What is Sugar?
Photo By: Jonathan Fiscus
Jonathan Fiscus, Contributing Writer
While it is true that there cannot be sweets without sugar, the sugar in sweets takes many forms. To start with, granulated sugar is sucrose, a carbohydrate made up of a joined fructose molecule and glucose molecule. In making candy, the possible outcome dreaded most is that the product will turn out grainy because sugar crystals formed. This can happen because when the sugar and water solution is heated, much of the water evaporates and the amount left over would not have been enough to dissolve the inputted amount of sugar at room temperature (warm/hot water dissolves sugar better). So, the boiling concoction when taken off the heat to cool will want to turn solid. The problem is, if sucrose molecules combine and form crystals, the batch will turn granular and be unpleasant to eat. If glucose and/or fructose molecules are introduced, they will work their way between the big sucrose molecules, preventing many of them from joining and forming the undesired large crystals. As mentioned previously, sucrose (granulated sugar) is basically made up of glucose and sucrose. One way to solve the problem is to break or invert sugar into these components. This can be done by adding an acid to the sugar and water solution. Common uses are vinegar and cream of tartar, but lemon juice and other acids serve the same purpose. By splitting sucrose, a grainy end product is avoided. Another option is to add plain glucose and/or fructose in with the sucrose. However, these can be a little harder to come by, unless corn syrup is considered. Corn syrup is easily found and mostly glucose. It’s also cheap and found in all sorts of sugary sweets, even beverages.
Anyone who has worked with candy before knows that it is temperamental stuff. One hurdle is humidity. A hard candy will turn soft if the humidity is high because water in the air will gradually work into the candy and mess with the sugar/water ratio. A common occurrence is the crystallization of honey. This occurs when the humidity is too low. Apart from water in the air, temperature (or differential temperature) is of utmost importance. The consistency/viscosity of the candy will be determined from the difference in temperatures of the hottest point it was cooked to and its current temperature. Burning, though, is determined only from the highest temperature. No one wants fudge that is either limp or hard as a rock, caramel that lacks its distinct flavor or has been burnt, taffy that is soupy or snaps, or hard candy that is soft or burnt. A few degrees is all it takes to get it wrong, and a few degrees is what it takes to get it right. The thicknesses of all candies are in the practice sorted into sugar stages. Directions for candy making will call for cooking the solution to a certain sugar stage, although a correlating degree measure if supplied is desirable. It may take a bit, but once the methods are down to a science, everyone will be wanting more of those delicious sweets.