Archives: Ingredients

Organic Sugar

Organic Sugar

There are many reasons to use organic sugar in your baking.  You may be interested in sustainability, and feel that organic ingredients are important to your beliefs about environmental stewardship and a sustainable food system.  You may be interested in vegan baking (some white sugar is refined in a process that uses animal bones).  Or you may be interested in organic sugar because it tastes good, with a caramel flavor and a hint of minerality, both of which enhance the flavor of your baked goods, and both of which are entirely missing from refined white sugar.  Taste the two side by side: white sugar is boring and flat compared to organic sugar.

With all the benefits, it seems natural to change to organic sugar for baked goods.  However, there are some drawbacks that make the change difficult, and these issues prevent many people from changing to organic sugar in either home baking or professional bakery operations.

1) Cost – organic sugar can be expensive.  Depending on the volume you are purchasing, organic granulated sugar can run 2-3 times the price of granulated white cane sugar.  The good news about cost?  Organic sugar has a distinct flavor, and some find it actually tastes sweeter than processed white sugar. So if you recipe relies on sugar merely for flavor, not texture or stability, you can reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe and still have great flavor and sweetness.

2) Texture – organic sugar has a very different granulation.  Because organic sugar is less processed than refined white cane sugar, it tends to have uneven granulation, and the molasses left coating the granules can attract moisture if the sugar is stored improperly, causing hard lumps that do not dissolve easily.  In addition, sugar crystals size can vary greatly across brands, and can even change bag to bag of the same brand.  This makes writing recipes for organic sugar very frustrating, as what worked for you one time may not work the next.  For recipes with a very small amount or sugar (bread, pie dough) or a large amount of liquid (custards, sauces) the granulation should not cause issues.  However, for other recipes the large sugar granules may cause problems in the recipe or finished product.  There are a couple solutions. First, look for an organic sugar with a finer granulation and continue to purchase the same sugar (if possible). Second, look at the way your sugar is incorporated into your recipes and make adjustments to make the sugar function correctly.  For example, if you are making a caramel sauce, the dry method may not work, as the large granules begin to burn before they melt.  Instead, adapt your recipe to a wet method and increase the water by half.  The additional water will allow the sugar to dissolve fully before the water begins to evaporate.  For a sponge cake or other whipped egg preparation that calls for sugar to be sprinkled into eggs while whipping, you may find your sugar does not have time to melt completely into your eggs before the eggs are whipped to the stage you want them.  This will result in an unstable, gritty egg foam, and once baked your dessert will weep from the moisture attracted to the undissolved sugar.  To avoid this, try whisking your eggs and sugar together over a simmering water bath until the eggs are warm and the sugar is dissolved.  The added heat and slower whisking allow the sugar to dissolve fully before the eggs are whipped to the desired peak.

3) Availability – organic sugar may be difficult to find, and is not always offered in the full range of products we are used to using in processed cane sugar (brown sugars, powdered sugars, etc).  Fortunately, many grocery stores and wholesale companies are responding to the increased demand for organic products, and a variety of organic sugars have recently become available in most markets.  For wholesale operations seeking organic granulated sugars, Giustos and Sunridge Farms (both in Northern California) carry bulk bags of organic sugar with fairly consistent granulation.  For home bakers, Wholesome Sweeteners carries a full line of white, brown and powdered sugars.  The full range is not always available in retail stores, but they can be purchased from their website (they also ship bulk sugar for larger operations).

Vanilla Bean Tattoo

Vanilla Bean Tattoo

Vanilla beans are an expensive commodity, and can wholesale for between $65 and $200 per pound, depending on quality and country of origin. Each vanilla bean takes about one year to come to market, and along the way requires much labor, from hand pollinating to hand picking,  fermenting and bundling.    As a valuable but portable commodity, vanilla beans are at risk of being stolen from the farmers who grow them.  Like cattle ranchers, vanilla bean growers “brand” their beans.  Usually referred to as a “tattoo,” a distinct pattern is made on the vanilla bean pod while still green. After the bean is dried and fermented, the tattoo looks like a scar, and could be mistaken for insect damage. However, each farmer uses a distinct pattern which can be used to identify their product if it is stolen and mixed with another crop.