduced it in America. Today sugarcane is cultivated all over the world, in the areas where the climate allows it.

 When we think about sugar, we usually think about a substance which is easy to find and sold at a cheap price. However, in past times it was not like that: white or refined sugar, the way we know it today, it is a relatively recent product. By analyzing ancient documents and recipes, it can be evinced sugar was used since Medieval times and it was an expensive and rare product: it was sold in pharmacies only. At those times the most common sweetener was honey. Sugar will become widely available and at a reasonable price at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

 In some areas of the world, in tropical areas, it is still today possible to see the traditional preparation of sugar: the cane is cut at the base and broken by using a grindstone made of two large wheels moved by oxes, the liquid is then collected in pots and allowed to boil over a fire, fed by the residual of the cane processing. When the liquid of canes boils, it is then added some lime juice. At this point the proteins of the liquid coagulates and the resulting foam is used for clarifying the mixture. At the end of the preparation it is obtained a thick and brown syrup. As the liquid cools down, the sugar begins to crystallize and when it has completely cooled down, it is formed a large block of raw cane sugar, called “muscorado”.

 In India it is used another type of raw sugar, more raw then the one described above, known with the name gur, and it is used in Indian cooking for the preparation of desserts and curry cooking. This type of sugar is usually found in shops specialized in Indian spices, and it should be remembered it is not used as a substitute of sugar. Today white sugar is obtained by chemically separating crystals from molasses, therefore obtaining a very refined product but with no aromas. The refining processes for sugar are believed to be invented in Arab countries. Refined sugar was allowed to cool down is moulds of conical shape, which gave origin to the term “sugar loaf”, subsequently broken, or better to say, crumbled in pieces before being used. Still today, sugar loaf is the sugar used in Persia in traditional tea houses.

 Whereas white refined sugar has little aromas, raw sugars keep part of the aromas of molasses. Today are available many types of raw sugar, however it should be remembered some add color to white sugar in order to make it look like raw sugar. This little trick can be easily revealed by putting the sugar in water: raw sugar does not become white. In cooking are also used other types of sugar which can contain as much as 50% of saccharose, as well as other sugars which do not crystallize, flavors and water. Cane molasses has a characteristic taste, it is used for the preparation of rum and it is very used in American cooking.

 

Sugar beet

 Sugarcane is cultivated in warm climate areas only, therefore in Europe were necessary specific studies and researches in order to find a local plant from which could be possible the extraction of sugar. In France they began researching from carrots, however, after many attempts, from the half of nineteenth century, beet became the most important source of sugar and therefore widely cultivated.

 The procedure of sugar extraction from beets is not different from the one used for sugarcane. Beets are gathered in wintertime, when the roots are ripe. Beets are then washed and mashed in order to get a mush and subsequently heated in water allowing the sugar to melt. The mixture is then treated with lime juice and carbon dioxide, favoring the precipitation of impurities. The liquid which is obtained is evaporated therefore obtaining at the end of the process sugar crystals. The product which is obtained is pure saccharose, indistinguishable from the saccharose obtained from sugarcane. Beet's molasses and raw sugar are not used because they have a bad taste, although molasses is used by industries.

 

Other Types of Sugars

 Sugar maple is a characteristic tree of Eastern North America. Since the end of 1600s, explorers noticed native Indians produced a sweet syrup from the lymph of these plants. The first settlers developed and improved the production system, by boiling the lymph until getting a thick syrup, it was then poured in moulds immersed in snow in order to crystallize the molasses. Today the system has evolved and the lymph is extracted by cutting the bark of the trees and allowed to flow in a small pipe. The juice is then gathered and evaporated, after having been concentrated, allowing the extraction of sugar. Outside America it is the maple syrup to be mainly known, with its unmistakable aroma, it is used in America since ancient times in many recipes, for breakfast with waffles, pancakes and many other baked products.

 Palm sugar is obtained by many species of palms, by cutting the trunk or other parts and gathering the juice in containers. The warm climate makes the sweet liquid to quickly ferment: for this reason containers must be processed every day, in order to prevent the syrup, because of an excessive fermentation, to get transformed into “palm wine”. Palm sugar is prepared by artisans, with a processing similar to the one traditionally used for sugarcane. The appearance of this sugar has a dark color and a very strong taste. Palm sugar is usually available in shops specialized in Oriental foods and items, it is known with its Indian name jaggery. The lymph of palms does not contain saccharose, but other types of sugars, for this reason refining is not either convenient or efficient, therefore palm sugar usually has a pretty viscous consistency.

 Sweet sorghum is a large tropical herb, cultivated for nutritional purposes and it was one of the first plants to be cultivated by human beings. Sweet sorghum is not suited to the production of sugar, however from its juice can be obtained a sweet syrup. The consumption of refined sugar has raised in the course of the centuries and today every person consumes as much as 2 kilograms per year. The excessive consumption of sugar is considered responsible for some diseases, including cavities, diabetes and obesity.

 






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  Not Just Wine Issue 47, December 2006   
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Issue 46, November 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 48, January 2007

Aquavitae

Review of Grappa, Distillates and Brandy

 

Distillates are rated according to DiWineTaste's evaluation method. Please see score legend in the "Wines of the Month" section.



Grappa di Sagrantino, Adanti (Umbria, Italy)
Grappa di Sagrantino
Adanti (Umbria, Italy)
(Distiller: Distilleria Aquileia)
Raw matter: Pomace of Sagrantino
Price: € 20.00 - 50cl Score:
The grappa is colorless, limpid and crystalline. The nose reveals intense, clean and pleasing aromas of blackberry, black cherry, plum, hazelnut and licorice with almost imperceptible alcohol pungency. In the mouth has intense flavors with evident alcohol pungency which tends to dissolve rapidly, good correspondence to the nose, good smoothness, balanced sweetness. The finish is persistent with flavors of blackberry, black cherry, and licorice. This grappa is produced with discontinuous steam operated alembic still. Alcohol 46%.





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  Not Just Wine Issue 47, December 2006   
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Issue 46, November 2006 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 48, January 2007

Wine Parade


 

The best 15 wines according to DiWineTaste's readers. To express your best three wines send us an E-mail or fill in the form available at our WEB site.


Rank Wine, Producer
1 Wine Obsession 2001, Vignamaggio (Italy)
2 Chianti Classico Riserva Novecento 2000, Dievole (Italy)
3 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico 2000, Zenato (Italy)
4 Nero al Tondo 2001, Ruffino (Italy)
5 Brunello di Montalcino 1999, Castello Banfi (Italy)
6 Chianti Classico Riserva Novecento 2000, Dievole (Italy)
7 Don Antonio 2003, Morgante (Italy)
8 Notarpanaro 1999, Taurino (Italy)
9 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Costasera 2001, Masi (Italy)
10 Sagrantino di Montefalco Collepiano 2003, Arnaldo Caprai (Italy)
11 Colli Orientali del Friuli Rosazzo Bianco Terre Alte 2002, Livio Felluga (Italy)
12 Soave Classico Monte Alto 2004, Ca' Rugate (Italy)
13 Sagrantino di Montefalco 2003, Antonelli (Italy)
14 Sforzato di Valtellina Canua 2001, Conti Sertoli Salis (Italy)
15 Trento Talento Brut Riserva Methius 1998, Dorigati (Italy)

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